Last fall, entering their regular season finale, the Caesar Rodney Riders were one win away from breaking a three year playoff drought.
With the postseason on the line, CR earned a 27-14 win over rival Dover to finish 7-3 and punch their ticket to the state tournament for the first time since 2013.
For many of the Riders, like quarterback Jared Wagenhoffer, that playoff berth was a reward of sorts after a long high school football journey.
Wagenhoffer saw national attention before his freshman year at Polytech, only to transfer to Caesar Rodney a year later where he and the Riders would win just three total games over the next two seasons before the Riders’ 7-3 finish this past season.
This weekend, Wagenhoffer and Rider teammates James Holmes, Bailey DeAtley and Julian Trammell will play their final high school game participating in the 63rd annual DFRC Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game at the University of Delaware.
Ahead of the annual showcase which features some of the best of this year’s senior class, Wagenhoffer reflected on the moments which have him, three teammates and Head Coach Danny Candeloro representing the Gold team this weekend.
“Make no mistake, we had our fair share of frustration, but I knew that as a team we had the talent, the drive and the potential to do well,” Wagenhoffer said. “The coaches pushed and challenged us. Our success was because of hard work, persistence and an unwillingness to accept failure. As players, we all knew we had jobs to do and we held each other accountable - plus, as seniors, we were all committed to getting Caesar Rodney football back on a path to a winning tradition.”
Wagenhoffer sees being included as an all-star as a huge privilege and a testament to the time and effort he and his teammates have put in over the past few seasons.
“I’m honored to represent Caesar Rodney High School in this year’s game,” Wagenhoffer said. “I think most know that the game is more than just football - it’s humbling just to be a small part of this tradition.”
The annual all-star game helps raise funds and awareness in an effort to support Delawareans with intellectual disabilities. Also, each year, players are paired with “buddies” with whom they participate in a number of activities from the time rosters are announced in the winter all the way up to the game in June.
“I’ve been paired up with, my buddy, Lake Lindale, from Dover High. We’ve learned a lot about each other during the last few months,” Wagenhoffer said. “Lake is an awesome kid with a great sense of humor. He’s a tough individual with a good heart. Lake is passionate about playing football and being a part of a team.”
“In fact, I think he’s looking forward to the Blue-Gold game as much as I am. He has a high expectations so I hope I live up to them. Lake has motivated and inspired me to be the best person I can be. I hope I was as much of a positive influence in his life as he was in mine.”
When it comes to the game on the field, Wagenhoffer is eager to get out there.
“As an athlete and competitor, this is a great venue to face-off against some of Delaware’s top football talent,” Wagenhoffer said. “Truth is, that’s what I’m looking forward to the most in this final high school game, the competitive challenge it offers. It’s undoubtedly going to be a great game.”
After the final whistle blows this Saturday, Wagenhoffer’s football journey isn’t over as he’ll head to Wesley in the fall, where he’ll be joined by CR teammates Holmes, DeAtley, Trammell, Brenden Holder and Josh Windsor.
Despite receiving offers from Austin Peay, Youngstown State, Gardner-Webb and Robert Morris, Wagenhoffer decided to commit to Wesley.
“I was still on the fence, then, Coach [Mike] Drass asked me to take another tour of Wesley with some of my CR teammates, which I did,” Wagenhoffer said. “During that time, everything started to be clearer and felt right.”
A few months later, Coach Drass unexpectedly passed away.
“Within a couple weeks a lot of people asked me if I would stay at Wesley - I’m still 110 percent committed to Wesley and the Wolverines,” Wagenhoffer said. “Coach Drass built a winning football program because he surrounded himself with coaches, staff and players who he trusted and bought into his vision. The winning culture and professionalism Coach Drass established is still there.”
Longtime offensive coordinator with Wesley, Chip Knapp, was named Drass’ successor, which further solidified Wagenhoffer’s commitment to the program and the school.
“Truth is, both Coach Drass and Coach Knapp recruited me,” Wagenhoffer said. “So, I’m excited to start at Wesley this fall. My goal and objective is to be a great student-athlete for Wesley. I intend on working hard to be an integral part of helping Coach Knapp, the other coaches and my future teammates build upon the Wolverines competitive and winning tradition - ‘Great Things Await’ is Wesley’s mantra and I totally believe that.”
The 2018 DRFC Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game will be held this Saturday at the University of Delaware; pre game festivities begin at 5 p.m. with kickoff scheduled for 6 p.m. - all proceeds from the game will be used to support DFRC programs throughout the state.