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2 Delaware high school stars to face off in NFC Championship game

Martin Frank
Delaware News Journal

NFL fans in Delaware most likely won't be focusing on Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday.

Many will be watching a matchup involving two local high school stars in Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin and Packers safety Darnell Savage. The two should line up against each other for at least part of the game Sunday, something they have never done in a high school or college game.

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Yet that matchup between Godwin and Savage could be nearly as important as the one between the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in determining which team will advance to the Super Bowl.

Caravel Academy's Darnell Savage, left, and Middletown's Chris Godwin (with ball) were teammates on the Northeast Elite 7-on-7 travel team in the summer of 2013.

Godwin went to Middletown, a Division I power that won the DIAA state championship in 2011 and 2012, his sophomore and junior years. The Cavaliers were runners-up in Godwin's senior year in 2013.

Savage attended Caravel Academy, a Division II power that won the DIAA title in 2012, his sophomore season. The Buccaneers were runner-ups in Savage's freshman year in 2011.

"Any time you can get Delaware guys playing on the NFL's biggest stage, it's a special thing because it's so rare," said Mark DelPercio, who was Godwin's head coach at Middletown. "One of the cool parts is after the game when they can chat on the field. Those things are always great to see."

Sure, the University of Delaware, with quarterbacks Rich Gannon and Joe Flacco, has had players star in a Super Bowl. Delaware State has, too, in 49ers wide receiver John Taylor.

But for players who grew up in Delaware, the only impact players to play in a Super Bowl are Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Randy White (he was the game's MVP in Super Bowl XII), Denver Broncos wide receiver Steve Watson, linebacker Paul Worrilow with the Atlanta Falcons, and current Detroit Lions safety Duron Harmon – he played in four Super Bowls when he was with the Patriots from 2013-19.

Godwin or Savage will be next. 

Godwin, the Bucs' third-round pick in 2017, was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2019 and had 65 catches for 840 yards and 7 touchdowns this season. 

Savage was the Packers' first-round pick in 2019. He has started every game he has played in, and he had four interceptions this season, including two on a Sunday night game against the Bears.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) congratulates wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) after Godwin caught a 7-yard touchdown reception during the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

A loaded travel team

All of this takes Damon Daniels back to the summer of 2013, when he coached both Godwin and Savage on his Northeast Elite 7-on-7 travel team. Savage had just completed his sophomore year of high school while Godwin had just finished his junior year.

Back then, both were wide receivers – Savage mostly lined up outside while Godwin was in the slot, a spot Godwin often plays in now with the Bucs. The team played in tournaments out of state, including one at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, against teams from all around the country.

Daniels said his team made it to the final four, in large part because of Godwin and Savage.

"You can't predict NFL success at that age," Daniels said. "That comes down to how bad you want it, and how hard you're willing to work. Both Chris and Darnell had that.

"It was an eye opener for them to see how good kids were from around the country that were there. But it was also a confidence booster for them because they saw how well they could compete."

Godwin and Savage were part of a loaded team of Delaware high school stars that included eventual NFL players in Dolphins practice squad wide receiver Andre Patton (St. Elizabeth), Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill (Salesianum, as a tight end), and former Giants and Steelers wide receiver Quadree Henderson (A.I. du Pont).

Other players on that team included future University of Delaware players Eric Patton, (Andre's brother), Colby Reeder, Darius Wade (a Boston College transfer and Godwin's quarterback at Middletown), and Ray Jones.

By then, Godwin had committed to Penn State, where he would have a stellar career with 1,101 yards receiving as a sophomore, and 187 yards receiving in the Rose Bowl as a junior, his final collegiate game.

Savage was starting to be recruited by many of the top programs in college football, such as Alabama.

But a broken leg suffered early in his junior season cost Savage the rest of that season. He ended up at Maryland, where he moved from cornerback to safety. He finished with 8 interceptions, including two touchdown returns.

