Saturday, November 25, 2006

University of Delaware Football 2006

Please see the archives section to the right to review all postings that Tom Byrne and I wrote from last season.


Bill Komissaroff

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The SideByrne: Winding Down, Starting Up.

by Tom Byrne

Football season is winding down and basketball season is starting up. This week, I have thoughts on both.

We’ll start on the gridiron. Last week, I talked about a different vibe with the UD football program as they faced the same situation as last season, 4-5 with two left to play and needing wins over William & Mary and Villanova to avoid a losing season. I didn’t feel the same energy surrounded the team and there was a sense of playing for next season as much as this season. Well, that lack of energy was evident at the Tub Saturday, but not from the players. The announced crowd of 20,655 didn’t seem to bring much energy. It was a very different vibe standing on the sidelines last Saturday, not at all like the electric atmosphere of previous games, especially New Hampshire. So, hats off to the players for motivating themselves and delivering a win.

Certainly, the return of Omar Cuff had something to do with the victory. Not only did Cuff post 93 yards rushing and a TD and 2 catches for 17 yards, he also brought his trademark passion and intensity (and some nice blitz pick-ups). I was on the fence about bringing him back this season, risking further injury to his ankle. Cuff took me off the fence Saturday. After the game, he pointed out that it was good for him to get a chance to prove to himself that his ankle was fine and the work he put into rehab was paying off. I’m sure he and the rest of Blue Hen nation will feel better going into the off-season if Cuff can put up another good game Saturday against ‘Nova and come out healthy.

And speaking of Saturday’s game against Villanova, expect a good one. There’s no playoff berth or conference titles on the line for either team, but the fact that both are 5-5 should be enough to heat up this long-time rivalry. One team will walk off the field with a winning season and one will not. That should be enough to have both sides ready to go.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve dismissed DSU’s chances of making the playoffs for the first time in team history. I still feel they will miss out, even with a win at Howard and a 9-2 finish likely. The Hornets, now ranked #23 in the “Sports Network” top 25, still need help to get in. Other teams with 3 and even 4 losses could argue they more deserving based on their schedule and who they’ve beaten. Having said that, head coach Al Lavan and crew deserve a lot of credit for making post-season talk realistic in the final week. Last week, Del State lost its starting quarterback Vashon Winton to a broken ankle (his season is over) and didn’t miss a beat when little used senior back-up Kurt Elden stepped in. Elden, a transfer from Minnesota Tech, isn’t thrilled with the way he got on the field, but told me it is “kind of a fairy tale” that he gets to close his career playing in games that have so much meaning. It’s also great for the rest of senior class that went through so much turmoil before Al Lavan arrived.

Wesley College did secure its first undefeated regular season last Saturday with a win over Morrisville (NY). They also secured the top seed in the South region for the NCAA Division II playoffs and have a chance to play at home much of the Division III playoffs, if they keep winning. The big issue for Mike Drass and his staff this week is getting his team to take it up a notch after winning its final two in blow-out fashion against some lightweight competition. There are no pushovers like Chowan or Morrisville from here on out. Dickinson, Wesley’s first round opponent, is 8-2 and won its conference. The good news is the Centennial isn’t that strong and the Red Devils haven’t really seen anyone of the Wolverines’ caliber this season, with the possible exception of Hobart. Wesley should advance with relative ease Saturday, avenging their loss to Dickson in an ECAC Bowl game in Dover back in 1998. In that one, Wesley gave up 2 touchdowns in the final 7 minutes to lose. That won’t happen again against this edition of the Wesley “D”.

Some quick thoughts on the start of college basketball season locally.

