Hens can’t wait to play again for real

(Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell) QB Nolan Henderson said the Blue Hens have had a lot of time to study their playbooks over the past year.

NEWARK — Nolan Henderson knows there’s always going to be a college football game there waiting for him.

He and his Delaware teammates may not be playing games this fall.

But when the junior quarterback gets back from a Saturday practice, he knows the sports channels will be filled with Division I FBS teams that are playing for real.

“I’ve tried to look at this whole thing as a positive,” said Henderson. “One thing is I’ve been able to watch a lot of football. And I really truly haven’t in the past couple years just because of playing every Saturday and meetings on Sunday.

“So I’ve just been soaking in as much football as I can get.”

The Smyrna High grad isn’t alone, of course. With almost all the college football divisions beneath the FBS level sitting out this fall during the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of players are discovering that being able to watch games isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Even Delaware coach Danny Rocco said he’s found that it’s kind of fun having his Sundays free to watch the NFL.

Running back DeJoun Lee is one of several UD seniors who’s looking forward to playing a spring season. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

The Blue Hens, though, say that being away from competition has also made them that much hungrier to get back to playing themselves.

Delaware has been practicing three days a week for the past month after restarting conditioning in the summer. The Hens are slated to finish up the series of 14 practices this week.

Sometime, in January or February, they’ll start pre-season for a six to eight-game spring season.

“I remember the first day I watched Sunday football,” said running back DeJoun Lee. “It was weird because you’re so used to being in meetings. Occasionally, in between meetings, you’d go in the locker room and you’d go check the games and then go to the next meeting.

“When you have the day off on Sunday, you really get the chance to soak it in and appreciate it. I think it’s made me love the game even more.”

Coach Danny Rocco said he’s approaching the spring like it’s fall season. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

“Being away from football, you’re kind of like, ‘Wow, I love this game,’” said Henderson. “Next time I get out there, I’m not going to take it for granted. When we got back (in the fall) there were a lot of guys that are more motivated than ever. The thing that meant so much to them was taken away from them.

“Now that we’ve got it, there’s no shortage in motivation. It’s an opportunity to get better, it’s an opportunity to do something you love.”

One side effect of the pandemic on football is that FCS programs like Delaware will have probably put in more preparation for its next season than in any previous ones.

The Hens went through winter conditioning before the March shutdown and have had countless virtual team meetings since then. While the group physical work has only been more recent, Delaware will have gone roughly 15 months between playing actual games.

“You have plenty of time to study on your own with classes being on-line,” said Henderson. “There’s really no excuse. We obviously haven’t had as much time together in person but I feel like we’re making the most out of the Zoom calls we have.”

Right now, the Hens aren’t sure when their spring season will start.

Their first of six CAA games is slated for March 6 at home against Maine. But Delaware also might add up to two non-conference contests.

Rocco said he’d be interested in playing Delaware State with one of those dates.

Some FCS programs are looking at the spring season differently.

CAA member Towson has opted not to play in the spring and just focus on the upcoming fall season. Other coaches said they plan on focusing on developing their young players and resting their veterans in this spring.

The Hens, though, say they’re going to approach it like any other season.

There will be champions crowned in both the CAA and FCS nationally. And the spring season doesn’t count against a player’s eligibility, either.

“I have said this for a long time — I think every year your seniors deserve an opportunity to give it your best shot,” said Rocco. “This is not a moment where you back off of that. We have a lot of seniors who are very excited about playing.”

“I’m approaching it just like it’s our fall season — just like a business-as-usual season,” said Henderson. “For me, it’s ‘free’ football. It’s games that I would never have gotten. I’m going to try to play as many games as I can.”

Extra points

Rocco said that senior receiver ChiChi Amichi may have had his career ended by a torn Achilles tendon. … Linebacker Colby Reeder still isn’t ready to return from the back surgery that sidelined him last fall. But he was granted another year of eligibility — giving him two more — and could return to the field late in the spring season. … Dover High grad Bradly Anyanwu is a 6-foot-3, 305-pound redshirt offensive lineman for the Hens. … Count senior defensive Frank Burton among the fans of Delaware’s new-look all-black uniforms. “I love the black unis,” he said. “The first time I saw them, as soon as they put them out, there was just a sense of gratitude. Looking how far Delaware football has come over the years is just amazing to me.”