NEWARK — This shouldn’t have been a strange moment.
With Delaware starting its second summer session, Blue Hen football coach Danny Rocco was walking around the weight room, saying ‘hi’ to his incoming class of freshmen.
“They were saying, ‘Hey Coach Rocco, it’s nice to meet you,’” said Rocco. “And I was like, ‘Meet me? You mean you never met me before? That’s amazing.’
“But in reality, that was true, almost with everyone of them.”
Clearly, the effects of the pandemic — which forced college coaches to recruit players remotely — are still being felt.
Even the Colonial Athletic Association’s Football Media Day was still held by zoom on Tuesday.
In the long run, though, everyone in the college football world is hoping that things will be pretty close to normal this fall.
Certainly, the Hens have some big dreams after going 7-1 and reaching the NCAA FCS Division I semifinals in the unprecedented spring campaign.
As expected, Delaware was voted second in the CAA’s pre-season poll that was released on Tuesday. James Madison, which was ranked ahead of the Hens nationally all spring, was named the pre-season favorite.
The Hens were awarded the CAA’s automatic playoff berth in the spring but that was primarily because they were able to play one more league contest than the Dukes.
Even with practically its whole roster returning, matching its spring success is expected to be much more difficult for Delaware, which opens its season on Sept. 2 at Maine.
Still, the Hens believe they’re going to be bringing a great deal of confidence with them from the spring.
“I think it just starts with where we left off in terms of being able to communicate and play fluid with each other,” said safety Kedrick Whitehead, the Middletown High grad. “These past eight games were our first games learning a new defense. So having a deeper understanding of our new defense coming into a full season will help us.
“Going through another camp and just staying tighter together makes playing way easier, way faster and a lot more fun when you know the guys next to you, know what they’re going to do and know they have your back.”
Kedrick was one of eight Delaware players named to the Colonial’s pre-season all-conference team.
On offense, junior quarterback Nolan Henderson (Smyrna), running back Dejoun Lee, receiver Thyrick Pitts and lineman David Kroll were picked for the team with lineman Chase McGowan, linebacker Johnny Buchanan and cornerback Nijuel Hill making it on defense.
“I think we gained a lot of confidence and certainly momentum,” said Rocco. “Almost all of our seniors are coming back so I think that’s a really good sign of the culture of our program right now. We’ve had good leadership here for the last couple of seasons. That’s bled into the summer
“I think we’re in a really good spot. Obviously, we’ve got to learn from the spring season. There’s things we’re going to have to do better as we head into summer camp.”
One thing the Hens want to do better is keeping Henderson on the field.
The junior QB suffered his share of injuries in the spring, missing parts of Delaware’s last two playoff games.
Rocco said Henderson is healthy now and the goal, of course, is to keep him that way.
“I think this past spring season he made great strides in understanding how to protect himself better,” said Rocco. “He did a lot of things on the scramble where he was more aware of maybe not having to try to score a touchdown every time he got in the open field. But we do have to shore up our protection.”
The University of Delaware is requiring its students to be vaccinated in order to be on campus this fall. Exemptions are available for specific reasons. Rocco said the football team hasn’t reached the 85 percent threshold of vaccinated players yet but expects that it will get there. ... Delaware received seven first-place votes in the CAA poll compared to 15 for JMU. ... The Hens are tentatively opening camp on Aug. 5. ... Delaware receiver Gene Coleman and tight end Bryce DeMaille were both honorable mention picks on the all-conference team.