DOVER — Esaias Guthrie didn’t think he was going anywhere when he caught the football.
Not at first.
“It was kind of crazy when it happened,” the Delaware State defensive back remembered. “I couldn’t really catch it clean so I had to do this little twirl. I thought somebody was going to hit me.
“But, once I saw the sidelines, I knew I was going all the way. Everybody was going one way, I was going the other way. Everybody didn’t really know what was happening. So it was kind of a shock to everybody when they saw me running down the sidelines.”
Eighty-seven yards later, Guthrie was in the end zone after the interception return in the Hornets’ season-opening victory over Bowie State last fall.
The touchdown — Guthrie’s second of the calendar year — was a memorable start to a season that ended with the Middletown High grad being named a HERO Sports FCS Freshman All-American and an All-MEAC first-team selection.
But now Delaware State expects even more from the 6-foot-2, 175-pounder, who is still only a redshirt sophomore. He’s already been named to the pre-season All-MEAC first team.
DSU coach Rod Milstead has a running joke with Guthrie about whether he can be a four-time All-MEAC pick by the time his career is over. Milstead himself was only a three-time all-conference selection for the Hornets.
“When you’re first-team all-conference and you’re an All-American as a freshman, the expectation is set a little bit different than it was a year ago,” said Milstead. “He understands that. He and I have had multiple conversations. With those accolades come high expectations to maintain and play at the highest level.
“I’m excited to see him continue to grow. His future is very, very bright. If he continues to take a step, who knows where he’ll end up.”
Guthrie actually came to Delaware State expecting to play wide receiver. After all, as a senior at Middletown, he pulled in 68 catches for 1,123 yards with 13 touchdowns.
But Guthrie was fine with switching to defense in the 2019 preseason. He believed he was better on that side of the ball anyway.
He also had 44 tackles and five interceptions for the Cavaliers as a senior, making first-team All-State.
“Me and my coaches always thought I was a better defensive back than I was at a wide receiver position,” said Guthrie. “I was great with the switch.
“It’s definitely a different mentality. You really get to play football and play fast. It’s the same ball-hawk mentality that I had on offense — you know, seeing the ball up in the air, going up and getting it.”
Guthrie does still get his hands on the ball occasionally.
In 16 games last year — counting the short spring season — he collected five interceptions, three pass breakups, eight passes defended, two fumble recoveries with 56 tackles.
With Guthrie’s growing reputation for interceptions, it’s possible opposing offenses will throw the ball his way less often this season. But Milstead think they might also try to challenge him more at times.
“I think people are going to go at him, I really do,” said Milstead. “I think it’s one of those things where he’s still young. He’s only a sophomore. I think people are going to try him to see if he’s as good as the accolades have said him to be.
“The way he practices is the way he plays. He’s a hard-nosed, smart football player. He doesn’t mind getting dirty. We’re very, very fortunate to have him.”
Despite being only a sophomore, Guthrie has already played in 20 games for the Hornets. He’d like to think he can play the game at a much faster pace than he could a couple years ago.
“Playing defense is all about how fast you’re able to see things and read it,” he said. “I think my IQ as a defensive player has grown tremendously. I’m able to play very fast, read things and trust my eyes.
“I’m able to just play football, honestly. All of it has come together with the help of my coaches, trainers and also my teammates.”
If that means Guthrie’s teammates are going to rely more on him, he thinks he’s ready to handle it. It comes with the territory now as an experienced, highly-regarded player.
“Guys come up to me during close games and are like, ‘Yo, we need one, we need an interception, we need the ball,’” said Guthrie. “You carry a certain type of responsibility with it. All the accolades aside. ... being the guy for my team, that’s what carries the most weight for me.”
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 302-741-8227 or firstname.lastname@example.org