Monte Ross didn’t win his first game against Marist Tuesday, and his team may not win many over the course of this season, but a corner has been turned. First, there was much more energy and intensity shown by the Hens in that opener than at almost anytime last season. Second, the initial Ross recruits seem different from players brought in by David Henderson. Henderson seemed to take chances on great athletes or guys with size, hoping to make them basketball players. The freshman Johnsons, Brian and Darrell, seem to have athleticism AND a good basketball IQ. That gives them a chance to help now and grow even better later. And third, it was nice in post-game interviews to hear the players say they didn’t get it done and the coach say he needs to do better. Everyone is apparently accountable for themselves under the Ross regime and that should help the team get through what will likely be a bumpy first season.

Tina Martin’s women’s squad at Delaware is definitely worth keeping an eye on this season. A win over Villanova at home Sunday and a narrow loss at Boston College Tuesday show this squad can compete at a high level. If they avoid injury, imagine how good they may be by the end of the season as they grow as a group.

At DSU, an odd start to the season. First, their opener against Division II Saint Paul’s was not going to count. Now, it does. It’s stuff like that, an inability to dot “i’s” and cross “t’s”, that often hurts DSU’s credibility as they try to build the program and the athletics at the school. Plus, they paid Saint Paul’s a 25 thousand dollar guarantee to come up for the game. I’m not sure that makes a whole lot of sense. Now, the Hornets are playing 14 in a row away from home, a run of games that started with a 67-50 loss at 4th ranked Pitt Tuesday. The big question for me is can this team retain Greg Jackson’s commitment to defense now that they’ve put together a roster that has some serious scoring punch, including MEAC “Player of the year” Jahsha Bluntt and Roy Bright. Pulling off an upset against an N.C. State, Marquette or Wisconsin during this tough run would certainly show this group is still buying into Jackson’s methods.

Finally, a thought on high school football. Glasgow High players really got the short end of it when the Dragons were forced to forfeit all of their wins and a trip to the playoffs when it was discovered the team had used an ineligible player. What a shame. As usual, the players, who had nothing to do with the violation, bare the brunt of the punishment. You see this in college sports too. When a coach commits a violation, he can leave and get another job with no restrictions, while the players are left to deal with the fall out (post-season bans, the loss of scholarships, etc). Players can transfer, but have to sit a year, or in football, sit a year or drop to a level. How is that fair? The Glasgow situation also feels pretty unfair. Glasgow players didn’t fail to keep the ineligible player off the field, yet they suffer serious consequences. DIAA executive director Kevin Charles says it’s the school’s responsibility to make sure players are eligible. True, but it’s not the players’ responsibility. In fairness to DIAA, it made the right call because this is punishment that is currently in place according to the rules. There was no choice. Is there another way? Maybe. Maybe not. But, it should be explored. High school athletes deserve at least that much those that police the games they play.
Tom Byrne is a Sports Anchor for WHYY-TV, Sports Director of WILM Newsradio, and Sideline Reporter on University of Delaware Football Broadcasts on The River 94.7

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The SideByrne: Deja Vu

by Tom Byrne

There is a little sense of déjà vu for the Blue Hens heading into this week’s game at William and Mary. Just like last season, Delaware is 4-5 and needs to win its last two against William and Mary and Villanova to avoid its first losing season since 2001. The Hens turned the trick last season, but this year may be different, even though the final two games are at home in 2006 rather than on the road.

There’s just a very different vibe surrounding this team this season, and it starts at the top. Looking back at the stories I wrote around this time last season, K.C. Keeler vowed to stay with his older players and do what had to be done to win in the here and now, rather than look at young players and build for the future. This year, Keeler has already inserted younger players in the line-up for reasons beyond injuries (i.e.- the secondary last week). His weekly press conference Monday, the day before Election Day, was the closest thing to a concession speech you’ll ever get out of Keeler. He talked this week about a young team playing for “the present and the future”. He also noted the defense had lost confidence, which to me says, “We’ve tried everything there is to try and it hasn’t worked and it probably isn’t going to change in these last two weeks.” Don’t get me wrong, he also had positive things to say about his team and there was no sense they won’t show up the next two weeks, but just about every defeated candidate talks about all the hard work the campaign workers put in and vows to run again.

