The sting of losing in the state championship game is still real for Salesianum, and the state’s only Catholic Division I program has the motivation and the talent to get right back to Delaware Stadium this season. Coach Bill DiNardo said they are in a good position entering this season.
“We knew there was a very strong group that was coming back. We have, I think, 15 or 16 starters coming back from last year’s team. That’s really nice, but that doesn’t guarantee us anything. We have to be a year better,” he said.
Senior running back Andrew Watkins said the players have been doing what they need to do to take that last step.
“Everyone’s pretty focused. We just have to do what we did last year and finish this time,” he said.
Along those lines, the players spent much of the offseason in the weight room, and the feeling around the program has been very positive.
“Looking at the team comparing this year to last year, everyone’s just so much more focused. We’re lifting so much more weight. Everyone is bigger and stronger,” he said.
The Sals were in unfamiliar territory last season, DiNardo said. With lots of question marks, particularly on the lines, the team kind of snuck up on opponents. That is certainly not the case in 2019.
“This year, there’s going to be a target on our back, but I’ve been here 16 years, and it’s always that way. Teams rise up when the play us. And that’s an inspiration for us. We have to be our best,” DiNardo said.
Salesianum has experience in almost every position but receiver. Watkins and Rasheen Caulk lead the team’s bread-and-butter, the running game. Dylan Mooney is being pressed into duty as the starting quarterback after a preseason injury to the incumbent, Gabe Puzzingara. Mooney started several games last year. Luke Schneese is one of his primary pass-catching targets.
The Sals are especially strong along both lines. Dan Stradley and Jack Roddy are just two of the mainstays on the lines. James Yelbert could wreak havoc from his defensive end position, and Brett Kwoka joined the Sals late in the summer.
On defense, they will be filling holes at linebacker, senior Luke Schneese said, but a large group of underclassmen saw playing time in 2018.
As usual, a tough schedule awaits the Sals, and eight of the 10 are against in-state opponents, including returning playoff teams Dover, Appoquinimink, Hodgson and Middletown. That was a priority for the school, DiNardo said, and he appreciates that so many schools were willing to play Salesianum. They will be battle-tested come playoff time.
“There’s no gimme games,” he said.
With Baynard Stadium now just a memory, the Sals’ journey this season includes three different home venues. DiNardo doesn’t see that as an issue.
“The bottom line is we’re going to play a football game. Once the game starts, home is where you make it,” he said.
Schneese agrees with his coach. “We’ve got to focus in, not let it get in our heads, just play the game.”
Home games in CAPS
Sept, 14, 7 p.m.: DOVER (at Brandywine)
Sept. 20, 7 p.m.: Appoquinimink
Sept. 27, 7 p.m.: Smyrna
Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m.: EPISCOPAL ACADEMY (Pa.) (at Caravel)
Oct. 12, 3 p.m.: Mastery Charter (Pa.)
Oct. 19, noon: St. Georges
Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.: HODGSON (at A.I. DuPont)
Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.: MIDDLETOWN (at Brandywine)
Nov. 8, 7 p.m.: Saint Mark’s