Blue Hen notebook: Coleman a good catch for Hens

Delaware receiver Gene Coleman (top) celebrates with teammate Thyrick Pitts after his second-quarter TD catch at Pitt. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — Gene Coleman knew he was going to have to wait his turn.

But that doesn’t mean the waiting part was easy.

While he got his share of playing time on special teams in his first two seasons at Delaware, the junior receiver had just 10 catches on his resume coming into this year.

“At a young age, it’s hard not to think maybe something’s wrong with you,” said Coleman. “Or maybe there’s something that you’re not doing.

“But my father just made me focus on continuing to work. That’s always kind of got me through it.”

Coleman’s dad, also named Gene, was right of course.

Now in his third year, Coleman is coming into his own as a receiver. He already has 14 catches for 135 yards and three touchdowns this season for the Hens (3-2), who have an open date this weekend.

In Saturday’s 17-14 loss at Division I FBS Pitt, Coleman pulled in five passes for 61 yards. He snared a seven-yard scoring pass from quarterback Nolan Henderson to pull Delaware even at 7-7 in the second quarter.

Safety Kedrick Whitehead, for one, isn’t surprised that Coleman is emerging as a quality receiver.

“Gene’s a special guy, a special receiver,” said the Middletown High grad. “All off-season we battled back and forth. He has great open-field awareness. He has great elusiveness — he’s not an easy guy to cover one on one. He’s tough, he’s physical, he’s quick.”

Junior receiver Gene Coleman already has 14 receptions this season after totaling 10 in his first two seasons at UD.

Coach Danny Rocco says Coleman could probably play a number of different positions if the Hens needed him to. The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder returned kicks for Delaware as a true freshman.

Rocco said Coleman was also one of the players who stood out against Pitt.

“Gene’s one of those guys that belonged in the game,” said Rocco. “You saw it early — he was confident, he made plays. He’s one of those guys that was able to win some one-on-one matchups.

“He’s got really good body control. He’s deceiving a little bit, I think, to defenders. He’s one of those guys who’s not particularly the fastest, maybe not the biggest but he is big enough, he is strong enough, he is fast enough to do a lot of different things.

“Gene’s a football player,” said Rocco. “He could probably play safety for us. … I’m proud of Gene. He’s been a viable option for a while. I just think now he’s starting to get more and more looks and more and more opportunities.”

Of course, Coleman wasn’t just sitting and waiting the last couple years. He was also practicing and learning.

Coleman said he really picked up a lot from some of the senior receivers on last year’s squad — especially Jamie Jarmon (Indian River) and Joe Walker.

“Even today, I talk to them all the time,” said Coleman. “Back when they were here, those were the guys I was working out with the most. More mentally than physically, they kind of pushed me. They always kind of had a belief in me.

“Last year, when Jamie got hurt, I had to try to step up and kind of fill that void. Nobody prepared me mentally more for that than him. A lot of my progress has to do with what they prepared me for.”

Henderson taking his hits

Henderson did what he was supposed to do on the play.

The Delaware QB had just scrambled across Pitt’s 10-yard line when he went into a feet-first slide. Henderson got smacked anyway by a Panther defender who put his shoulder into his facemask.

The Smyrna High looked like he was shaken up as he tried to stand. The second-quarter play was video-reviewed but no penalty was called.

It turns out there was a little acting involved.

Blue Hen QB Nolan Henderson starts to slide just before taking a late hit in Saturday’s game at Heinz Field.

“He got me pretty good,” Henderson said after the contest. “But I tried to sell it a little bit. I thought I’d get the call but I guess the refs didn’t see it that way.

“I mean, it hurt. But I milked it a little more to try to get a call.”

In all seriousness, though, Henderson has taken more than his share of hits — especially since taking over as the Hens’ QB two-and-a-half games ago. He’s been sacked a total of 14 times — 13 times in just the last 10 quarters.

Considering that Henderson has also run the ball 28 times, that’s a lot of potential wear and tear on the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder’s wiry frame.

“He’s getting hit too much,” said Rocco.

But Rocco also said Henderson does a good job of avoiding some direct hits.

“He’s a tough kid,” said Rocco. “He’s extraordinarily competitive. Very athletic. He’s taken some shots but he’s the kind of athlete that can minimize the actual poundage that he takes.”

At the same time, Rocco said the next stage in Henderson’s development as a passer is hanging in the pocket just a little bit longer — “a millisecond” — to allow his receivers to get open.

“He’s seeing it better,” said Rocco. “He’s reading it better. … (But) there were opportunities to deliver a few more balls down the field to receivers that would have been open.”

Henderson has now thrown 78 passes this season with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

Last line of defense

Whitehead seems to have adjusted well to his switch from linebacker to safety this season.

The sophomore leads the Hens with 49 tackles — 10 more than anybody else on the squad.

While there’s a number of differences between playing the two positions, Whitehead there’s a pretty big psychological change in being a safety. A lot of times he knows there’s no one behind him.

“If it gets past me, the only thing is him and the goalposts,” said Whitehead. “So it’s important that I make sure I make that tackle. … I’m just making sure that I wrap him up and bring him to the ground.”

Extra points

Delaware moved up one place to No. 19 in this week’s STATS Division I FCS poll. … Linebacker Drew Nickles was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Week after posting 12 tackles with a strip/fumble recovery to set up a TD against Pitt. … The Hens planned to practice only two days this week before getting ready for their Oct. 12 CAA game at Elon. … Delaware still has recorded just one QB sack this season.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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