That defense is huge worry. Other than the return of Matt Marcorelle from injury next season, what is there to make you feel things will be better on that side of the ball in 2007? Coach Keeler talked about being “difference-makers” away from being good, but Marcorelle isn’t THAT much of a difference maker. Yes, you can bring in transfers to help immediately, but getting them on the defensive line, where the Hens need is the greatest, is difficult. Shawn Johnson is the exception, not the rule. Most schools use line rotations now. That means there’s fewer disgruntled defensive lineman not getting playing time at I-A schools ready to move to find it.

Bill Komissaroff talked about the fans’ patience in his commentary this week. It will likely be tested again next season.

There are some good things to talk about this week, and they come from downstate. I’m not sure Dover is now the college football “hotbed” that last Friday’s News Journal piece suggested its become, but football in the state capital is more interesting football in Newark right now.

Delaware State missed jumping into the Sports Network top 25 by a mere five votes, edged out by Delaware’s Atlantic 10 rival Richmond. I was tempted to call the K-Man and ask about his how he had the two teams ranked, but realized that’s probably still a sensitive area after the great JMU-New Hampshire controversy earlier this year. Having seen Richmond up close, and watched plenty of DSU tape, I think the Hornets, if the two played right now, could take the Spiders. Neither team is great, but the Hornets have a few things going in their favor. They lead I-AA in turnover margin at +13 this season. Their defense makes plays, scoring touchdowns or giving their average offense great field position.. Their special teams unit also makes plays. DSU has blocked 6 kicks this season, getting touchdowns and safeties off a number of blocked punts. And the offense, while average, has learned to run the ball (185 yards per game) and has a legitimate game breaker Shaheer McBride (see last week’s commentary) . The Hornets’ only problem would be their smallish defense matching up with Richmond’s rushing attack. Teams with size, like Hampton and Northwestern State, can push Del State around, but Delaware’s defense held the Spiders to 24 points. I can’t imagine Del State could not do the same or better and ride a couple of big plays to a 20-14 victory.

I still think DSU is a long shot to make the playoffs if Hampton doesn’t cough up the MEAC title with a loss this week to Florida A&M, but the Hornets’ at-large candidacy gets stronger every time a team like Towson loses, and DSU does not, as happened last week.

And a quick pat on the back to Wesley College. The 9-0 Wolverines should beat Morrisville (NY) this week and secure their first winning season since 1976 when they were still in the junior college ranks. More importantly, a win locks up the top seed in the South and a chance to play at home much of the Division III playoffs. The brackets for the DIII playoffs are announced Sunday. Sadly, my Ithaca College Bombers will likely miss the NCAA playoffs after last week’s loss to Alfred (NY). That ends my dream of a Wesley-Ithaca showdown. Covering the Hens keeps me from getting to see my Bombers in person. I was hoping a game with the Wolverines would give me a chance to see them and getting paid in the process. No such luck.
Tom Byrne is a Sports Anchor for WHYY-TV, Sports Director of WILM Newsradio, and Sideline Reporter on University of Delaware Football Broadcasts on The River 94.7

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

We Want The World And We Want It... Now.

Patience may be a virtue, but it is not a trait of your typical college sports fan. And for the supporters of the University of Delaware’s teams, I imagine that any patience they may have had is starting to wear thin.

The 2003 National Championship is becoming smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror of the football team which, for the second straight year, is faced with the prospect of having to win its final two games just to salvage a winning record. And at the same time, the basketball team is facing a complete reconstruction after closing the chapter on its long national nightmare known as the Henderson Era. As a result, the fans have not had a whole lot to cheer about lately on South College Avenue.

