Milstead aims to turn DSU football team around

Delaware State University football coach Rod Milstead is going into this first year at the helm. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — The Delaware State University football team has tried the experienced head coach route.

It has also tried going with a longtime assistant from some of the bigger college football programs.

Neither have worked over the last 10 years for a team that has not won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship since 2007.

So this time, the Hornets are turning to an alum to try to turn the program around. It helps that alum is a former Super Bowl champion.

The Rod Milstead era begins this season as Delaware State is scheduled to open its season on Saturday at Buffalo (6 p.m.).

Milstead takes over a team that has only had one winning season since 2008. The Hornets went 3-30 over the past three years under coach Kenny Carter whose contract was not renewed at the end of 2017.

But Milstead isn’t concerned with the recent history. He’s here to try to return Delaware State to what the Hornets were when he was in school from 1988 to 1991 and the Hornets were 38-14 during that time span.

And he’s excited to have what he called his dream job.

Jack McDaniell is in competition for the starting quarterback job. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“Every day is a holiday,” Milstead said. “It’s great being back home.”

Milstead’s resume as a player is certainly impressive. It includes an All-America honor at Delaware State, a selection in the 1992 NFL draft, a nearly 10-year career in the NFL and is highlighted by a Super Bowl championship with the San Francisco 49ers.

But his coaching resume is lacking in terms of experience.

Milstead has just two years of coaching at the college level. He was the DSU offensive line coach in 2014 and held the same position for one season at North Carolina Central.

Before Milstead was hired at Delaware State, he was the head coach for La Plata High in Marlyand. That’s about it for his coaching experience.

Delaware State had tried different approaches with hiring coaches before Milstead.

Carter had stints as an assistant coach with the likes of Penn State, Florida, LSU, Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh and others. Yet he only won once in his debut season with the Hornets, went winless in his second and earned just the two wins last year before his dismissal.

Before Carter was Kermit Blount, who was a head coach for almost 20 years at Winston Salem State. Blount did muster one winning season at DSU, in 2012, but went a combined 16-29 before he was replaced by Carter.

Milstead is learning on the job but he’s attempting to bring some passion back into the program. That is evident when looking at his staff, which includes multiple Delaware State alumni and some who have had previous stops at DelState as assistant coaches.

DSU’s Nahseem Woodard rushes during practice on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

He admits there was an adjustment period when he first took over the program in the spring.

“I don’t think the kids were having fun at practice in the spring,” Milstead said. “They were trying to feel us out, like who are this guys? They’re having fun at practice now and the kids are buying what we’re selling.”

Milstead does have some tough decisions to make before the start of the season — mainly who is going to be the starting quarterback.

He has already pushed back naming a quarterback twice so far this camp. The battle between sophomore Jack McDaniels and junior Keenan Black is still neck and neck just as it was last year when they split starts throughout the season.

Milstead has also replenished the roster with some junior college transfers who are competing for playing time.

“We got a lot of new guys, a lot of JUCO guys,” said DSU’s leading returning wide receiver sophomore Trey Gross. “It’s different compared to last year but we’re having fun.”

Milstead said he has already noticed some major changes in the team over the last several months.

“Most college coaches assess what they have this year compared to what they had last year,” Milstead said.

“But I have to assess what I have now compared to what I had in the spring. I think we’ve definitely taken a step in the right direction. I really need to compliment my coaches who had put a lot of time in to help change the mindset of how our kids are. They think differently.”

The 2018 Hornets

Here’s a look at the Delaware State University football team for the 2018 season:

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK: The Hornets again look to be between Jack McDaniels and Keenan Black. McDaniels started the first six games of last season as a true freshman before Black started the final five. Black led the Hornets to their highest yardage output in a victory against Morgan State in the home finale and scored 33 points. Coach Rod Milstead has not named a starter as of yet. Shayne Smith has also seen time with the first-stringers in preseason camp and will slot in at third on the depth chart.

RUNNING BACK: This is the position with the least amount of concern for the Hornets. Brycen Alleyne and Mike Waters gives the Hornets a lethal one-two punch in the backfield. Waters sat out the final seven games due to a knee injury in 2017 but set the DSU freshman rushing record in 2016. Alleyne has more than 1,000 rushing yards in his career and is a preseason All-MEAC selection.

RECEIVER/TIGHT END: The Hornets have a solid mixture of talented underclassmen and experienced seniors at wide receiver. Trey Gross took the MEAC by storm last season as a walk-on freshman and earned a scholarship after scoring seven touchdowns in the final six games. Kwannah Kollie, like Gross, had a 100-yard receiving game as a freshman last year and gives the Hornets another weapon in the passing game. Senior Taronn Selby led the team in receptions a year ago with 35. Jordan Hannah was injured over the summer but is expected to be the fourth wide receiver while newcomers David Green and Nahseem Woodard could also see time.

OFFENSIVE LINE: There isn’t a single senior on the offensive line but the positions are mostly set as the Hornets end camp. DSU will line up with Cade Pedro at center, Matthew Derks at left guard, Liki Seu at right guard and Kaiden Crawford. All four started last year but Pedro, Derks and Crawford missed multiple games with injuries. The front runner for the left tackle spot is R.J Moli, a junior college transfer. Milstead said sophomore Savion Hopes is also pushing for playing time at left tackle along with Dillon Marshall. Tyreek Booker has converted from tight end to offensive line under the new staff.

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE: Seniors Caleb Hebron and Jacob Jones are set to anchor this unit. Isaiah Williams is the other returning starter. But newcomer Jason Smith is expected to enter directly into the starting lineup. Smith is a transfer from Marshall University where he made 35 tackles in two years. Carrington Jones is another transfer expected to compete for time on the line. Jones was at Temple before leaving after his freshman season where he did not play. The Hornets have also moved linebackers Moses Dupre and Juwan DeVone to defensive line. Christian Johnson missed the entire 2017 season with an injury but is back healthy.

LINEBACKER: Brian Cavicante is one of the Hornets’ four preseason All-MEAC players and was second on the team in tackles last year. The rest of the linebacking core is pretty new however. Pittsburgh transfer Shawn Wood and Old Dominion transfer Keisean Wilson could slot into the lineup immediately. Tarik Harris, Alexander Lozano and Kyle Taylor provide some experience while freshmen Khan Jamal and Delmar High product Brooks Parker are also competing for snaps.

SECONDARY: The Hornets are set with cornerbacks Keyjuan Selby, Issiah Small and Devin Smith who all played last season. Safety Jahad Neibauer is back for his sophomore season after leading the team in tackles as a freshman in 2017. Freshman David Bowman of Milford High has made a case for a starting spot at the other safety position. Another true freshman Andrew Reese could also enter the starting lineup.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Brothers Fidel Romo-Martinez and Jose Romo-Martinez will share the kicking duties for the Hornets. Fidel Romo-Martinez was a third team All-American last year as a punter according to some publications and was named first team All-MEAC on the preseason team also as a punter.

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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