Young Blue Hens hope to end playoff drought

Last year Jalen Randolph (Jr., 6-1, 230) Randolph ran for 629 yards and 9 TDS along with 182 yards and two more touchdowns on 13 receptions. (UD sports information photo)

Last year Jalen Randolph (Jr., 6-1, 230) ran for 629 yards and 9 TDS along with 182 yards and two more touchdowns on 13 receptions. (UD sports information photo)

NEWARK — Here’s a sobering thought for Delaware football fans.

For the first time since the Blue Hens first made the NCAAs in 1973, Delaware doesn’t have a single player who’s been part of a playoff team here.
The Hens haven’t made the playoffs since 2010, when they reached the NCAA Division I FCS national championship game.

For defensive end Vince Hollerman, one of just seven seniors on this year’s roster, that’s a painful truth.

“It has definitely been too long,” he said.

Clearly, though, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.

After bringing in over 40 recruits in the last two years, third-year coach Dave Brock says “from a roster standpoint, we’re exactly where I thought we would be.”

“Think of these kids like a stock or something,” he added. “You’re investing everything you’ve got in these kids. And you’ve got a long return date.

“You’ve got an opportunity for that kid to not only be better tomorrow, but he’s going to be better next week, he’s going to be better next month, he’s going to be better next year, better the next year, better the next year.”

But the question remains, has Delaware restocked its roster well enough to return to the playoffs in 2015?

The Hens open the season on Friday by hosting Jacksonville at 7 p.m.

After back-to-back campaigns of 7-5 and 6-6, Brock says rebuilding and winning aren’t mutually exclusive. He points to a handful of close games the Hens lost over the last couple seasons that probably cost them playoff berths.

A year ago, in its season finale, Delaware was leading No. 6 Villanova by a point before the Wildcats drove 68 yards on 10 plays to score the winning touchdown with 23 seconds left in a 35-28 win.

On the other hand, the Hens were also upset by Sacred Heart and a rebuilding Towson squad at home.

“We didn’t get it done,” Brock said about last season. “(But) it wasn’t not do-able. I don’t think you can make the argument that we can’t. We’ve got to find 10 (more) points (last year) … Our problem was not being able to finish the games you need to finish.

“The year before, we lose two games on the last play of the game. … None of those games, in and of themselves, were anything but competitive games that we had every chance to win. It doesn’t have anything to do with youth.”

The Hens do have some things to feel good about heading into the season.

They have a deep and talented backfield led by juniors Wes Hills and Jalen Randolph. They also return most of both their top offensive and defensive linemen.

That includes sophomore defensive tackle Blaine Woodson, last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in the Colonial Athletic Association.

On the other hand, Delaware doesn’t have a quarterback who’s taken a snap in a college game — they expect to play both Blake Rankin and Joe Walker — and have only one receiver and one tight end with any significant playing time.

Brock believes there’s plenty of talent in the secondary and at linebacker. But, again, that talent is largely young and untested.

The Hens start the season with 34 players who have never been in a college game before.

If Delaware is going to be successful this season, Brock figures it will have to find ways to win some close games. That means relying on everyone to contribute, not just a handful of stars.

“I think we’re going to have to be a great team this year to do the things we want to do,” said Brock. “I’m not talking about playing great all the time. I’m saying we’re going to have to be able to get the games we play into competitive situations into the end part of the game and we’re going to have to win those games.

“I don’t think, if we’re going to have to outscore people, that’s going to be our strength right now. I do think we’ll be a better running football team.”

The players themselves seem excited about what they see around them. Young or not, they think the program is heading in the right direction.
Now it’s just a question of when it arrives.

“We’ve got talented young guys,” said redshirt sophomore center Brody Kern. “Even with only having seven seniors this year, you’ve got to look back at how many (young) guys played last year. … We got game experience. We know what it’s like.

“It comes down to being a team, getting close with guys. I think this year we’re very close. We all get along.”

“Coach Brock always says we’re young, but that’s no excuse for anything,” said Hollerman. “We all come out here every day at practice and we all put in the work. … It’s important for us all to be on the same page so we can come out this year and win.

“Talking to some of my fellow seniors, we just feel like there’s a different energy on the team. We’re closer than we’ve ever been. There’s good energy, we all feel it. We’re underdogs but we’ve got the right dogs — we’ve got the right people.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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