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Bright Future An in-depth look at what Delaware football returns for 2020

By Andy Lohman

A little over one month removed from the 2019 Delaware football season, it is clear the year wasn’t what anyone expected or hoped for. A year after returning to the FCS Playoffs for the first time since 2010, the Blue Hens went 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association, finishing in the bottom half of the conference.

But while everybody associated with Delaware football has higher hopes and expectations for the team, there are a lot of reasons for Blue Hens fans to be optimistic moving forward. An analysis of the roster shows a young, inexperienced team that earned valuable playing time throughout the season.

The 2018 iteration of the Blue Hens was stacked with 32 seniors, several of whom are now playing in the NFL. Naturally, Delaware had a lot to replace for 2019. The entire starting defensive secondary and linebacking corps, plus every starting wide receiver was different from the previous year, mostly with players who had played minimal snaps to that point in their career. Now, the opposite is true for the 2020 roster.

Here's a look at the sheer volume of production Delaware brings back for next season:

63% of its total offense (rushing yards + passing yards)

Most significantly, quarterback Nolan Henderson returns with two years of eligibility remaining. Henderson, a Smyrna, Delaware native, threw for 933 yards and ran for another 189 in just nine games in 2019. The true dual-threat quarterback also threw just one interception all season.

While two unlucky injuries (a concussion at Elon on a play where the Phoenix defender was ejected for targeting, and a hip injury after an awkward landing against Stony Brook) forced him in and out of the lineup, a consistently healthy Henderson in 2020 could unlock a new level for the Delaware offense.

91% of its all-purpose yards (rushing yards + receiving yards + return yards)

True freshman Jourdan Townsend blossomed into a Swiss army knife for the Blue Hens in his first collegiate season, leading the team in punt return yardage, catching three touchdown passes and proving to be a weapon in the run game on jet sweeps.

70% of its scoring

Tight end Bryce de Maille, whose five receiving touchdowns led the team, returns with two more years of eligibility remaining and running back Will Knight, who led the Hens with seven rushing touchdowns (and added a receiving score), has three more years in Blue and Gold.

86% of its rushing yards

Knight, just a redshirt freshman in 2019, was the second-leading rusher in the Colonial Athletic Association with 919 yards, earning Second Team All-CAA honors. The explosive and powerful Smyrna, Delaware product averaged 7.4 yards per carry, the third-best mark in the FCS.

He spearheads a stacked group of running backs that includes the quick, slashing DeJoun Lee who ran for 463 yards in nine games in 2019. Khory Spruill and Quincy Watson are also talented backs who will likely see more touches in 2020 after each playing just four games in 2019 to retain a year of eligibility. That stable of running backs is sure-handed: for the second time in school history, Delaware running backs did not lose a fumble all season.

91% of its receiving yards

This includes the entire top line of the Blue Hens’ depth chart for wide receivers: Thyrick Pitts, Gene Coleman II and Chichi Amachi. Pitts broke out as a deep threat in 2019, catching 41 balls for 647 yards (15.8 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. Coleman added 32 catches for 325 yards and four touchdowns of his own.

86% of its tackles

Versatile safety Kedrick Whitehead, who ranked in the top 60 in the FCS with 103 tackles in 2019, returns to anchor the Blue Hens secondary. The 86% figure doesn’t include Colby Reeder, who missed the entire 2019 season with injury but is expected to be fully participating by the spring. Reeder will rejoin a talented group of young linebackers that includes Drew Nickles (61 tackles), Johnny Buchanan (48 tackles) and Matt Palmer (46 tackles).

94% of its turnovers forced defensively

Five different Blue Hens both forced a fumble and intercepted a pass in 2019, and all five are back on the roster next season (four for multiple years). In addition to Nickles, there’s hard-hitting safety Noah Plack (second on the team with 73 tackles), bandit linebacker Tim Poindexter (51 tackles, 2 forced fumbles), cornerback Justis Henley (6 pass breakups in just 8 games) and Amonte’ Strothers (14 tackles, 3 pass breakups).

Combined with all the talent already on the roster, the Blue Hens just signed the eighth-ranked recruiting class in the country according to HERO Sports. Delaware now has back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes for the first time in program history after last year’s class ranked ninth.

In addition to challenging games against North Dakota State (the No. 1 seed in this year’s FCS Playoffs) and Pitt (an ACC team who won a bowl game in December), the Blue Hens had a stretch of three close conference losses this season.

Two Richmond kickoff return touchdowns led to a 35-25 loss to the Spiders on Oct. 26 (Delaware outscored Richmond 15-7 in the second half), a fourth-down scramble on what could have been a game-tying drive came up a yard short in a 31-24 loss at Towson, and a fumble at the goal line stalled the Blue Hens in a 21-17 loss to Albany, a team that won its first-round playoff matchup this year.

Any given football season will feature several games that turn on one or two key plays, and while almost all those moments went against the Blue Hens in 2019, it’s reasonable to expect a battle-tested 2020 roster to handle the big moments more effectively.

While nobody is happy with a 5-7 season, the foundation of experience built this year with young players like Henderson, Knight and Whitehead should excite all Blue Hens fans about the future of Delaware football.

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