A bold statement isn't it? With 6 national titles and 15 conference titles in the trophy case Delaware's 'Fightin' Blue Hens' can throw a little bravado around. Head Coach K.C. Keeler can make statements and proclamations like that when he leads one of the best and most storied NCAA FCS football programs in the country.
Now entrenched in the FCS's toughest division, the Colonial Atheletic Association South, Delaware can always be counted on as a contender for the conference title and a Championship berth. Coach Keeler's most recent source of pride, quarterback Joe Flacco, puncuates that with an exclamation point.
An 18th pick overall by Baltimore in this year's NFL draft, Flacco led the Hens to an 11-4 record overall including a 62-56 loss in five overtimes to the Richmond Spiders, and a 3-1 record in the FCS playoffs, losing in the Championship round to the same powerful Appalachian State team that upset Michigan in its "Big House" 2007 opener.
Various FCS prognosticators and coaches have Delaware ranked third, fourth, fifth and ninth in both conference and national play with the graduation of Flacco weighing heavy in their picks, but Delaware always finds a way to surprise those in the know. The Sporting News picked Delaware as No.5 in the FCS nation and with the quality of competition at that level the Blue Hens must be pleased.
Delaware has 14 starters returning from last year's Lambert Cup winners, ECAC's "Team of the Year" and has four Lindy's pre-season All-Americans returning this season in senior center and Baltimore native Kheon Hendricks and juniors K Jon Striefsky , DE Matt Marcorelle and QB Rob Schoenhoft.
Hendricks centered the line on an offense that led the CAA in total offense, passing offense and 36.2 average in points per game, 11th in the NCAA overall. Hendricks has been a center for only one season but has already mastered the position well enough to dominate the line.
Striefsky set all time school season records in PATs, FGs and total points and he is a Sporting News All-American as well. Striefsky grades out as one of the top kickers in the NCAA as a whole regardless of division.
On defense Marcorelle had a stellar season with 64 tackles, eight sacks, forced five fumbles, recovering two and stuffing opponents for 94 yards in losses.
At quarterback, Rob Schoenhoft has the biggest shoes to fill this season. A 6'6", 245 lb Ohio State transfer, Schoenhoft was a sophomore on the sideline of last years BCS championship game as a Buckeye backup, so pressure won't be an issue for the new Blue Hen leader. In seven games as a clock killer for OSU, Schoenhoft threw rockets for 129 yards and looked good doing it. Adjusting to Delaware's no-huddle offensive scheme will be the biggest challenge for Schoenhoft.
Delaware has a history of stellar quarterbacks with Flacco only being the most recent NFL pick off of the Newark campus. Other Delaware quarterback success stories have been Jeff Komlo, Scott Brunner, Rich Gannon, Andy Hall and Matt Nagy of the Arena Football League.
This season's Blue Hen squad opens it's season against FBS and regional rival Maryland on August 30th in College Park. Obviously the Blue Hens will be the underdog in this fight but with an all time record of 56-65-1 against the I-A division and Coach Keeler's all out, no-huddle offense, anything is possible.
Tickets for Delaware's opener at Maryland are getting scarce with the Hens allotment slim, and with 20,000 Delaware fans in the hunt, there are only a few available on eBay with prime seats being expensive.
Travel from Newark to College Park is a nightmare on game day. What could be a 90 minute boat and taxi ride will instead be a three hour Beltway busing ordeal for Delaware fans as Terps fans are notorious for clogging early access to Byrd stadium on opening day. A friday night in a hotel near the Inner Harbor and a visit to Babe Ruth's house is highly recommended.
The University of Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens have been a NCAA I-AA/FCS powerhouse since 1940. Founded in Newark, Delaware in 1743 and with an undergraduate enrollment if 16,500, Delaware is truly a small town college with big city ambitions and the football program that was established in the early 1890's has always been a source of pride for the First State.
Blue Hen home games are traditionally sold out well in advance and with Tubby Raymond Field having it's capacity of 22,000 filled with a close knit alumni family, it's trés difficult to aquire a seat...unless one's son belongs to said alumni family.
Regardless of it's size, game days are just as huge in Newark, Delaware as anywhere else in the "big time" BCS college football nation. Thanks to it's academic standards, the University of Delaware and Blue Hen Football have avoided the pitfalls that most programs face to emerge as a model of stability and strength for 21st century college football programs. Transfers from BCS programs to Delaware usually pave the way for national recognition for a player languishing on a I-A depth chart as Joe Flacco's career has shown.
Delaware has the only football program in the NCAA with three head coaches in the College Football Hall Of Fame.
Coach Bill Murray, Coach David Nelson, developer of the classic Wing-T and last but certainly not least, the renaissance man himself, the master of the Wing-T, the "Tub of Wonder", Harold R. "Tubby" Raymond, whose name now graces the field where the Blue Hens do battle. These three pioneers of college football left a combined record of 477-212-7 behind as a legacy and standard for future Delaware coaching staffs to uphold. All three deserve an article of their own in the future.
Coach K.C. Keeler is only the third Blue Hen head coach hired since Murray's departure and with a six season record of 41-22, and the signing of a new ten year contract, it may be a long time before we see a new face on the Delaware sideline.
Pay attention to the FCS/Division I-AA season and you won't be disappointed. As Appalachian State proved only 11 months ago...there's a lot of surprises in small college football.