NEWARK — If there’s anybody who thinks Delaware shouldn’t be going to Delaware State to play a football game, Blue Hens coach Danny Rocco isn’t one of them.
“I told our team the other day, I’m really glad we’re going down there,” Rocco said on Monday. “We should go down there. Why the heck wouldn’t we go down there? I don’t understand that.”
For whatever reason it’s worked out this way, it has taken until the 10th meeting between the Hens and Hornets for the Route 1 Rivalry to make it to Dover.
No. 8 Delaware (3-0) will play Delaware State (2-1) in Alumni Stadium for the first time on Saturday at 6 p.m. The contest is being televised nationally on ESPN-2.
The Hens, who are 9-0 against the Hornets, know why this is a big game for DSU. But they say it’s a big game for them, too.
Delaware, which is trying to earn a berth in the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs, has had games canceled in two of the last three weeks.
“They have a lot of enthusiasm right now for this game,” Rocco said about the Hornets. “I know our team has a lot of enthusiasm right now for this game. We’re looking forward, obviously, to playing this game.”
Delaware defensive end Frank Burton III may have as much appreciation for this rivalry as anyone in the Hens’ program.
Burton, whose brother Riah also plays for Delaware, is the son of Frank Burton II, a DSU Sports Hall of Famer.
“We’re so deeply rooted in Delaware and Delaware sports,” said Burton III, a William Penn High grad. “So it’s just great to go back to my father’s alma mater and compete against the school that he once set his footsteps in. It’s going to be an exciting matchup.
“I’ve always had a great appreciation for this game because it definitely highlights and showcases what Delaware football players and what the state of Delaware brings to the game of football. Even growing up, I felt as though our talent and what our state had to offer was always overshadowed or overlooked.
“I feel like, with this game being showcased on ESPN-2, it just really highlights what people and players and coaches — just everybody from Delaware — can offer to the game.”
“I feel as though it’s a great opportunity for both teams,” agreed running back Khory Spruill. “It’s a great opportunity to show everybody in the country what Delaware football is about.”
Spruill back on track
Four years ago, Spruill seemed to have a promising career stretched out in front of him.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior ran for 183 yards and a pair of touchdowns as a freshman in 2017.
But Spruill’s career got off track and the DeMatha Catholic grad ran for just a total of 71 yards over the next two seasons.
This spring, though, after Will Knight decided to transfer, Spruill finds himself as Delaware’s No. 2 back behind only standout Dejoun Lee. In just three games, Spruill has put up 168 yards on 32 carries.
“I think he’s come a long way,” said Rocco. “He was always a guy that we saw a lot of talent in and a lot of value in. Like most of our lives, they’re not necessarily a straight path. There’s been ups and downs. He’s experienced some hardship, he’s experienced a lot of injuries and setbacks.”
Rocco said even in 2019, when the Hens had their share of depth at running back. he was telling his assistant coaches to go back and look at Spruill’s tape from his freshman season and high school.
“I said, ‘This kid can run the football,’” said Rocco.
Rocco also said that Spruill has become a better blocker and pass catcher, which makes it a lot easier to keep him on the field. The fact that his physical, straight-ahead style offers a contrast to the 5-foot-7, 185-pound Lee doesn’t hurt either.
“It feels amazing to finally be out there with my brothers and playing the game we love to play,” said Spruill. “I know it took a while to get here but I can’t be more excited. I’m kind of old now but I still feel young.
“I love it,” Spruill said about his partnership with Lee. “I feel it’s a great balance of speed and power. I think we both bring great energy to this team every day. ... Me and Dejoun came in at the same time so we’ve really talked about this for years. To finally have this come to fruition feels amazing.”
Rocco talked a good deal on Monday about having games canceled this season while programs are dealing with the pandemic.
Along with the UD-Albany contest, three other CAA games were called off on Saturday. Only one league game was played.
Rocco said coaches understand that decisions are being made based on what’s best for each program.
“There is no judgment, there is no second-guessing,” he said. “There is nothing but this is what’s in the best interest for our team right now.”
“There are no rules into how all this works. We all have guidelines and conversations but there’s no rules.”
Delaware won’t be staying in Dover on Friday night but will bus down from Newark a few hours before the game because of COVID-19 protocols. ... Rocco complimented DSU coach Rod Milstead on his approach to building the Hornets. “I think Coach Milstead is doing a great job. ... He’s trying to build it from the foundation. The hardest thing to do is to be able to sustain it. But you have no chance of sustaining it if you don’t build that foundation.” ... Rocco said Burton III has been a very mature leader for Delaware. “Frank’s like a 40-year-old guy talking about life issues. ... We trust Frank. What’s leadership look like? Well, it looks like Frank Burton.”