When David Henderson became the head basketball coach prior to the 2000 season, he had never been head coach before. Henderson’s predecessor, Mike Brey, had never been a head coach either, but had seemingly spent his entire post-college life preparing to be one. When his playing days were over at George Washington, Brey went back to his high school alma mater and began his coaching career under the guidance of Hall of Famer Morgan Wooten at one of the nation’s top basketball schools, DeMatha. After five successful years, he landed one of the top college jobs in the country sitting on Mike Krzyzewski’s bench at Duke eventually working his way up the ladder to become the top assistant. When Delaware came calling prior to the 1995 season, Brey was more than ready to become a head coach. During his five-year tenure he would guide Delaware to three consecutive twenty win seasons, three conference championships, two NCAA Tournament appearances, and one NIT appearance.

Unlike Brey, Henderson spent most of his basketball career as a player. He was part of Krzyzewski’s first recruiting class at Duke and played there for four years before embarking on an eleven-year professional career. When his playing days were over, he called Krzyzewski who, perhaps out of loyalty, gave him a job on his staff.

After just three seasons as a lower level assistant at Duke, Henderson, with Krzyzewski’s endorsement, became a lead candidate for the Delaware head coaching job when Bill Gutheridge surprisingly retired from North Carolina starting a coaching carousel that saw Matt Dougherty leave Notre Dame to replace Gutheridge and then Brey leave Delaware to replace Dougherty.

As Delaware fans would eventually find out, there is a big difference between being a player and a coach, there is a bigger difference between being an assistant and a head coach, and there is a huge difference between being Mike Krzyzewski’s third assistant and being Mike Krzyzewski.

The basketball program floundered during Henderson’s six-years at the helm never once making the post season. In Henderson’s defense, unexpectedly he did have to oversee the transition from the America East conference into the much more difficult CAA after just one season. A task that would have been a challenge for even a more seasoned coach. Finally, however, after back-to-back twenty loss seasons and a steady drop in attendance and “buzz”, Delaware fired Henderson with two years left on a contract extension.

The misfortunes of the football team trace back to the 2004 quarter-final playoff game at William and Mary. Delaware was one quarter away from advancing to the semi-finals where a win would give them the chance to defend their National Championship as they led William and Mary by a score of 31-10. On the first play of the fourth quarter, William and Mary’s Stephen Cason stepped in front of a Sonny Riccio pass and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown. The Delaware offense stalled with two consecutive three and outs as William and Mary staged an incredible comeback scoring twenty-one unanswered fourth quarter points to tie the game at 31 before winning it in double overtime 44-38.

Since that game, KC Keeler’s team has posted an un-remarkable record of 10 and 10 including home and away losses to Towson, a homecoming loss last year to Hofstra, and a home non-conference loss earlier this year to Albany.

In addition to the losses, the program has had to endure several other embarrassing incidents. Last year the team had to forfeit a home game and move it to Richmond when the field at Delaware Stadium became unplayable after the administration failed to address a known problem while hoping to “squeeze” just one more season out of a dying field. During the off-season two players with high expectations ended up in prison after a botched armed robbery attempt allegedly involving money and steroids. And a couple of days prior to this year’s opener the newly named defensive coordinator resigned after a late-night drunk driving incident.

On top of everything else, over this two-year period the team has experienced an inordinate number of injuries last season mainly impacting the offense while this year decimating the defense.

On the bright side, the football team should be much better next year. Quarterback Joe Flacco is the real deal and the team will benefit from the experience young players like John Higginson, Justin Johnson, Ray Jones, Charles Graves, Anthony Bratton, Ken Hale, Mark Duncan, and Jared Bradley are getting this year.

As for the basketball team, new coach Monté Ross certainly has his work cut out for him; it will not be easy to turn this team into a winner in the ultra-competitive CAA where George Mason’s Final Four run last year has helped to set the bar very high.

Ross like his two predecessors had no prior experience as a head coach before his hiring. Only time will tell whether his tenure will be Brey-like or Henderson-esque.

We already know how patient the fans will be while the jury is still out.

