Buchanan, Nickles step into Blue Hen linebacker spotlight

Blue Hen coach Danny Rocco describes linebacker Johnny Buchanan (No. 33 in white) as an old-school football player. “He loves to play the game,” Rocco said. “He’s a football junkie. There’s a lot to like there.” UD sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — Johnny Buchanan is a football guy.

And he comes from a football family.

The Delaware linebacker proudly points out that his great uncle, Joe Auer, scored the first touchdown in Miami Dolphins’ history on a 95-yard kickoff return.

“Football means the world to me,” Buchanan said after the Blue Hens’ practice on Tuesday morning. “My whole life really revolves around football.”

Johnny Buchanan

So the 6-foot, 230-pound sophomore would gladly play wherever Delaware wants him — coach Danny Rocco has said Buchanan is probably good enough to play running back at this level.

But linebacker is definitely where the Hens need him and it’s where they’re hoping he makes a name for himself this fall.

With the graduation of veteran stalwarts like Troy Reeder and Charles Bell, Delaware is basically starting over at linebacker this season. Buchanan and Drew Nickles, who both saw regular playing time as true freshman last fall, are poised to be the leaders of that group.
They both played in 11 games last season.

“With all those guys that are assuming roles as primary players and starters, all the banked reps they got last year are really, really important,” said Rocco. “Drew and Johnny, the whole year they were training, they were preparing, they’re familiar with the routine and the regimen. I expect them to have really good years.”

Nickles and Buchanan, who sometimes line up no more than a few feet away from each other in the heart of the Hens’ defense, know they’re in this together. The two players are roommates.

Drew Nickles was playing outside linebacker until the middle of spring practice when he moved to the middle. He ended up being named the most improved defensive player of spring ball.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Nickles would like to think they learned some things from the veterans they played behind last season.

“Every year, you’ve got to take in what you can — from a senior class like that, especially,” he said. “Those guys were such great leaders, great football players and good guys. We just try and kind of be like them a little bit.”

Nickles was playing outside linebacker until the middle of spring practice when he moved to the middle. He ended up being named the most improved defensive player of spring ball.

He knows there’s still plenty more to learn.

Drew Nickles

“It’s kind of nice moving around, playing different positions, because you know what the other guys are doing,” said Nickles. “You kind of know what to expect from them. It’s always going to take a little bit getting used to but it’s been great. Everyone’s helped so much.”

One of those guys helping Nickles make the adjustment, of course, is Buchanan. As roommates, Buchanan said they spend a lot of time talking football.

“Drew and I work really well off each other,” said Buchanan. “Ever since he got moved to inside backer in the spring, we were talking in the dorm room — ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do if this happens … ‘ We’re gelling together and we’re running on full cylinders now. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Rocco, who is also happy with the play of redshirt freshman linebacker Liam Trainer, clearly likes the attitude that Buchanan brings to the game.

The youngster did it all at St. John Vianney High in New Jersey. Along with posting 130 tackles on defense, he ran for 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns on offense as a senior.

“Johnny is an old-school football player,” said Rocco. “He loves to play the game. He’s a football junkie. There’s a lot to like there.”
Buchanan said he’s joked with Rocco about playing both offense and defense.

If he was a little taller, there’s no telling where Buchanan might be playing football right now. In high school, he had interest from Division I FBS programs like Rutgers, Connecticut, Syracuse, Temple and UMass.

Even LSU talked to Buchanan about walking on.

“I definitely have a chip on my shoulder,” said Buchanan. “But it’s not like I think, ‘Oh, I can’t do this because I’m too short.’

“I knew I wanted to be here after talking to Coach Rocco and all these guys. This was just a great fit for me.”

Extra points

Penn State transfer Dae’lun Darien stood out at receiver in Tuesday’s practice. The 6-foot-4, 223-pound converted linebacker pulled down a number of passes in scrimmage action. “That’s the best day he’s had,” said Rocco. “If that’s what he’s capable of doing, he could really be a significant contributor this year.” … Veteran defensive back Tim Poindexter, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound junior, has started playing outside linebacker. … A few former Henlopen Conference players have been added to UD’s roster as walk-ons. That includes Doug Reed (Polytech) and Isaiah Barnes (Sussex Central. … There was plenty of Smyrna High red around Tuesday’s practice as the Eagles’ trainers were shadowing UD’s staff.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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