Flacco has fond memories of his time with Hens

Quarterback Joe Flacco finished his Delaware football career with 20 school records. (Delaware sports information)

NEWARK — Joe Flacco has played a lot of football since he left Delaware.

The 35-year-old is now in his 13th season as an NFL quarterback.

But Flacco still has plenty of fond memories of his days with the Blue Hens — especially taking Delaware to the NCAA FCS Division I national championship game in 2007.

The Hens won playoff upsets at Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois before falling to Appalachian State in the title game in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“I think that was one of the best times of my life,” Flacco said in a recent interview on Bluehens.com. “We were just kind of hanging out in little old towns, in crappy hotels with the guys. Those were probably some of the best times I had.

Flacco led the Blue Hens to the FCS Division I national championship game in 2007. (Delaware sports information)

“We were just sitting in somebody’s hotel room, 8-10 people deep, shooting the breeze and getting ready to play a football game.”

Flacco’s NFL success is one of the big reasons that Delaware became known as a place for producing great QBs.

But he was hardly the only reason.

Delaware recently put together a video conference call with some of the program’s all-time quarterback greats. Hosted by Rich Gannon, the former NFL MVP turned TV analyst, the session also included Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy, Scott Brunner, Andy Hall and Pat Devlin.

Four of those QBs took Delaware to national championship games while all six reached at least the NCAA quarterfinals.

Flacco, though, is the only one of the group to win a Super Bowl. He was named the Super Bowl MVP after the Baltimore Ravens won the title in 2012.

Because of his later success, it’s easy to forget that Flacco wasn’t considered a can’t-miss prospect early in his career. He went to a small high school (Audubon, N.J.) and the team went only 11-19 over his last three seasons.

So while Flacco spent his first couple college seasons at Pittsburgh, he said there wasn’t a great deal of interest in him when he decided to transfer.

“I didn’t want to have to wait around and have to have something happen in order for me to play (at Pitt),” Flacco said on Bluehens.com. “I felt like I was competing and doing all the right things but just wasn’t really given the chance. … I knew I had to play. I wanted to play football. I still had the urge and the ‘want-to’ to get to the next level.

“Back then there really wasn’t a transfer portal. People couldn’t reach out to you, I couldn’t reach out to anybody else. Because I came from a small high school, it’s not like too many people were really aware of me.”

But Delaware is fairly close to Audubon and former Blue Hen coach K.C. Keeler was more than happy to sign a 6-foot-6, 235-pounquarterback with a cannon for a right arm.

Even despite sitting out a season because Pitt wouldn’t release him from his scholarship, Flacco finished his UD career with 20 school records. As a senior, he threw for 4,263 yards with 23 touchdown passes against only five interceptions.

Now people took notice.

The Ravens drafted Flacco in the first round with the No. 18 overall pick in 2008. That made him Delaware’s highest draft choice ever.

After injuries left Flacco as Baltimore’s starter, he ended up taking the Ravens to the AFC Championship Game. He was named the NFL Rookie of the Year.

Flacco said getting the chance to play right away was the best thing that could have happened to him.

“I feel like the more you sit around, the less confident you get,” he said. “Sometimes you see guys, they don’t get on the field right away. Then they have something happen in practice. Playing games and doing well — and making mistakes — it builds confidence.”

In Flacco’s third preseason game as a rookie, he wasn’t supposed to play. But then the other quarterbacks weren’t available and he ended up playing the entire contest.

“From that morning, thinking I wasn’t going to play at all, to that night, playing the whole, entire game, it just made me realize, ‘This is just football,’” said Flacco. “It’s a higher level and, across the board, there’s more consistency, but it’s still just football.

“I think I was fortunate to get thrown in there right away. I think that led to some early success.”

Now Flacco is at the other end of his career.

After a season with Denver, he underwent neck surgery and then signed with the Jets on May 27. With New York, he’s expected to be the backup to former first-round draft pick Sam Darnold.

But that doesn’t mean that Flacco has given up on ever playing again.

“Listen, I’m embracing my role,” he said. “But, at the same time, I still have all the confidence in the world in myself. Eventually, I want to play football again.

“I think there’s a good young quarterback there that I can do a lot to help out. I think just by being there and letting him watch how I can go about things; some of the questions I can ask in the meeting room. …

“I still have a bunch of confidence in myself,” Flacco concluded. “I’m not going to go in there with a huge ego and all that stuff. I’m going to work hard and kind of see where this takes me. I have a big itch to play football at the highest level again and be ‘The Man’ again. That is the ultimate goal.”