Hens’ Kehoe healthy and ready to go

Blue Hen QB Pat Kehoe celebrates during Delaware’s 40-36 upset of No. 10 Towson last year. Delaware sports information/Jordan Burgess

BALTIMORE — Pat Kehoe just shrugs off all the questions about injuries.

They’re part of football, right?

So what if the Delaware quarterback had to lug around a heavy brace on his injured right knee for the last several games of the season?

And it wasn’t that big a deal when a possible concussion limited his practice time the week before the Blue Hens’ playoff game with James Madison.

“I wanted to be out there playing,” Kehoe said on Tuesday at CAA Football Media Day. “I really had no choice. In my mind, I was going to be out there. It wasn’t rough. It was exactly where I wanted to be.”

It’s that no-nonsense attitude that earned the big left-hander the starting job last preseason in something of a surprise move.

Now that he’s a returning starter — and really the only QB on the roster with significant playing experience — Kehoe is expected to be a steady performer for the Hens, who were picked to finish fifth in the CAA this fall.

A 6-foot-4, 235-pound fifth-year senior, Kehoe’s knee is healthy again, he’s lost 20 pounds and he’s ready to go.

“Last year at this time, I don’t think I was able to name a starting quarterback,” said coach Danny Rocco, who is starting his third season at UD. “I didn’t have a guy who I felt was ready to go. … Our situation this year is a lot different.

“Pat has a lot of experience. He’s played in a lot of big games — he’s won a lot of big games for us. (Backup) Nolan Henderson has proven that he’s capable of playing at a high level in this league. And he’s ready to play. So our options are better.”

Even though he’s only played a total of one season in his first three seasons at Delaware, Kehoe had the reputation of being a hard-working kid. His dad, Kevin, is a longtime successful high school basketball coach in Connecticut.

Junior QB Pat Kehoe, who started all 12 games for the Hens last fall, was much more mobile before injuring his knee midway through the season. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

Senior defensive lineman Cam Kitchen says becoming the Hens’ starting quarterback clearly hasn’t gone to Kehoe’s head. He jokingly points out that Kehoe just helped him move his girlfriend into her new apartment the other day.

“Pat is probably the best leader we have on our team,” said Kitchen. “He’s a great quarterback, a great leader, a great friend. … He’s a big key of why we’ve had success and he’s a big reason of why our team is where it is right now.

“One of our core values is, our best player is our hardest worker. And Pat is definitely that.”

“I still want to take the same approach — the job is still up in the air,” said Kehoe. “You’ve got to approach every day (like) you’ve got to earn your money. You’ve got to keep your job. I have a lot of young talent behind me.”

Clearly, Kehoe had some big games last season when the Hens went 7-5 and made the NCAA FBS Division I playoffs for the first time since 2010. One of his best days came in a 40-36 upset of No. 10 Towson when he threw for 305 yards with four touchdown passes.

“I thought he was calm and poised in big moments,” said Rocco.

But the knee injury began to take its toll. After throwing 17 TD passes in the Hens’ first eight games, Kehoe didn’t have any in the last four contests — three of which Delaware lost.

He had four interceptions in those games. That included a loss to Villanova in which he only played sparingly before suffering the head injury.

Kehoe wasn’t cleared to play against JMU until the day before. The Hens almost went into that playoff game with untested Anthony Paoletti as their only healthy QB.

Delaware managed just 185 total yards and a pair of field goals in the 20-6 loss to JMU.

“When you get to Week 13 in a season, nobody’s healthy,” said Kehoe. “You’ve got to do what you can do. It’s unfortunate the way things turned out the last stretch of the season. But everybody put their best foot forward. We tried to represent the University of Delaware the best way we could.”

On the other hand, Delaware has a new offensive coordinator in Jared Ambrose, who held the same job at Towson. Kehoe knows he’s got to make better decisions but a shorter passing game should help his completion percentage.

“I think I’m going to have a little bit more freedom at the line of scrimmage if I like something,” said Kehoe. “If I don’t like something I can change it. Ultimately I think it will get us in the right plays and help us be successful.”

Not surprisingly, the Hens’ win-loss record is the only number that Kehoe cares about.

“It’s not about me, I just want to win,” he said. “I want to compete for a national championship. Whatever gets us there is what I’m happy with.”

Extra points

Delaware offensive lineman Mario Farinella and punter Nick Pritchard were both named preseason all-CAA. Running back Dejoun Lee was an honorable-mention pick … Delmar High grad Shane Leatherbury, a senior receiver at Towson, was also named to the preseason all-conference squad. … James Madison, with 20 of 24 first-place votes, is the preseason favorite to win the CAA. The Dukes are followed by Towson, Elon, Maine and then Delaware. … Rocco said he expects Henderson, the former Smyrna High standout, to see playing time even if Kehoe starts. “I’d be disappointed if we don’t have Nolan out there early and often,” said Rocco.

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