Gwynn set to step in for Delaware Blue Hens

Delaware coach Danny Rocco said he has a lot of confidence in backup quarterback Zach Gwynn (No. 12).
Delaware coach Danny Rocco said he has a lot of confidence in backup quarterback Zach Gwynn (No. 12).
Delaware sports information photo

NEWARK — Nobody on the Delaware football team questions Nolan Henderson’s toughness.

The Smyrna High grad has bounced back too many times to wonder whether he can handle the game’s bumps and bruises.

Blue Hen quarterback Zach Gwynn, Henderson’s backup, admires that in him as much as anybody.

“It’s a tough game and he’s really tough kid,” said Gwynn. “I mean he’s a leader in every sense of the word. ... The dude’s an inspiring football player. He works and he battles and he will continue to do that.”

But the harsh reality is that Gwynn will probably have to fill in for the injured Henderson at times this fall — perhaps as soon as Saturday when Delaware (1-0 CAA, 2-1) hosts Albany (0-1 CAA, 0-3 overall) at 3 p.m.

On Monday, Blue Hen coach Danny Rocco described Henderson’s current health issue as a “hip, groin, abdomen injury” that he had surgery for last year.

“He’ll certainly play again this year,” Rocco said on the CAA weekly coaches media call. “I just don’t know how quickly or how often. But we’re optimistic that we’re going to have Nolan back in our lineup here before too long.

“But it really is somewhat day to day, week to week as we assess his situation and health.”

Henderson didn’t practice on Sunday and isn’t expected to practice again on Tuesday.

A first-team All-CAA preseason pick, Henderson was moving with some noticeable discomfort after being sacked five times in Delaware’s game at Rutgers on Sept. 18. He eventually was taken out of the contest after the third quarter.

Given the nature of Henderson’s injury, Rocco gave the impression that this status is going to remain regularly in flux. Rocco said Henderson did seem to be responding to different treatments, though.

Quoting Henderson, Rocco said the quarterback told him this week, “I feel better than I have in a long time.”

“There’s a lot to manage,” said Rocco. “There’s a lot of different conversations that are being had and I think we’re having all the right conversations.

“It’s out in front of us. Like I said, he certainly will play again here this fall. Will he play this weekend? I don’t know. Will he be able to put together a series of weeks, a series of games? We’re hopeful.”

Gwynn has had to jump in when Henderson got injured before, of course.

In each of Delaware’s last two NCAA FCS playoff games in the spring, Gwynn entered the contests at a moment’s notice after Henderson was hurt on a late hit at Jacksonville State and then injured his left knee at South Dakota State.

“I think, up to this point, I’ve prided myself on preparing like a starter each week, just in case my number is called,” said Gwynn. “For me, it’s don’t get too high, don’t get too low. Go out there and keep executing.”

In the spring, the Salesianum grad completed 6-of-10 passes for 59 yards. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder started his college career as a walk-on at FBS East Carolina.

“Zach’s a very neat, mature, likeable, talented young man,” said Rocco. “He certainly came here to play quarterback. He didn’t come here to (just) cheer for the team on the sidelines.

“He does well. I have a lot of confidence in him and his ability to distribute the football and run the offense.”

With eight quarterbacks on the roster, Delaware probably has as many players at the position as it has had in a long time.

Besides Gwynn, Anthony Paoletti has gotten considerable playing time as the Hens’ wildcat QB while youngster Cade Pribula is also considered an option if needed.

“Zach’s just been great ever since he’s gotten here,” veteran linebacker Drew Nickles said about Gwynn. “He’s really gelled with everybody. He’s not afraid to make any throws.

“He’ll just go out there and sling it — that’s what we love. He’s very confident and we all believe in him.”

It’s a strange situation for Gwynn knowing that an injury to his friend might give him an opportunity to play. But he knows he owes it to the team to be ready.

“I never want to see Nolan go down,” said Gwynn. “But, whenever I get an opportunity, it’s exciting. If that happens this weekend, I’m very excited to do that.”

Other injuries

Rocco said standout safety Noah Plack has started practicing in the last few days and might even be available against Albany.

Plack hasn’t played yet this fall after getting banged up in a car accident just before the start of the season.

“We probably missed him a little more than I wanted to recognize,” said Rocco. “He is good, he is better and he does have a calmness about him, a presence about him, a confidence about him that is really important on that back end.”

Nickles back in action

Nickles picked a pretty good time for his first game of the season, taking the field at Rutgers.

He missed the first two games with a shoulder injury.

“It felt great to be back out there with the guys,” said Nickles. “I think that was the thing I missed the most — just playing football with all my friends and having a good time.

“I feel really good right now. It’s probably the healthiest I’ve been in a while. We’ll see what happens throughout the season but right now I feel great.”

Nickles, who has lined up at defensive end at times, is known for his ability to pass rush. His return means the Hens can substitute more freely.

“There’s this idea that we have a little flexibility, a little more room for creativity,” said Rocco. “A lot of these guys can do multiple jobs.”

Extra points

Ryan Coe’s 53-yard field goal against Rutgers looked like it would have been good from considerably longer. The school record is 55 yards, set by Frank Raggo in 2017. “He certainly has more than just 53 in him,” said Rocco. ... With the open date, Delaware dropped one spot to No. 9 in Monday’s STATS FCS rankings. ... Rocco got to attend the Western Illinois game at Youngstown State on Saturday. His son, David, is the Leatherneck’s offensive coordinator. Western Illinois rallied from a 35-3 deficit to beat the Penguins, 38-35.

Follow Andy Walter on Twitter @DSNSports.