"We knew all of those guys were college players," Daniels said. "I wouldn't say Savage was one of the best guys on that team, but he kept working and made himself into a first-round pick."

As for Godwin, Daniels said he has "a special photographic memory." He described a day when he and Godwin were driving to Penn State and Godwin was going through Penn State's playbook.

"He had that thing memorized by the time we got there," Daniels said with a laugh. "He always worked really hard because he had to learn the skills and nuances of route running, and he did that."

Green Bay Packers' Darnell Savage celebrates with teammates after his interception during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers won 30-16. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

Just missing each other

Even though Godwin and Savage both played in the Big Ten, they never faced each other in a game. In 2015, when Godwin was a sophomore, he had 4 catches for 135 yards against Maryland. Savage, a freshman that year, didn't play in that game.

The following season, Godwin sat out with an injury against the Terrapins.

But they did play against each other earlier this season, on Oct. 18, as the Bucs blasted the Packers 38-10. They both had relatively quiet games, however. Godwin had 5 catches for 48 yards. Savage made five tackles.

Godwin was adjusting to a new quarterback in Brady, who of course is one of the top quarterbacks in NFL history.

But Godwin, who's eligible for free agency after the season, also dealt with assorted injuries that limited him to 12 games this season. He is listed on the Bucs' injury report this week with a quad injury.

"Really, I just think we've been going through our growing pains throughout the season, which happens when you have a new quarterback," Godwin told reporters before the Bucs' 30-20 win over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday in the NFC Divisional Round. "It takes some time to really build that chemistry, and I think over the last couple weeks, we've done a better job of doing that."

Savage, meanwhile, dealt with an injured quad that kept him out of a game in the middle of the season. He played much better after he returned and had all four of his interceptions over the second half of the season.

"It’s always a fine line when you get a guy that’s as athletic and can cover the field like he can," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said about Savage leading into Green Bay's game against the Eagles on Dec. 6.

"He wants to make a play. And typically, I’d say for most players, if you try to force that play, it doesn’t always work out that way. You gotta let the game come to you ... and when he got the opportunities, he cashed in on them."

Chris Godwin (front row, dark blue sweatshirt), Darnell Savage (back row, third from left) and Northeast Elite 7-on-7 coach Damon Daniels (back row, far left) pose with the rest of the team before a tournament in the spring of 2013.

'Kind of a special dude'

DelPercio, currently the head coach and athletic director at Orange Grove High School near Corpus Christi, Texas, has known this about Savage, too. 

Middletown had a 7-on-7 game against Savage and Caravel in the summer of 2014,  after Godwin had left for Penn State. Savage was heading into his senior season, after missing all but the first game of his junior season with that broken leg.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," DelPercio said. "I remember we threw a post route to the opposite hash mark (from where Savage was lined up), and Savage came from out of nowhere and picked it off."

DelPercio said he went up to Scott Thompson, who was Caravel's defensive coordinator then, and told him: "That's kind of a special dude."

"He was so athletic, and so fast," DelPercio said. "When you coach long enough, you can see a guy who's capable of playing at the next level."

DelPercio felt that way about Godwin, too.

"He's always been a guy who's sitting in the film room, front row, asking questions," DelPercio said. "You combine his talent with his work ethic, and you get someone who's very special.

"That's why you rarely see him come off the field. The Bucs want him on the field for running plays, too, because he's a really good blocker. That's where he separates himself from most wide receivers who only want to play on the outside.

"He's not a prima donna at all."

Neither is Savage. 

Since Daniels knows both of them well, he was asked what it will be like watching them play Sunday night, with a Super Bowl berth at stake.

"(Back then), it was kind of like Chris was always the big brother," Daniels said. "(Savage) couldn't cover him when they were younger, and now he's got his chance.

"But I'm going to just watch and root for both of them. I'll keep my coach's mindset and look at certain plays during the game. Then I'll text them both pointers after, like I always do."

Then he added with a laugh: "One of them will be in the Super Bowl. You can't beat that."

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.