PIKE CREEK – Hopes are high at St. Mark’s as the football team looks to leave an impression in its final season (for now) as a Division I program. The Spartans are coming off a 7-4 season in 2013, which included a trip to the playoffs, where they lost a tight 28-24 decision to Dover.
Seven starters return on offense, including the entire offensive line, but several skill position players graduated. Senior Matt Williams was the leading candidate to start at quarterback, but he will miss some games as he recovers from a torn meniscus. Coach John Wilson said senior Connor Eastep is the likely starter until then. Joining him in the backfield is senior running back Markquise Normand.
“We really like this team this year. There’s strong leadership there, and there are a lot of guys who are willing to play different positions to help fill the holes,” Wilson said.
The coach said the Spartans have always been balanced between a spread and a pro attack and that his staff will mold the offense to fit his personnel.
“We might be a little more spread, might have a little more tempo in our offense. We want to throw a few more curveballs at people to change the tempo,” he said.
Williams has mostly played wide receiver the last few years but has taken some snaps during games. He said he has been training to be a quarterback since his freshman year and is ready to lead the Spartans once his knee is healthy. He said he expects to be back in mid-September.
“I’ve been waiting for this, so now it’s time to see what we can make happen with it,” he said.
Wilson said Normand will see a lot of playing time on both sides of the ball, as will senior Rhett Schweizer, a safety and wideout. Schweizer said opponents can expect some different looks from the Spartans’ defenders.
“We’re switching around the formations a lot this year. We’re trying to mix the defense up. We’re putting new schemes in, too. We’re just mixing it all up to make it more complex,” he said.
St. Mark’s had approximately 50 players come out this year, which makes them one of the smaller squads in Division I. They have not gone soft on the schedule, however, playing most of the top schools in Delaware. Of the other five teams to make the Division I playoffs last season, the Spartans will face four of them in the regular season, including defending state champion and archrival Salesianum. They also have two out-of-state opponents.
Wilson said playing such a tough schedule over the years has made St. Mark’s a better team. It also helps keep the players focused over the summer because they know they will not be able to relax once the season begins.
“There’s no easy week, and I like it that way,” he said. “It’s fun that way. You can’t look ahead, that’s for sure.”
Schweizer said Williams said they expect the Spartans to match up well against their foes. Schweizer said the team has great senior leadership mixed with impressive talent coming up from the junior varsity ranks, and the energy at practice has been palpable. Williams said the team should have a chance to advance beyond the quarterfinal round.
“Everyone knows what they’re doing. It’s just a matter of doing it, really,” Williams said.
Sept. 6: at William Penn, 1 p.m.
Sept. 12: vs. Sussex Tech, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19: at Sussex Central, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 26: at Dover, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4: vs. Delaware Military Academy, Baynard Stadium, 11 a.m.
Oct. 10: vs. Montclair (N.J.), homecoming, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17: at Salesianum, Baynard Stadium, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24: vs. Caesar Rodney, Alumni Weekend, 7 p.m.
Oct. 31: vs. St. Elizabeth, 7 p.m.
Nov. 7: at Archbishop Spalding (Md.), 7 p.m.