What does Hens’ spring mean for the fall?

QB Nolan Henderson is followed by a TV crew as he takes the field at South Dakota State before Delaware's FCS semifinal game on Saturday.
QB Nolan Henderson is followed by a TV crew as he takes the field at South Dakota State before Delaware's FCS semifinal game on Saturday.
Delaware sports information/Ryan Griffith

NEWARK — Usually when one football season ends, the next one sits far off, way over the horizon.

But as Nolan Henderson sat there in South Dakota on Saturday afternoon — maybe 20 minutes removed from the end of Delaware’s spring campaign — the junior quarterback could see the next season rushing up quickly.

“There’s not much turnaround,” Henderson said after the Blue Hens’ 33-3 loss to No. 1 South Dakota State in the NCAA FCS Division I semifinals.

“We’ll look at this film, see where we need to get better and then it’s kind of right back to work. With the oddity of playing a spring season followed by a fall season, we’re going to have to adapt and obviously get healthy.

“Then it’s on to, how can we have a better outcome, reach Frisco and remain in nationally prominent games in post-season play?”

Of course, nobody really knows how it will be, playing two football seasons so close together. With the situation occurring because of the pandemic, the hope is that this is a once-in-a-lifetime season doubleheader.

But, for better or worse, Delaware will end up playing at least 19 games in a span of 10 months.

So will the Hens’ confidence carry over? When they start the fall season on Sept. 4 at Maine, will they be able to build on a campaign in which they went 7-1, won the CAA title and won two NCAA playoff games for the first time since 2010?

After all, with the spring season not counting towards anyone’s eligibility, every player has the possibility of returning for the fall — with some incoming freshmen added in.

Or will the physical and mental toll of playing back-to-back seasons eventually catch up to the Hens.

Clearly, most CAA teams are going to be tougher to beat in the fall. Not all of the programs in the league took the same focused approach to the spring that Delaware did.

Remember, there were only four CAA squads still playing by the end of spring. And conference rival Towson didn’t even play at all.

The Hens also face the challenge of traveling to Big 10 foe Rutgers on Sept. 18.

Coach Danny Rocco admits he hasn’t really thought about the fall season yet. His focus was on having Delaware get as much as it could out of the spring.

“I told the guys in the locker room, I said I have given zero thought to what we’re going to do tomorrow if we lose,” Rocco said after Saturday’s game. “And that’s kind of been my mindset for a while.

“I told them today, I think the best thing to do is kind of stay on our normal schedule. We see the trainers, we get our treatment, we have a recovery workout. We have a team meeting, we watch the game.

“Then I get back in front of them and say, ‘OK guys, this is what we’re doing this week.’ I think that’s going to be the first moment that I’m going to try to move everything forward.

“The turnaround’s going to be quick,” he added.

From an optimistic standpoint, this was a breakthrough season for Delaware. In their best showing since reaching the national championship game in 2010, the Hens had a lot of success with a relatively young team that has a bright future ahead of it.

On the other hand, a pessimist might call this spring something of a mirage for Delaware. The Hens worked really hard and accomplished some big things.

But did Delaware also take advantage of a unique season that it approached more seriously than a lot of programs? Only time will tell.

Whatever the future brings, Rocco said he’s proud of what his program did over the last several months.

“At the end of the day, we had a great season,” said Rocco. “I’ve never seen a group of guys sacrifice more than this group has sacrificed during a calendar year. We have a lot of warriors in that locker room.

“Holistically, I’m hurt. This was painful. But, like I said, this season was extraordinary, and I am not going to let this moment in time dictate how I evaluate what was accomplished here this year with our program.”