Blue Hens know that time is now

Danny Rocco (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — Being a senior football player comes with a definite sense of finality.

No matter how philosophical you get, the end of your playing career is impossible to sidestep.

So for the Delaware football team, which has a big senior class of 30 players, there’s definitely a feeling that this is their last season to get it done.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that are on their last go-around,” said senior linebacker Troy Reeder. “No matter what you say, when it’s your last year, it’s a different mentality.

“And there are so many of us that are involved that I think the team’s kind of taken on that mentality. … We have a lot of guys who have started and played for three or four years that took their lumps and learned — learned at 4-7 and learned at 7-4. Now we’re trying to piece it all together one last time.”

The holy grail for the Blue Hens, who open the season on Thursday by hosting Rhode Island at 7 p.m., is to get the program back into the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs. Delaware still hasn’t been there since reaching the national championship game in 2010.

The Hens did go 7-4 last fall for their first winning season since 2013. In their first season under coach Danny Rocco, they even thought they’d done enough to warrant an at-large playoff berth.

Now, though, just coming close isn’t good enough for Delaware’s seniors. Rocco said there’s clearly a sense of urgency that comes with having a veteran squad.

“There are a lot of guys here who very much deserve to experience the joy and the thrill of victory,” he said. “And we talk about that a lot. A lot of guys have invested an awful lot here in their time in their careers.

“It’s offering a really good standard at which we’re trying to perform to.”

With so many veterans, there’s a lot to like about this Delaware team, which was ranked No. 15 in the STATS preseason FCS Division I poll.

The Hens’ defense, led by Reeder and safety Nasir Adderley, would like to think it can be as good as any FCS defense in the country. A year ago, Delaware was 10th nationally in scoring defense (16.8 points) and 15th in total defense (305.5 yards).

Offensively, the Hens will again try to control the ball. Sussex Tech High grad Kani Kane, who emerged as Delaware’s top running back after transferring in from a junior college last summer, leads a solid backfield that should go at least four players deep.

“This is the most talented team I’ve been on, honestly,” said senior quarterback J.P. Caruso, who spent his first three seasons at Appalachian State. “We really don’t have a weakness at any position — we really don’t.

“Our defense is the best defense in the country — the same as last year, I believe. We’re going up against the best defense every single day and it’s just making the offense better. We’re out there competing every single day and there’s so much energy.

“One thing I can tell you is that I’ve never been a part of a team that has so much energy every single practice,” Caruso added. “It’s a lot of fun to be on this team. I’m excited.”

But the Hens’ biggest potential Achilles heel continues to be its lack of a consistent passing game. Last season, Delaware was just 117th out of the 123 teams in FCS as 124.5 passing yards per game.

Delaware did bring in former Middletown High star Darius Wade, a transfer from Boston College. But he’s only third on the depth chart in preseason.

Rocco did shake things up a little this week when he decided to start redshirt junior Pat Kehoe at QB in the opener. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound lefthander has seen action in only one game during his first two playing seasons at Delaware.

Caruso, who started the final six games of last season, is still in the picture. Rocco has a history of playing multiple quarterbacks and said he expects to do so again this year.

“I think we’re very talented on defense,” said Rocco. “We’re very physical and I like our depth. I like our running backs, I like our physicality and I like our ‘O’ line in terms of physicality.

“But we’ve still got to improve our passing game. We have receivers. We’ve just got to be a little more efficient.”

Extra points

Delaware has three teams on the schedule that are ranked ahead of it. That includes No. 1 North Dakota State, No. 7 New Hampshire and No. 12 Elon. … But the Hens don’t have to face CAA giant James Madison, which is ranked No. 2 in the preseason. … Of Delaware’s 24 opening-night starters, 16 are seniors. Rocco listed 12 positions on both offense and defense. … Nine true freshmen made the depth chart as backups.

 

The 2018 Blue Hens

Here’s a position-by-position look at the Delaware football team for the 2018 season:

Pat Kehoe
(Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

J.P Caruso
(Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

Darius Wade
(Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

Kani Kane
(Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK: There’s a pretty good chance two or three QBs will see game action this season, especially early in the year when the Blue Hens are in the nonconference portion part of their schedule.

Veteran backup Pat Kehoe (Jr., 6-4, 240) has been named the starter for the season opener but has played in only one game in his collegiate career. J.P. Caruso (Sr., 6-0, 205) started the final six games of last season with mixed results. He threw for eight TDs with five interceptions while seeing action in 10 of 11 games.

Darius Wade (Sr., 6-1, 225) is the wild card at the position. He only saw limited playing time in preseason. But, considering he started six games at Boston College, he could still work himself in the picture. And then there’s Joe Walker (Sr., 6-3, 205), who was a three-year starter at QB before being moved to receiver midway through last season. The Hens still run some plays with him behind center.

