Blue Hen quarterback Kehoe eyes first career start: Redshirt junior gets nod in Thursday’s opener vs. URI

Redshirt junior Pat Kehoe will be just the fourth UD quarterback in the last 30 years to start a season opener without having thrown a collegiate pass. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — In his three seasons at Delaware, Pat Kehoe has gotten on the field just once in a real game.

But coach Danny Rocco said the field isn’t the only a place a player earns respect.

The second-year Blue Hen coach said Kehoe has become a leader in places like 6:30 a.m. workouts or player-organized passing sessions.

“I think that is a big part of Pat,” said Rocco. “And maybe for me, as the head coach who is not there in those moments … sometimes there’s things going on in your program that are really positive and you’re not always certain who’s taking the initiative.

“It has been brought to my attention that that’s kind of been who Pat has been here for a good while.”

Now the Hens are anxious to see if Kehoe’s behind-the-scenes leadership skills will translate to the field.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound redshirt junior quarterback will get his first career start on Thursday when Delaware opens the season by hosting Colonial Athletic Association foe Rhode Island at 7 p.m.

Kehoe got the starting nod over QBs J.P. Caruso, Darius Wade and even Joe Walker, who is now a receiver — all of whom have considerably more playing experience than Kehoe.

And, indeed, Rocco said he plans on playing more than one quarterback on Thursday. Caruso would presumably be the next QB off the bench.

Danny Rocco

Kehoe is just the fourth Delaware QB in the past 30 years to start a season opener without ever having thrown a collegiate pass. Rocco, though, said he made the decision not so much on the left-handed Kehoe’s ability to throw the ball but on his ability to run Delaware’s offense.

“You’re going to see Pat run our offense,” Rocco said at his first weekly press lunch on Monday. “Ultimately, that is one thing we want to be able to do out here Thursday night. We want to be able to run our offense, have him get us in and out of plays, take plays into good looks out of bad looks and then make good decisions with the football — and get the ball to our playmakers.

“That is first and foremost before we start talking about what other things will we do at the quarterback position on Thursday night. But you will see more than one quarterback play in the game.”

This is the first time since 2007 that the Hens have opened up against a conference opponent. That puts more importance on this game — not to mention a little more responsibility on Kehoe’s shoulders.

Kehoe’s teammates, however, say he’s earned their confidence.

“I feel as though you have to respect a guy in a situation like that,” said Walker. “There’s a guy who can have his head down, was low on the depth chart and really worked his way up.”

Walker now caught up

Former starting QB Joe Walker (3) runs with the ball in the Hens’ scrimmage last week. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

Joe Walker, now a senior, has the distinction of being a four-year starter at Delaware.

But, after starting 26 games at quarterback over his first three seasons, this time he’ll be lining up as a starting wide receiver.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior did play wideout in the second half of last season with limited success. He had six catches for 152 yards.

After going through spring practice and preseason camp, however, Walker thinks he’s much more prepared to play his new position.

“It wasn’t athletic ability, it was all mental,” he said about lining up at receiver last year. “Being able to receive a lot of knowledge, I feel really good about going into the season.

“I got a lot of support from coaches and players. They really helped me grow as much as I’ve done in the off-season. It’s just been really fast, honestly, changing roles like that. But I have a lot of confidence.”

Delaware needs a receiver to step up after graduating Diante Cherry. With 114 catches for 1,183 yards and six touchdowns, Cherry was the Hens’ leading pass-catcher in that span.

Lining up alongside fellow seniors Jamie Jarmon and Vinny Papale, Walker gives Delaware a physical presence at the position. He may also return kickoffs and punts.

“Joe has made a lot of improvement,” said Rocco. “Coach (Erik) Campbell has done a really good job with Joe, getting him to just do the basic fundamentals that go with being able to master the position. Joe has an amazing amount of talent.

“These techniques and fine-tuning these fundamentals will give him an opportunity to create some space, get open and really make some plays with us. We’re really excited about that and his development. I feel like our football team is a better football team with Joe out there on the edge creating that threat.”

Whether he’s a quarterback or a receiver, Walker said the bottom line is that he just wants to win.

“My mindset has never changed,” said Walker. “I was always going out trying to be a leader.”

Ware not unnoticed

Armen Ware is one of those guys who always seem to find his way onto the field.

The 6-foot, 235-pound senior, who has also seen time at linebacker, is listed as a starting defensive end for the URI game.

A Middletown native, Ware played at St. Joseph’s Prep (Pa.) in high school. He’s gotten in 21 career UD games as a reserve.

Rocco says Ware first attracted his attention when he was coaching at Richmond two years ago.

“When you’re on the field, you get a different perspective of these kids,” said Rocco. “There were a couple plays on our sideline that night and I’m like, ‘My gosh, who’s this guy. This guy’s playing hard. He’s running to the ball and he’s explosive.’ He’s just an ‘all in’ human being and that’s awesome to see.”

Extra points

Thursday’s contest can be seen on-line as the CBSi Game of the week. … Delaware is slated to have seven transfers in its starting lineup. And that doesn’t include the QB position, where two of the top three players are transfers. … The other three UD quarterbacks in the last 30 years to start a season opener without ever having thrown a collegiate pass are Blake Rankin (2015), Robbie Schoenhoft (2008) and Billy Vernatino (1989).

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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