Advertisement

Gentle giant: Former NFL player Mike Frederick coaches Cape Henlopen into Class 3A final

GEORGETOWN – Mike Frederick bear-hugged three of his players in rapid succession, watched the others run toward him while jumping around, then waited a couple of beats for things to temporarily calm down.

Then he stepped forward, looked into the eyes of dozens of kneeling Cape Henlopen Vikings and roared, “YOU DID IT!”

Rarely had a visiting team been so happy in a postgame meeting at Sussex Central High School, where Cape had just stunned the Golden Knights 46-14 in the semifinals of the DIAA Class 3A football playoffs last Friday night.

The Vikings were just 17 miles away from their home campus in Lewes. But they had come a long way in a short time.

Cape Henlopen coach Mike Frederick, a former NFL defensive end, celebrates a touchdown with his team in the season opener Aug. 31 against Red Lion Christian. The Vikings have reached the championship game of the DIAA Class 3A playoffs and will meet Salesianum at 7 p.m. Friday at Delaware Stadium.
Cape Henlopen coach Mike Frederick, a former NFL defensive end, celebrates a touchdown with his team in the season opener Aug. 31 against Red Lion Christian. The Vikings have reached the championship game of the DIAA Class 3A playoffs and will meet Salesianum at 7 p.m. Friday at Delaware Stadium.

Now, a longer trip remains to clear the final hurdle. Cape Henlopen will meet top-seeded Salesianum in the Class 3A championship game at 7 p.m. Friday at Delaware Stadium.

In just his second season, Frederick has coached the Vikings into the school’s first football state title game since 1984. But the gentle giant, who played five seasons in the NFL, takes none of the credit.

“If nobody knows who the head coach is, that’s great,” he said after the semifinal stunner. “These kids get one shot at it, and they should be celebrated. My staff should be celebrated, because they’re phenomenal. I’m just kind of along for the ride.”

‘He’s like a father to us’

The Vikings’ ride has been longer than anybody could have expected. Frederick’s unconventional approach has created a tight-knit team that is peaking at the perfect time.

“He’s made us like a big family,” said senior running back-linebacker Maurki James, who rushed for 180 yards and scored five touchdowns in the semifinals. “He pushes us to our hardest. Even when we’re down, he’s always there for us.

“He’s like a father to us, honestly.”

Cape Henlopen's Maurki James (7) breaks through the defensive for his first of five touchdowns in a 46-14 win over Sussex Central last Friday in the semifinals of the DIAA Class 3A football playoffs.
Cape Henlopen's Maurki James (7) breaks through the defensive for his first of five touchdowns in a 46-14 win over Sussex Central last Friday in the semifinals of the DIAA Class 3A football playoffs.

Frederick started every game over four years as a 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive end at the University of Virginia.

He then became a third-round draft pick (94th overall) of the Browns in 1995 and played one season in Cleveland, three in Baltimore and one in Tennessee.

HIT THE BUTTON All-football edition: Cast a free vote for Fall Week 12 Delaware Online Athlete of the Week

The final year was memorable, as the Titans reached Super Bowl XXXIV before losing 23-16 to the St. Louis Rams.

Frederick signed with the Eagles for the 2000 season, but was among the final cuts in training camp. So he went back to school, earning a Master’s degree in Business Administration at North Carolina.

He also got into coaching in the following years at two high schools in Pennsylvania – Neshaminy (his alma mater) and Owen J. Roberts.

Moving to Cape

Frederick was serving as a director at SEI Private Wealth Management when the Cape Henlopen coaching job came open two years ago. He was intrigued, because a big part of his extended family had lived in Lewes for years.

The 51-year-old was named the Vikings’ coach on April 28, 2022, taking over a team that finished 1-10 the previous year and had gone through four losing seasons in the previous five.

“I don’t know what happened before I got here, and if it wasn’t helpful to us heading forward, then I didn’t even want to know about it,” Frederick said. “We kind of wiped the slate clean and said, ‘Here’s how we’re going to do things.’”

Cape Henlopen coach Mike Frederick (left) greets Salesianum coach Bill DiNardo after a 28-21 Sallies victory on Sept. 1, 2022. It was Frederick's first game as head coach of the Vikings, who will meet the Sals again more than a year later - in the DIAA Class 3A championship game at 7 p.m. Friday at Delaware Stadium.
Cape Henlopen coach Mike Frederick (left) greets Salesianum coach Bill DiNardo after a 28-21 Sallies victory on Sept. 1, 2022. It was Frederick's first game as head coach of the Vikings, who will meet the Sals again more than a year later - in the DIAA Class 3A championship game at 7 p.m. Friday at Delaware Stadium.