RUNNING BACK: Delaware has several options in the backfield. Kani Kane (Sr., 6-0, 240) looks like he’s in better shape and certainly knows the offense better than he did last season when he ran for a team-high 594 yards and 7 TDs in his first season with the Hens. But Delaware also still has veteran Kareem Williams (Sr., 5-10, 210), who owns 1,407 career rushing yards.

Khory Spruill (So., 6-0, 230) showed a glimpse of his ability when he ran for 86 yards in a win over Albany as a freshman while newcomer Dejoun Lee (So., 5-7, 185), an Army transfer who redshirted last fall, gives the Hens some speed at the position. There’s a possible fifth running back in Penn State transfer Andre Robinson (Jr., 5-10, 225), who got some preseason carries. Delaware still has to work through some red tape, though, before the former high school star is eligible to play.

The Hens will use a fullback at times with former tight end Owen Tyler (Sr., 6-4, 235) listed as the starter. Former standout running back Thomas Jefferson (Sr., 6-1, 215), a 1,590-yard rusher who opted to return for his final year, could also see time there.

RECEIVER/TIGHT END: The Hens’ receivers, of course, have also played a role in UD’s lackluster passing game over the last several seasons. Delaware wideouts had only 59 catches for 793 yards last year.

But former Indian River High star Jamie Jarmon (Sr., 6-2, 200), who had a team-high 29 catches and all six TD receptions by a receiver last fall, and Vinny Papale (Sr., 6-1, 205) have both seen a lot of playing time in their careers. Joe Walker (Sr., 6-3, 205) also figures to make an impact after adjusting to his new position.

Thyrick Pitts (So., 6-2, 205), Gene Coleman (So., 5-11, 195) and Tylan McElhenie (So., 6-2, 195) are Delaware’s next generation of wideouts after seeing action as freshman.

At tight end, Charles Scarff (Sr., 6-6, 270) can be an imposing target at times — he had three TD catches last year — but needs to be more consistent.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Delaware’s offensive line will be a mix of old and new. After being limited by injuries at times, Guard Mario Farinella (Sr., 6-2, 300) earned preseason all-CAA honors. Connor Lutz (Jr., 6-5, 305), Jethro Pepe (Sr., 6-7, 295) and Noah Bey (Sr., 6-6, 290) have made a combined 28 career starts.

Guard Chuka Ezeuzoh (Jr., 6-5, 305), who redshirted last year after transferring from Delaware State, started in 17 games for the Hornets. Collin Wallish (Jr., 6-6, 285) takes over the starting center job while David Kroll (So., 6-6, 315) will man the left tackle spot after seeing action in 10 games as a true freshman.

Troy Reeder
(Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

 

Nasir Adderley
(Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE: After losing four of its top linemen, including two to the NFL, Delaware has some rebuilding to do up front. It hasn’t helped that several players were dealing with injuries in preseason.

Still, Cam Kitchen (Sr., 6-2, 275) and Armen Ware (Sr., 6-0, 235) have both been in the program for a while. Transfers Frank Burton (So., 6-2, 270), from Ball State, and Caleb Ashworth (So., 6-3, 260), from Cincinnati, are both expected to step right into key roles. Dominick Covatto (So., 6-3, 275) and Sal Mauro (So., 6-2, 270) should also be contributors when they’re healthy.

LINEBACKER: The Hens have a lot of linebackers — they list 19 on the roster — including some pretty good ones. Delaware hopes Troy Reeder (Sr., 6-3, 245) and Charles Bell (Sr., 6-0, 230), who is returning from a back injury, are at the top of their games this fall. The two have combined for 398 tackles in their UD careers.

Colby Reeder (So., 6-3, 240) made an immediate impact as a freshman with former safety Ray Jones (Sr., 6-1, 205) moving to linebacker for his last year. Middletown High standout Kedrick Whitehead (Fr., 5-11, 190) is in the mix after taking part in spring practice.

SECONDARY: The quick return of safety Malcolm Brown (Sr., 6-1, 200) from a serious off-season injury has helped solidify an already-veteran secondary. Safety Nasir Adderley (Sr., 6-0, 200) is considered the top player in the defensive backfield but cornerbacks Tenny Adewusi (Sr., 6-1, 200) have K.C. Hinton (Sr., 5-11, 200) have also seen a lot of playing time. Together those four players have 14 career interceptions.

Cornerback Nijuel Hill (So., 5-10, 185) started 10 games as a freshman while converted receiver Joey Carter (So., 6-0, 195) could also contribute this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Now in his fourth year as Delaware’s main placekicker, Frank Raggo (Sr., 5-9, 190) is now a reliable veteran. He’s 74-of-75 on PAT kicks in his career and 19-for-26 on field goals over the last two seasons. He hit a career-high 55-yarder last season.

Punter Nick Pritchard (Jr., 5-10, 210) returns after averaging 40.7 yards per kick last year. Polytech High grad Mark Bonnie (So., 5-11, 185) and Jake Roth (Jr., 6-0, 210) are both dueling for the kickoff specialist job.

 

 

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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