(Aug. 30, 2019) The Stephen Decatur football team will have a new turf field to play on when the Seahawks open their season next Friday.
The players are chomping at the bit to get on the field and get a feel of the state-of-the-art surface.
The $1.3 million project includes the installation of the turf field and resurfacing the running track. The new athletic complex will be renamed the “Robert G. Knox Field and Louis H. Taylor Stadium,” after varsity football Head Coach Bob Knox and Worcester County Schools Superintendent Lou Taylor.
When Knox was surprised with the news of the complex’s new name during a Worcester County Board of Education meeting he said it was “overwhelming.”
“It’s the highest honor in my career as a football coach,” he said. “I still have to pinch myself.”
Both the players and coaching staff are excited to play on their new field.
“It’s the highest quality turf on the market today,” Knox said. “It’s faster so you’ve got to become acclimated to it.”
Knox even has a portion of the new field at his home. He was give a small doormat-size piece, which he placed down as a welcome mat at his front door.
A dedication ceremony is slated for Friday Sept. 20 during halftime of the Decatur football game.
The field is not the only thing new this season for the football team. Several coaches have joined the staff.
“They’re young guys and they’re go-getters. They’re doing a good job,” Knox said. “They’re committed and they have some new ideas – offense and defense strategies. I like them and the kids are getting used to them. They’re starting to feel confident with them.”
DJ Braun, Dean Wooten and Mark Smith have returned to coach the Decatur squad and are joined be Jake Coleman, Frank Whirley and Dan Dobronz from Cambridge South Dorchester High School, and Brad Dalton from Sussex Central in Delaware.
“I think this year is going to be great for us because we have a new coaching staff, new everything, new players; it’s a young group,” said senior running back/outside linebacker Devin Waters.
Knox, who has been at the helm of the Decatur football program since 1983, describes this year’s team as “a work in progress.”
“We’re installing a new offense and defense and it’s taking the kids a while to get used to the terminology,” he said.
The offense and defense have been overhauled because of the more athletic personnel.
“The coaches have some new ideas that fit our kids’ talent and personalities well,” Knox said.
Twenty of the 37 players on Knox’s roster are varsity veterans. Last year the team finished with a 3-7 record.
“I think we’re more athletic than we have been in the past,” he said. “We have strong senior leadership.”
Waters, Zach Hickman (offensive, defensive line), DJ Taylor (linebacker) and DeCameron McAfee (offensive tight end, defensive end/linebacker) are four seniors who have stepped up as leaders, Knox said.
Waters earned Bayside South Second Team accolades for offense and defense last season.
Waters racked up 1,073 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in eight games last year to lead the team.
He averaged 8.2 yards per carry. He was also fourth in tackles (71).
“I feel like I’ll be able to lead the team to a better season than we had the last two years,” Waters, a three-year varsity player, said. “We need to focus and work hard and just make sure everything goes as planned as we go through the season.”
Waters is excited for his senior year.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a while now. Being on the team for three years and looking at past seniors going through I know how excited they were for their last year,” he said.
Taylor and McAfee received Bayside South Honorable Mention accolades for their performance last season.
Hickman, a three-year varsity team member, will play on both sides of the ball – offense and defense.
“Over this past year I developed that leadership trait. I used to be a shy kid then I finally came out of that shell and I feel like I can lead this team,” he said. “I’m one of the only senior linemen we got. I’m supposed to know ever position so I can help the guys if they have questions.”
Hickman said he has come a long way since his freshman year.
“I’ve worked my butt off this offseason and I’ve changed a whole lot,” he said.
Sophomore Ashten Snelsire returns at the quarterback position. His performance last season earned him Bayside South Honorable Mention honors.
Seniors Nate Custer (offensive line), Branden Manuel (slotback, defensive back) and Hawk Almony (kicker) are also back to compete.
Some of the new players who Knox will look to contribute are juniors Max Green (defensive back), Johnny Hofman (outside linebacker) and Koby Higgins (split end), and sophomores Austin Airey (slotback, outside linebacker), Luke Scott (offensive line), Henry Brous (inside linebacker), Zi’mere Handy (slotback) and Shaki Bowen (running back).
“We’re trying to revert back to old Stephen Decatur football as far as football culture – be disciplined and play physical,” Knox, who was inducted into the Maryland Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame last April, said.
The goal, Knox said is for the players to improve every week.
If they can take care of what needs to be taken care of, correct their mistakes and be prepared for their opponents, Knox said “wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
The game format has changed this season. Instead of playing 10 regular-season games, Decatur will only have nine. In addition, the top eight teams in each region will advance to the playoffs. In past years it had been the top four.
Decatur will host the Arcadia Firebirds for its opener, Friday, Sept. 6 at 6 p.m.