Blue Hen notebook: Knight a ‘special’ addition for Hens

RB Will Knight is averaging 8.3 yards per touch in his first season with the Hens. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — To be honest, Will Knight wasn’t sure how Danny Rocco would react.

After all, the former Smyrna High star running back had gone back on his verbal commitment to Delaware to sign with Old Dominion.

So late last spring, when Knight contacted Rocco to say he was thinking of becoming a Blue Hen after all, he wouldn’t have been surprised if the UD football coach wasn’t eager to hear from him.

“I could understand if he was upset,” said Knight. “I would respect it because it’s a commitment and I broke that. But they welcomed me back with open hands.”

Indeed, Knight’s return to Delaware after spending a year at ODU has turned out about as good as anybody could have hoped.

Will Knight

The redshirt freshman has been the big-play back the Blue Hens needed this season. Knight is averaging 8.3 yards per touch (rushing/receiving) going into Delaware’s 2 p.m. CAA game at No. 21 Towson (1-3 CAA, 4-4 overall) on Saturday.

The Hens (2-2 CAA, 4-4 overall), who were ranked No. 19, fell out of the STATS FCS rankings on Monday after Saturday’s 35-25 loss to unranked Richmond.

Rocco said he didn’t harbor any resentment toward Knight after he went to Old Dominion. He also could sympathize with the family after Knight’s older brother, Wade, was killed in a car accident the day that Will signed with the Monarchs.

“I thought it was really neat how he and I were able to connect, communicate in a very mature manner,” said Rocco. “There’s a lot of ways I could have looked at that (ODU decision) personally. I was very open to reconnecting with Will and his family.

“They had gone through a tragic event. In my mind, that trumped anything and everything else that was going on in the football world. I was able to recognize, ‘Oh my gosh, think about what they’re dealing with, think about what Will’s dealing with.’”

Rocco said there’s never been a moment’s regret in accepting Knight back into the program.

He said, in team meetings, Knight is one of the players who’s always paying attention — always nodding his head to what Rocco is saying.

“He has been really special since his arrival,” said Rocco. “He comes in every day with a smile on his face and he’s ready to work. He’s one of the silent leaders on this team now.”

Knight is Delaware’s leading rusher with 547 yards and a pair of TDs on 70 carries. He also has 14 catches for 147 yards and another touchdown.

Despite not starting, Knight has three 100-yard rushing games this year — including two in a row.

Just like at Smyrna, the 5-foot-11, 195-pounder has won over UD fans with his combination of balance and speed and ability to make cuts.

But he also reminded people how tough he is on a fourth-and-one play against Richmond. With the Hens going for it on their own side of the 50, Knight took a hard, low hit in the backfield.

He stayed on his feet, however, before lunging forward to pick up the crucial first down.

“That was awesome,” linebacker Drew Nickles said about the play. “The resilience. … that guy hit him pretty hard, but he stayed up and kept pushing for the first — which is what the team needed. I think that really excited the team.”

“It was impressive,” said Rocco. “It kind of bails the coach out. … But he’s got that kind of ability. He’s got the total package in terms of balance and vision, explosion and he’s tough; a great center of gravity, change of direction. There’s a lot there.

“He’s putting together a really, really strong season. And his best football is in front of him.”

There’s an argument to be made that Delaware should be happy that Knight went to ODU first. Spending a full year at an FBS program — and playing in his maximum four games — left him more prepared to hit the ground running this season.

“College football is way different than high school,” said Knight. “It’s something that you just have to learn and practice, honestly.”

Not that Knight didn’t learn plenty of important lessons at Smyrna.

He still hasn’t forgotten that it was former Eagles teammate Alajuwon Hunter who first showed him what it means to be a good running back. Hunter was a senior when Knight was a freshman.

“He just showed that he didn’t care who the person was across from him,” said Knight. “It was just straight physicality and he’s just going to get after every play.

“And he always had faith in me and told me I was special. He wouldn’t led me settle for being mediocre. He helped me work hard and become a workhorse.”

Both QBs to play

Rocco said on Monday that he expects to use both Pat Kehoe and Nolan Henderson at quarterback against Towson.

Kehoe has played the last two-and-a-half games since Henderson suffered a concussion at Elon. The Smyrna High grad was medically cleared to play and practiced last week but didn’t get in the game against Richmond.

Senior QB Pat Kehoe, who made a couple tough runs against Richmond, is expected to start again against Towson. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

“I personally didn’t feel he was ready to go out there and compete at a high level,” Rocco said about Henderson. “He looks better here at the beginning of this week. I’m sure he’ll do nothing but get better and better as he gets reps here during the course of the week.
“Really maybe in his best interests, I didn’t feel that he was totally back to being at 100 percent, playing fast … I didn’t want to see him get hit. And, obviously, if he goes in the game, he’s going to get hit.”

Kehoe completed 12-of-21 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions against Richmond. He also made a couple key runs in the game.

Extra points

Richmond’s Aaron Dykes was named the STATS FCS National Special Teams Player of the Week for his two kickoff return TDs against Delaware. He was the first Spiders’ player to accomplish the feat in one game. … Sophomore tight end Bryce DeMaille has six TD catches on just 17 career receptions. … Kehoe needs 13 passing yards to become only the 15th Delaware QB? with 3,000 career passing yards.

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