Two years after narrowly missing the Class 2A South Region playoffs, the La Plata football team will head into the 2019 campaign with ample optimism that it can earn a postseason berth in the expanded playoff format this fall.
Last season, the Warriors finished 2-8 under first-year head coach John Lennartz with a youthful group that had been hit hard by graduation the year before when the squad just missed earning a spot in the postseason.
This season, Lennartz and his returning players expect the Warriors to make a serious push for one of the eight postseason spots available in the region.
“Since the first day of practice we’ve been preparing our kids to play 10 games,” said Lennartz, who expects to have 32 players on the roster this fall. “We want them to have the expectations of making the playoffs this year. Last year was a new experience for me and for the kids. Most of the starters on the 2017 team graduated, so a lot of kids last year got their first taste of playing at the varsity level and most of them are back.”
Lennartz not only credits his returning players for battling through the previous campaign but had high praise for a quartet of coaches who remained with the program after previous head coach Rod Milstead accepted the head football coaching position at Delaware State University. Devontae Williams, Bryan Phillips, Danny Vermillion and J.B. Walton have remained loyal to the program.
“Last year was a big learning experience for me and those four assistant coaches really helped me run things a lot smoother,” Lennartz said. “I really could not conduct the program without them. Their work here and their dedication has been tremendous. I have complete trust in them to handle any assignments they have working with the kids.”
Unlike the 2017 team, La Plata did not suffer any severe graduation losses last season, losing only J.T. Phillips, Tyler Harper, Nathaniel Sullivan and Josh Bayer. Many of the Warriors starters return, including wide receivers Nico Stout, Stephen Cobb and DeShawn (Clinton) Thomas, all of whom should provide ample targets for quarterback Donnie Bowman.
“A number of our seniors have gotten looks from Division I colleges,” Lennartz said. “They don’t have any offers yet, but they’ve gotten the attention of some D-I programs. Our group of wide receivers is very fast and very athletic. Donnie is a smart quarterback. He knows the offense and all the guys around him.”
La Plata’s offensive line should be solid this fall with Wayne Johnson, Jordan Phillips, James Doukas and Gregner Keys. Keys played for the Warriors as a sophomore and then transferred to St. Frances for his junior season. The unit should pave the way for the Warriors’ ground game.
On defense, La Plata will have Johnson, Jordan Lopez and Doukas up front, with seniors Nate Lednum and Taylun Sanders at linebacker and Cobb anchoring the secondary.
Trent McConnell will handle the punting duties and Alexis Bryan will again be the team’s placekicker. Bryan has yet to attempt a field goal, but Lennartz noted he would be comfortable having her attempt anything inside 35 yards.
Cobb, who will play wide receiver and defensive back and also runs track for La Plata, is optimistic the Warriors can make a serious bid for the playoffs in his final season with the squad. La Plata opens with Sussex Central, a Delaware state champion last fall, at 7 tonight.
“Our coaches have been pushing us to get better during the offseason and in practices,” Cobb said. “We know what we have to do to get better. The coaches don’t let up on us. They correct our mistakes right away. We know that we can make the playoffs. That’s definitely our main goal this season as a team. Our individual goals don’t matter unless we accomplish our team goals.”