Smyrna’s Henderson ready to compete for Hens

Smyrna High grad Nolan Henderson is working up the Hens’ depth chart at QB. (Delaware sports information/Paolo Tiamson)

NEWARK — Nolan Henderson didn’t even play a full game against Villanova last fall.

But the play-making ability the Delaware freshman quarterback showed in the game definitely raised some eyebrows.

Maybe more than anything, though, it showed Henderson himself that he could play at this level.

“Half the time, when you go to a different level, a lot of it is convincing yourself that you can do well at this level and it does translate,” said the Smyrna High grad. “Just having success against them. … I knew then that if I just keep working at it, that I’m going to get where I want to be.”

While senior Pat Kehoe is still the Blue Hens’ starting QB, Henderson came out of spring practice clearly showing he’s ready to push for playing time.

Although nobody on offense did anything memorable in Saturday’s annual Blue-White scrimmage — the defense beat the offense 52-41 according to a special points system — coach Danny Rocco said he definitely expects Henderson to get on the field in the fall.

Blue Hen defenders Kedrick Whitehead (left) and Noah Plack (right) break up a pass intended for Gene Coleman in Saturday’s scrimmage. ( Delaware Sports information/Mark Campbell)

Kehoe was 12-of-20 for 140 yards and a touchdown on Saturday while Henderson was 10-of-22 for 93 yards with a pair of interceptions. Henderson also flashed his scrambling ability, running for 17 yards on four carries.

Clearly, Henderson brings more speed to the QB position.

“I really feel that every position remains in competition,” said Rocco. “There’s no doubt that he (Henderson) is going to be having statistics for us this — either in relief or with some packaging.”

Rocco said he reminded Henderson a couple weeks ago that nobody thought Kehoe was going to be the starter a year ago at this time. But he proved himself during summer workouts and then in preseason camp.

The Hens’ Amonte Strothers pulls in an interception during Delaware’s Blue-White scrimmage in Delaware Stadium. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

“We don’t play tomorrow,” said Henderson. “I’m going to keep getting better. We’re going to keep learning as a team. Individually, I know I have a lot to work on.

“I’ll look at this game. I’ll see what I did wrong. It’s just constant progress because game one is closer than we think.”

One of the biggest things this spring for the Hens, who open the season on Aug. 29 by hosting Delaware State, was putting in a new offensive system under first-year offensive coordinator Jared Ambrose.

Unfortunately for UD’s offense, it’s only TD on Saturday was Kehoe’s 60-yard scoring pass to receiver Thyrick Pitts, who had gotten behind the secondary. The Hens know they didn’t show it on Saturday, but they’re excited about the new offensive approach.

One of the most noticeable differences is that Delaware is using a no-huddle attack.

“There’s a lot of flexibility,” said Kehoe. “There’s answers built within each play to counter what the defense does. … It makes it easier to function.

“When you start enforcing tempo, especially with getting a rhythm, it’s hard for the defense to react and line up,” he said about the no-huddle approach. “We didn’t get into a rhythm today but there’s sometimes when the defense is still looking for a call or trying to line up. I think we’ll see more of that come August.”

But Saturday’s scrimmage definitely belonged more to the defense.

On a unit that’s lost a number of key players to graduation, the Blue Hen defenders were proud to hold their own. Junior cornerback Nijuel Hill, one of the few veteran defensive backs, had an interception.

Hill also was named one of the team captains, joining Kehoe, offensive lineman Mario Farinella and defensive lineman Cam Kitchen. The honor meant a great deal to Hill, who has had his share of ups and downs on the field.

“That Coach Rocco has the belief in me and my teammates have the belief in me to lead this group, it’s very humbling,” said Hill. “I feel like it’s going to be a great defense just because we have the pathway set for us already. We have already the film of those guys like Naz (Adderley) and Troy Reeder, setting the pathway for us.”

Delaware also named it’s most improved players of the spring on Saturday. Senior running back Andre Robinson won the award on offense with sophomore linebacker Drew Nickles winning it on defense.

Nickles posted a team-high six tackles in the scrimmage while Robinson had a team-best 23 rushing yards on five carries. Robinson, who transferred from Penn State in the pre-season last year, said he’s gotten himself in much better shape now.

“I felt pretty rusty (last year),” said Robinson. “So it was good to get in the weight room in the off-season and then put this new offense in. It’s really really similar to what I ran at Penn State so I felt pretty comfortable with it right off the bat. To have a good spring, it’s pretty satisfying.

“But we’ve got a lot of work to do as a unit and as a team. So that’s our next step.”

Extra points

Delaware’s two ‘weight room champions’ for the spring were Artis Hemmingway on defense and Chuka Ezeuzoh on offense. … Middletown High grad Kedrick Whitehead, who has moved from linebacker to safety, had an interception. … Pitts had three catches for 72 yards.

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