Pitts’ moves paying off for Hens now

Delaware receiver Thyrick Pitts had six catches for 81 yards in the Blue Hens’ win over Delaware State last Thursday. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — Thyrick Pitts was a Virginia guy three years ago.

And he planned on staying one, too, after verbally accepting a scholarship to play football at Richmond.

It made sense, since he had friends going to school in Virginia.

“A lot of my friends went to VCU, in that area, and JMU and things like that,” said Pitts. “I wanted to stay close to them. I hadn’t even taken a visit to Delaware — I’d never been to Delaware.

“I never saw myself coming to Delaware. Then all of a sudden, just like that, it switched.”

Thyrick Pitts, with plaque, celebrates with his coaches and teammates after receiving the Nate Beasley Award as the MVP in the Delaware-DelState game. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

What changed, of course, was that Richmond coach Danny Rocco was hired at Delaware just after the end of the 2016 season.

The next thing he knew, Pitts was coming to Newark, too.

Last Thursday night, the redshirt-sophomore receiver had the biggest game of his career so far, pulling in six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown in the Blue Hens’ 31-13 victory over Delaware State. The effort earned Pitts the Nate Beasley Award as the MVP of the UD-DSU game.

With No. 22 Delaware (1-0) traveling to Rhode Island (0-1) on Saturday at 7 p.m. for its CAA opener, Pitts said it was the relationship he had already built with Rocco and former assistant coach Fontel Mines that made him look at UD.

“Everybody else I was talking to, it kind of felt like they were trying to sell me something,” said Pitts. “But when I was talking to Coach Rocco and Coach Mines, it just felt like I was talking to family. They were like, ‘OK, go take your visits.’ … I still have those relationships with them. I love it here.”

The Hens, naturally, are happy to have a 6-foot-3, 200-pound receiver who has already shown he can make big plays.

But maybe one of the best things Pitts has done so far at Delaware is say that he wouldn’t play last year.

After getting in every game as a true freshman two seasons ago, Pitts found himself behind senior Joe Walker on the depth chart. Under new NCAA rules, he could play in as many as four games and still count it as a redshirt season.

Rocco said it was Pitts who first approached him with the idea of sitting out last year after the fourth game. This way he still has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

“Thyrick came forward and said that was something he had been thinking about,” said Rocco. “It just made too much sense. They are hard decisions to make.”

“It was hard for me, yeah,” said Pitts. “But I knew that taking that year to work on my game — get stronger, get faster, to get more mentally into the game and learn a lot more things — I knew would help me in the long run. I’m glad I finally got the opportunity now.”

Something to prove

The Hens head to Rhode Island with a chip on their shoulders.

That’s because the Rams ruined their season opener a year ago by handing them a 21-19 loss in Delaware Stadium. It was only Delaware’s fourth loss to URI in 18 all-time meetings in Newark.

“It’s the ultimate motivation,” said sophomore linebacker Johnny Buchanan. “Last year. … we shot ourselves in the foot a few times and they were able to walk out with a win. That hurt me, that hurt everyone. We walked off the field with that sickness in our stomach.

“There’s no way we want to let that happen again. I know we’re really motivated. We really want to just prepare as hard as we can and go in there and return the favor to them.”

Delaware has often struggled at Rhode Island, holding just an 8-6 all-time record at Meade Stadium. The atmosphere will be different this time, though.

Meade now has an artificial surface and this will be the first night game in the 6,555-seat stadium in 30 years. URI is hoping to get more students out to the games.

Delaware’s players, though, are a little more concerned about the past than the future. Among other things, the Hens gave up a touchdown on a bad punt snap and then fumbled when it looked like they might be driving for the winning field goal.

“That was so tough because we had so many chances to win that game,” Pitts said. “We had that game.

“At the beginning of the season, Coach Rocco made this a red-letter game — and he did the same thing last year. Last year they caught us off guard and this year we’ll be ready.”

Henderson gets his chance

As promised, Rocco got backup quarterback Nolan Henderson into Thursday’s season opener.

The former Smyrna High All-Stater played the entire fourth quarter. He completed all four of his pass attempts for 17 yards and ran five times for 20 yards.

As much as anything, Rocco said he liked Henderson’s decision making.

“He threw a couple really good balls,” said Rocco. “He just shows his speed and his athleticism. He is an athlete, he’s instinctive. … He played smart and he protected the ball. I was really pleased with that.

“I’d like to be able to get him in every game. … It’s part of his growth, his development. We all know you need two quarterbacks to be ready at all times.”

Extra points

Redshirt-freshman cornerback Justis Henley not only tied for the team lead with seven tackles against DSU but also broke up three passes. … The Hens used six different safeties in the contest. … Delaware needs just one more win to reach 700 all-time victories for the program. The only other FCS teams with at least 700 wins are Yale, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, North Dakota State and Dartmouth.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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