He started coaching more than football.

“We talk a lot about family. We talk about loving one another,” Frederick said. “We do a lot of stuff off the field. We take them to events. We go to a water park instead of a two-a-day.

“We do some different things, because we want them to know we care about them. Their value is not tied to what they do on this football field.”

Whatever the Vikings did, he demanded they to do it together.

“He just expects us to be disciplined,” senior receiver-defensive back Lextyn Wescott said. “Encourage others. Be a leader. If somebody gets down, pick somebody right back up. Just keep moving, next play.”

Rocky start

The Vikings went 4-7 last fall in Frederick’s first season, losing their last five games after a promising start. That included back-to-back losses to eventual Class 3A champion Smyrna – 40-13 to close the regular season and 50-0 in the first round of the playoffs.

This year, the Vikings showed they were different against Smyrna, leading all the way in a 21-6 victory on Oct. 27. Two weeks later, Smyrna went to Sussex Central and won 40-35, further increasing Cape’s confidence.

“The win over Smyrna at home was a big kind of mental hurdle for us where we realized we could play with just about anybody,” Frederick said. “And I think their success after we played them was just one of those things that showed you. They came in here and beat Central.

“We said, ‘Gosh, almighty. We can play with anybody,’” Frederick said. “We believe it. And we’re healthy at the right time, which I think in high school sports is half the battle.”

Cape hammered St. Georges 35-7 to finish the regular season at 7-3, earning the No. 6 seed in the eight-team 3A playoffs. To reach the final, they would have to win on the road against two teams that had beaten them earlier this year.

They did it.

Cape Henlopen running back Maurki James picks up yardage during a 25-20 win at Dover in the quarterfinals of the DIAA Class 3A playoffs.
Cape Henlopen running back Maurki James picks up yardage during a 25-20 win at Dover in the quarterfinals of the DIAA Class 3A playoffs.

After losing three fumbles and an interception in a 35-7 loss at Dover on Nov. 3, Cape returned two weeks later and saw Camryn Joyner intercept two passes in the final 4:22 of a 25-20 victory – the Vikings’ first postseason football win in 39 years.

“Your heart wants them to experience the joy of something like this,” Frederick said afterward. “If this was our goal, then we won’t go much further. My hope is our goal is much bigger than this.”

Semifinal shocker

Cape certainly showed it still wanted more last week.

The Vikings had lost 35-16 at Sussex Central on Oct. 13. But that game was closer than the final score, as Cape only trailed 21-16 with 2:13 to play.

This time, the Vikings scored on their first two drives for a 14-0 lead. And when the Golden Knights pulled within 20-14 with 9:03 to play, Cape had a resounding answer.

The Vikings romped 80 yards in just seven plays to push their lead to 26-14 on James’ 9-yard run with 6:32 left.

Then the fun really started.

Cape Henlopen's Lextyn Wescott (2) returns an interception 30 yards to the Sussex Central 5 in the fourth quarter of the DIAA Class 3A football semifinal game last Friday night at Sussex Central.
Cape Henlopen's Lextyn Wescott (2) returns an interception 30 yards to the Sussex Central 5 in the fourth quarter of the DIAA Class 3A football semifinal game last Friday night at Sussex Central.

Wescott intercepted a pass and returned it to the 5. James scored on the next play.

Then James picked one off on the next Sussex Central play and went 28 yards for a touchdown.

Then Joyner picked off another Golden Knights throw on the next play and sprinted 39 yards for yet another TD.

Just 85 seconds after clinging to a six-point lead, the Vikings were ahead 46-14. The band was playing and the Cape fans were counting down the final 5:07 until the celebration could officially begin.

“It was fascinating,” Frederick said. “I’ve been on the other side, where it feels like everything you do is rolling against you. I don’t know that in 11 years of coaching high school football I’ve been on that side where we were the benefactor of it.”

Now, Cape Henlopen is one win away from its first state football championship since 1979.

“We’re hitting our stride at the right time,” Frederick said. “We weren’t the same team we are now earlier in the year. We’re excited. We’re ready to go.”

Contact Brad Myers at bmyers@delawareonline.com. Follow on X (aka Twitter): @BradMyersTNJ

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Former NFL player Mike Frederick coaches Cape Henlopen into state final