By Mike McClure

The Laurel varsity football team is making the move up from 1A to 2A this season, joining past Henlopen South teams Woodbridge, Delmar, Lake Forest, and Milford along with Sussex Tech. The Bulldogs lost some key players from last year’s 13-0 team, which won a second straight state title, but have several key players back from a year ago.

Laurel recently held its annual Red/White scrimmage. “I thought (it) was as competitive as we could ask for it to be,” said Laurel head football coach Joey Jones, who called the game evenly matched.

The Laurel football team works on a drill during a pre-season practice last week. Photo by Mike McClure

Gone from last year’s team are graduates Kaden Shockley, Brayden Hearn, Kylse Wilson, Evan Collins, Marquis Hopkins Thompson, Ny’Aire Farlow, Brady Lee, Matt Pusey, and Mike Gonzalez-Perez.

“We certainly lost some guys that can play at a high level. We may have more guys that can contribute (this season),” Jones said.

The team’s returning starters include seniors Owen Chaffinch (OL/DL), Royce Scotton (RB/LB), Pat Belle (RB/DE), Xavier Limehouse (RB/LB), and Brandon Rife (OL/DL); junior Tate Walls (RB/LB); and sophomore Joe Baynard (OL/DL).

Jones is looking for his returning players to provide leadership and experience for the younger players. The Laurel coach, now in his fifth season leading the team, has now coached all of the players during the time with the varsity squad.

“The guys coming in as seniors, they’ve not known it any other way,” said Jones.

Among the new starters is junior quarterback Koby Shockley, who replaces his brother, Kaden, who graduated last spring.

“If you’re going to replace a guy who has started every game for four years, the best bet is his younger brother,” Jones said. “We’ve been very fortunate having the (younger) guys buy in.”

Jones is looking forward to restoring rivalries against Lake Forest and Milford with the move to 2A. “We know we belong there. It’s time to get back to where we belong,” said Jones.

The Bulldogs competed against some of the top 2A teams last year. This year they will play 3A teams like Sussex Central and Caesar Rodney, including the season opener against the Knights.

“That’s going to be a heavyweight fight. We’re looking forward to seeing what we can do,” he said. “I think we’re going to find out in the first month exactly where we are and that’s exciting.”

Laurel’s non-conference schedule also includes Caravel, Brandywine, and neighboring rival Seaford.

“This is a fun group of kids. They’re easy to be around and they work their butts off,” said Jones.