RB Jefferson emerges as solid player for Blue Hens

Thomas Jefferson’s two big games are just more reasons that Delaware has become a run-first offense — even after losing its top two running backs to injuries. (UD sports information/Mark Campbell)

Thomas Jefferson’s two big games are just more reasons that Delaware has become a run-first offense — even after losing its top two running backs to injuries. (UD sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — The thing about Thomas Jefferson isn’t just that he’s a good-sized running back.

It’s that he’s a good-sized running back who can get into the secondary quickly.

As a safety, Delaware’s Ryan Torzsa knows how suddenly Jefferson can be on top of you.

“He’s deceptively fast,” Torzsa said about his teammate. “I don’t think a lot of people think T.J.’s as fast as he is. T.J.’s got a long stride. … T.J.’s a load to bring down.”

The Blue Hens say they learned all about Jefferson’s abilities last year when he was the scout-team running back as a true freshman.

So while other people might be surprised by the youngster’s emergence the last few weeks, Delaware’s players say they knew all along that Jefferson was going to be something once he got on the field.

On Monday, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound redshirt freshman was named the Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week for the second straight time after running for a career-high 174 yards on 28 carries in the Hens’ dramatic 24-23 win over William & Mary on Saturday night.

In two games since taking over the starting job because of injuries, Jefferson has already piled up 338 rushing yards. He’ll try to add to that total when Delaware (1-1 CAA, 2-3 overall) plays at winless Rhode Island (0-2, 0-5) on Saturday at noon.

Jefferson made an impression on coach Dave Brock by the way he practiced last season, even though he wasn’t playing in games.

“He’s got a great attitude,” said Brock. “You watch a guy who goes down on scout team and just pounds the ball against the defense on a weekly basis. He just competes his tail off every single week trying to make them better. And trust me, they’re not in the business of wanting to look bad on defense.

“I don’t think people have a great understanding of how big a man he is until you walk up on him. I mean, he’s a big kid who’s fast. He’s hard to tackle. I’m not surprised but I’m thrilled that he’s had the success that he’s had.”

Jefferson’s two big games are just more reasons that Delaware has become a run-first offense — even after losing its top two running backs to injuries.

Against the Tribe, the Hens dominated in time of possession, holding the ball for over 41 minutes of the 60-minute contest. They also ran 82 plays to 48 for William & Mary and finished with 26-14 edge in first downs.

Perhaps most telling, though, when Delaware was trailing by nine points in the fourth quarter, they still ran the ball on 21 of their last 23 plays.

“We relied on who we are at the end,” Brock said after the game.

Right now, Delaware is pretty happy to hand the ball to either Jefferson or sophomore Kareem Williams, who also ran for 100 yards on Saturday.
Not surprisingly, Jefferson has tried to take his new-found success in stride.

“I practice the exact same way,” Jefferson said in his trademark deep voice. “The team depends on you and expects you to do your job, even if you’re not starting. They know I’m going to do my best every play.

“I just try to get four yards every play. That’s it. That’s my only objective. Being second-and-six is better than being second-and-10. You’ve just got to chop down slowly and then the big runs are going to happen. We definitely think we can pound anybody. That’s our main objective.”

Of course, Jefferson didn’t exactly have to make a name for himself. He already has the name of one of the country’s most famous presidents.

In his senior year of high school, someone called him ‘The President’ and the nickname stuck. It’s starting to catch on in Newark, too.

“The coaches started and then people were like, ‘Is it OK if I call you The Prez?’” said Jefferson. “I was like, ‘Yeah sure.’ I would never have thought of it. It doesn’t bother me.”

Avoiding the trap

Each of the last two seasons, Delaware has had wins like its victory over William & Mary.

Last fall, the Hens edged James James Madison on a fourth-down stop in overtime. The year before, they stunned a Towson squad that reached the national championhip game.

And then, both times, Delaware lost the following week. Last year, the Hens were toppled by Sacred Heart.

So, winless or not, Tarsza said the Hens have absolutely no reason to look past Rhode Island.

“In my career here, we’ve stepped up to some of the competition,” said the junior safety. “But we haven’t beat teams we’re supposed to beat. It hurts.

“That’s a step we need to take as a program. Great teams beat teams they’re supposed to beat. They put them away early. They don’t let them hang around. … This week our mindset has been, William & Mary is done. We need to go 1-0 this week. … By no means are they (Rhode Island) going to lay down. They’ve got scholarship players, too. They’re going to try to beat us and punch us in the mouth.”

Raggo comes through

Frank Raggo had already missed one short field goal attempt on Saturday night.

The Delaware redshirt freshman kicker wasn’t about to go 0-for-2.

Given a second chance, Raggo calmly booted a 29-yard field goal on the final play of the game to give Delaware its win over William & Mary. The kicker was mobbed by his teammates in the center of the field after making the kick.

“You do field goals every day in practice — end-of-the-game field goals,” said Raggo. “I had total confidence in myself. I had to bring it home for my teammates.

“It’s my second game-winner (counting high school). I’m two-for-two in my career. It’s honestly the best experience in my life.”

Raggo had missed a 25-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter as Delaware went into the half leading just 14-7. He admits it felt like an eternity until he got his second chance on the final play of the game.

At halftime, Raggo said he got a text from his kicking coach, who was watching the game on TV in Long Island. He told Raggo he was dipping his right shoulder.

“I was thinking about that the whole time,” said Raggo.

“It’s hard when that looms in your mind — ‘Oh, a 25-yarder,’” Raggo said about his earlier miss. “Usually it’s a chip shot. You never miss those. It was tough to think about it for that long.”

Extra points

Among his injured players, Brock said receiver Diante Cherry will be a game-time decision after missing the last two games …. Running back Jalen Randolph and kickoff specialist Erik McLaughlin are both expected to be sidelined again. … Delaware is second in the CAA in rushing offense (250.2 yards) but last in passing offense (74.2 yards). … The Hens now have the top rushing defense in the league at 105.6 yards per game.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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