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Central Delaware Sports
Pair seek title that eluded them at UD
Delaware sports information photo/Mark Campbell
Quarterback Joe Flacco became the University of Delaware’s highest draft selection when the Ravens took him with the No. 18 pick in 2008. He’s been Baltimore’s starter in every game since then. Flacco is the Ravens’ all-time leading passer in yards (13,816), touchdown passes (80), completions (1,190) and attempts (1,958) and is second in completion percentage (60.8). His 44 regular-season victories are the most by an NFL starting QB in his first four seasons.

Losing is one thing.

But losing your last football game of the season, with everything riding on it, that’s something that sticks with you perhaps forever.

Offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski and his Delaware teammates suffered an especially tough loss in the 2011 NCAA Division I-AA national championship game.

That day, the Blue Hens fell to Eastern Washington, 20-19, after holding a 19-0 lead in the third quarter.

“I still wake up sick to my stomach thinking about that game,” Gradkowski said eight months later. “To this day I can’t think about it.”
Joe Flacco can relate.

The 49-21 setback to Appalachian State that he and his Delaware teammates suffered in the 2007 title game wasn’t nearly as excruciating. But it hurt nonetheless.

“It’s tough,” Flacco, the All-American quarterback, said after the game. “You get here for a reason. We worked hard all season. To go out like this isn’t the best thing.”

Maybe those losses crossed both Flacco’s and Gradkowski’s minds in the last two weeks. That’s because, as members of the Baltimore Ravens, both players will get another chance today to win a championship.

Considering that just 10 previous players with Delaware ties — including only three former Blue Hens — have played in a Super Bowl, it will a unique thing to have two Delaware guys taking the field for the Ravens against the 49ers this evening in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

The novelty of the accomplishment wasn’t lost on Gradkowski, a rookie reserve lineman for Baltimore.

Both Gradkowski (West Virginia) and Flacco (Pittsburgh) were transfers who spent three years in Newark.

“Both of us had similar situations where Delaware was willing to give us a second chance,” Gradkowski told a camera crew from the university this week. “I know I’m so thankful for that and grateful. I know Joe is, too.

“It’s cool. It’s cool for the whole university to have two Blue Hens on the same team and going to the Super Bowl. It’s very exciting.”

For Flacco, it’s taken him five seasons as the Ravens’ starting QB to get this chance. He knows there’s no guarantee when or if he’ll get another one.

“We’ve got a lot of guys on our team who have played long careers and this will be their first time here,” he said. “We realize that opportunity and realize how special it is. That’s why we’ve just got to work hard and make sure that we make the most of it.”

Newman, Maull honored

John Newman’s career as a football assistant coach has spanned parts of five decades and included working under five head coaches.

This week that career was recognized when the Caesar Rodney High coach received the Ed Brown Assistant Coach of the Year award. The 59-year-old Newman was honored at the Delaware Interscholastic Football Coaches Association banquet at Dover Downs on Monday night.

Newman said what’s made his career especially rewarding is that, for the past 25 seasons, he’s worked with fellow assistant coaches Brian Berns, Jim Fennemore and Dave Manwiller.

“Any one of them could have been up there getting the award,” said Newman. “I see this (award), I see them. It’s a nice thing to be around those guys.

“I love football,” said the former West Chester quarterback. “I’ve coached a lot of different sports and football’s different. You do a lot of things together. You sacrifice together. You see kids grow. You spend so much time together (as a staff) it’s like family. That’s what makes it fun.”

Also honored at the banquet was Cape Henlopen grad J.D. Maull, who was named the state’s Division II Coach of the Year. In his fifth season as the head coach at St. Georges, Maull led the Hawks to a 10-1 season and the program’s second state tournament berth in the past three years.

Maull was proud that Cape coach Bill Collick was there to see him win the award. He literally grew up around the long-time football coach when they were neighbors in Lewes.

“He babysat me,” said Maull, a 1997 Cape grad. “I always wanted to be like him as a football coach. He got to be here … that was special.”

Maull has been with St. Georges since the fledgling school, located just south of the C&D Canal, started a football program seven years ago. The Hawks have gone 26-4 over the past three regular seasons.

“Believe it or not, there’s people who don’t know where St. Georges is,” said Maull. “We’ve been pretty good the last three years, but there’s some people who have no idea. This (award) is for our St. Georges’ community. This is great. I’m excited.”

Miller makes it back

People who know Kayla Miller know her as a kid with a lot of energy.

Whether she’s playing point guard on the Delaware women’s basketball team or selling Wilmington Blue Rocks souvenirs in the stands at Frawley Stadium, Miller is hard to slow down.

But the people who know her best say you have to have seen her barely able to walk to realize what Miller has been through. Two years ago, Miller had to sit out basketball season after undergoing back surgery.

Her longtime friend and teammate, Elena Delle Donne, wondered if Miller would ever play the sport again.

“It was scary,” said Delle Donne. “She was literally coming in with a cane some days. She couldn’t walk. She’d be lying on the floor, she’d be crying … In class she would have to lay on the floor and not even sit in a chair.”

Even last season, when Miller returned to the court as a backup, she wasn’t the same player. It’s only now that her teammates have seen get back to where she was.

Last Sunday, Miller netted a career-high 11 points in the 25th-ranked Blue Hens’ big win at Drexel. She followed up that performance by collecting a career-high nine assists in a victory over Northeastern.

“It just makes me smile because Kayla works so hard and she’s so selfless,” said Delle Donne. “She deserves it. She’s incredible. Coming off that back injury, she was a little bit different player. Taking charges was even really hard for her — and that’s something she likes to do all the time. She was struggling.

“I don’t know, she just didn’t have that bounce that she usually has. This year’s she’s got it — and she’s got even more than before.”

Odds & ends

• The big Caesar Rodney-Sussex Central wrestling match, which has been postponed twice, is now slated for Monday night in Georgetown. Weather permitting.

• Wednesday is national signing day for high school recruits in fall sports. Delaware’s new football coach Dave Brock and his Delaware State counterpart, Kermit Blount, are both expected to announce their recruiting classes.

• Rivals Dover and Caesar Rodney square off in basketball this week. On Thursday night, the girls’ teams meet at CR with the boys’ squads playing at Dover. Both varsity contests are slated for 7:15 p.m.

Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or walter@newszap.com.

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