NEWARK — Wes Hills’ 2015 season ended almost as soon as it began.
In Delaware’s football season opener, the Blue Hens’ standout running back went down with a broken foot.
The injury ended up being season-ending.
So being healthy again, and just playing in a spring game like Hills did on Saturday, was a pretty good feeling for the sophomore.
“I love it,” said Hills. “I missed it so much. Being out here and having the fans be able to see that I’m back at 100 percent meant a lot to me.
“It definitely was tough because I wasn’t able to help my brothers. Watching them go out there and not being able to help them really hurt me — it hurt me a lot.”
While Hills ran for only a modest 43 yards and a touchdown on six carries in the Blue’s 14-7 win over the White, he certainly looked like his old self in Saturday’s abbreviated intrasquad scrimmage.
He was still the same Wes Hills who, at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, can run over a defender in one moment and then run past them in the next.
And remember, before the injury, Hills was usually the Hens’ first player downfield on kick coverage while also returning kicks.
“I think Wes is one of our best players,” said coach Dave Brock. “Any time a team brings back one of its best players — no matter where it was — I think you’re going to be vastly improved, not only at that position but as a team.
“Wes is dynamic. He’s like the Energizer Bunny. He’s always up, he’s always moving. He’s a really, really well-liked kid. So we’re thrilled to have him back. He’s had a great, great spring.”
Hills suffered the injury last year on a special-teams’ play. Despite that, though, Hills said it’s not even a question whether he’ll be back on special teams or not.
“You can’t keep me off special teams,” he said. “I love it too much.”
About 1,000 fans turned out on a drizzly Saturday hoping to see some improvement from Delaware’s passing game, too. The Hens. of course, were ranked last in FCS Division I at 67.1 yards per contest last fall.
Sophomore starter Joe Walker looked pretty sharp, completing 4-of-5 passes for 31 yards in limited playing time. Walker said simply having a year under his belt makes a big difference.
While there’s never been a question about Walker’s arm strength, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder knows he has to work on his accuracy and touch.
“I feel like I’m doing a lot better things,” said Walker. “I feel like the year behind me has been good. ... It gives you so much confidence and it helps you be a voice to the team.
“You’ve got to be better,” he said about last year’s passing-game struggles. “And you’ve got to want to be better. We all want to be better. It shows in the results of what we’re doing right now.”
Brock, who took over the role of quarterback coach this spring, said the goal is to make Walker less a thrower and more a passer.
“You know, athletically, he’s got a tremendous skill set,” said Brock. “He’s got incredible arm talent in terms of being able to throw the ball hard. But you don’t make first downs or score points throwing hard incompletions.
“In my opinion, most of it is lower-body mechanics and balance and then the mental part of the game. The sooner you understand exactly what’s going on, the faster the ball comes out of your hand. The faster the ball comes out of your hand, the better player you are.”
The other three QBs that played on Saturday all put up similar numbers to Walker: Blake Rankin (5-for-8, 33 yards 1 TD), Pat Kehoe (4-for-5, 27 yards) and Chrstian Portale (4-for-5, 54 yards). Diante Cherry had four receptions for 35 yards, pulling in a nice 10-yard scoring lob from Rankin, while Smyrna native DeAndre Davis caught three passes for 40 yards.
Probably the biggest experiment of spring was moving talented cornerback Nassir Adderly, a starter as a true freshman last fall, to wide receiver. Adderly had one catch for nine yards on Saturday.
Brock said a decision will be made before the summer what side of the ball Adderly will play on.
“I’ve got to talk to him first,” said Brock. “Really it was a hard evaluation. He got nicked up a little bit so he missed a fair number of practices.”
Delaware hasn’t made the NCAA FCS playoffs since reaching the national championship game in 2010. That includes a 4-7 campaign in 2015.
But Brock has said, with all the returning players, there’s no reason why the Hens shouldn’t be in the playoffs this year.
If that puts a little more pressure on the Hens, that’s fine with them.
“We’re excited,” said veteran linebacker Charles Bell. “That’s all we want to do now is get to the playoffs and win as much as we can.
“Both sides of the ball throughout spring developed a lot, I think. We have a chance to be a really good team as long as we keep working and getting better.”
“I love when he says it,” said Hills. “It hurts me when we weren’t able to get in the playoffs before. He (Brock) has always believed in us.
“Everyone is behind it now. Everyone believes in it now.”
Eric Patton had as many carries as the other running backs combined, running for 41 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. ... Frank Raggo hit one PAT with Erik Martinez made the other two. ... Delaware, which expects to sign a transfer punter this summer, didn’t punt in Saturday’s scrimmage. ... Cornerback Tenny Adewusi and Brian Dennis had a game-high five tackles each. ... The Hens open the season on Sept. 1 by hosting Delaware State at 7 p.m.