DOVER — People, said Dante Jones, don’t always like change.
They’d rather stick with things they already know than try something new.
“Everybody wants to do what’s already (been) done — whether it’s good, bad or whatever,” said Jones.
But the vision that Jones, the former Dover High football coach, has for Early College High School at DSU is definitely a little different.
He sees the fledgling program growing into a team that not only draws student-athletes from around the state but that can be competitive in the region. There are really no Delaware public school programs that fit that description.
“We’re looking for our program to be one of the flagship programs, not only in Delaware, but on the East Coast,” said Jones. “We’re going to build, we’re going to build and we’re going to continue to build until it’s the type of program where kids no longer have to go out of state to seek great competition.
“You look at Delaware, and you see how many of our talented players are playing in Maryland, Jersey or Pennsylvania. That’s something that I have a problem with — and I’m quite sure other coaches have a problem with. We should have something in-state where those young folks don’t have to make those choices.”
Early College will hit the field for its first varsity football season this fall with that lofty vision as its long-term goal and Jones as its head coach.
The 45-year-old Jones finds himself a head coach again for the first time since leading Dover to a 16-16 record from 2013-15.
The former Delaware State player was briefly named the head coach at Christiana High two years ago but the school ended up not having a full-time job for him.
At Early College, Jones is reunited with former Dover principal Evelyn Edney. Jones, who was also a successful coach for 15 seasons at Baltimore’s Edmondson High, is excited to be a head coach again.
Along with working as a volunteer assistant at Wesley College, Jones continued to work at youth camps as well as running his own.
“I’ve always stayed connected to the game,” he said. “It feels good to be preparing to get back on the sidelines.
“For me it’s just a joy being around young people. It’s the joy of having a young person who’s not sure what they can do and seeing something in them. You just keep pushing and keep working until that light comes on.”
Early College athletic director Timothy Yancy said having an experienced coach like Jones for the new program makes a difference.
“He’s really knowledgeable, really a team guy,” said Yancy. “He really is a great coach. I’ve seen him coach other things and really admire the things that he does.”
It probably helps the Hornets that they’re coming along just as the state is implementing its new structure for football. Early College will be Class 1A with other small and/or programs that haven’t had much success lately.
The Hornets are in District II with First State Military, Indian River, Laurel, Odessa, Polytech and Seaford.
Even with the realignment, winning isn’t expected to be easy for Early College at first. In 2018, the Hornets went 0-5 with a junior varsity team — the school’s only football season to date.
This year’s roster is expected to be made up mostly of freshmen. Even with an extremely young roster, Jones said he doesn’t believe in lowering his players’ expectations.
“My goal for any team I’ve coached has never changed in 20 years,” he said. “It’s always, make it to the playoffs and win your last game. That’s always the goal.
“So no matter if I’m in a new program like this or at an established program, the goal is always the same. You’ve just got to work toward your goal. All young people want to play for something.
“You always aim high,” Jones added. “If you aim low and you miss, you completely miss everything. But if you aim high and miss, at least you land on the board.”
“The past couple years we’ve been able to get things together, put them in place,” said Yancy. “They’re pretty much ready to go. It was just a matter of having the (right) amount of kids. This year we have a good group. We’re new but we’re not new.”
Jones knows what a good football program can do for a school, especially for a relatively new school like Early College. It can be something to rally around for a school community.
He’d like football to have that role for Early College.
“People don’t realize how important it is to have a sound athletic program because that deters a lot of things in the community,” said Jones. “When you have these young folks and you have them active in something positive, being mentored by positive men, you can point them in the right direction and change their lives.
“The best part about Early College is, we are not just able to change Dover. With kids from up and down the state, we are able to impact so many different communities. That’s what makes this team much more exciting.”