Bill Komissaroff

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Hit Parade

It was not a good day for the University of Delaware Football Team on Saturday, as Towson torched them to a tune of 49-35 at home on Tubby’s Tundra. But even the most hardcore Delaware fan, as they were stewing in their seat, had to be somewhat impressed by the performance of Towson quarterback Sean Schaefer. The twenty year old from Dunkirk, Maryland was brilliant. What a moment it must have been for him to walk off that field after carving apart the Delaware defense like a Thanksgiving turkey, and then watching as 22,000 left the table disappointed as if denied any white meat.

Watching Schaefer I had two thoughts. First, that since my own athletic prowess seemed to peak around the tenth grade that I do not have too many of my own experiences to compare what he must have felt like to. Second, I have been fortunate to witness either as a spectator or as a broadcaster some incredible moments, achievements, and games.

So what follows is a partial list of some of the greatest sports moments that I have ever witnessed either as a participant, a spectator, or as a broadcaster.

Mets-Braves, Shea Stadium, September 21, 2001.

This was the first sporting event of any kind in New York City after 9-11. My friend Adam who is also a long-suffering Mets fan and I trekked up to New York in the afternoon for this Friday Night game. I had bought tickets on EBay that day. It was a last minute decision to go, but both of us felt like we just had to be in the house that night. We trained into Manhattan and went down to a pub on 18th Street which was about as far downtown as you could get at that point before catching the famous Number Seven Train out to Shea. I will never forget the glazed look on some of the people walking the streets and sitting at the bar where we had lunch.

The feeling at Shea before the game was eerie. At first people weren’t sure how to react. Was it okay to cheer? Was it okay to boo while the World Trade Center site was still smoldering? You knew it was not a normal night in Queens when Met fans actually cheered Chipper “Larry, Larry” Jones as he saluted them with a doff of the cap.

It was a close game. The Braves were up 2-1 as the Mets came up to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning. Braves manager Bobby Cox went to his bullpen and brought in the hard throwing Steve Karsay. The first batter up was Matt Laughton who struck out on a 101 mph fastball. The next hitter, Edgardo Alfonso, walked which brought up Mike Piazza.

Karsay had gone to a 1-2 count on both previous hitters using the exact same pitch sequence: fastball, fastball, and curve before throwing a blazing 100+ mph heater on 1-2. As Karsay showed the same sequence to Piazza, I turned to Adam just prior to what I knew would be a 1-2 fastball and said, “Watch this,” as I felt like I knew exactly what was about to happen.

As Karsay released the pitch, time seemed to slow down. The exploding sound as the bat hit the ball resonated throughout the stadium. The crowd watched in silence as the ball traveled farther and more majestically than any I have ever seen waiting as it disappeared deep into the New York City night before erupting into the loudest and most incredibly emotional ovation I have ever felt. The sound was deafening as 55,000 people leaped, screamed, and cheered. What a moment for Piazza and the city I thought as I hugged everyone around me.

The Mets would win 3-2 and afterward Chipper Jones, confirming the surreal nature of the evening, would concede that he was happy that the Mets won. Sports made a difference that night as it helped ever so slightly the healing process for some while providing a brief distraction from reality for others. I was proud to be there.

Drexel-Delaware, January 27, 1999.

The Hen Hoopsters were off to one of their best starts ever after winning their first eight games of the season but had come across a rough stretch losing two in a row and then three out of five including a one-point loss at Vermont and a two-point loss at Hofstra. I was the PA announcer at the Bob Carpenter Center that night as Coach Bill Herrion brought his dreaded Drexel Dragons to town led by “Joey, Joey” Linderman: the Dragon that Delaware fans loved to hate the most.

Kestutis Marciulonis is one of my all-time favorite Delaware athletes. He was a PA announcer’s dream. He was the perfect storm: His name is long and drawn out; he shot the long ball; and he had a great sense of the “moment” hitting big shots at big times.

“That’s a THREEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!! KA-STU-TIS MARSHHHH-A-LON-ISSS!!!!,” I loved to spout over the Bob’s loudspeakers.

And on this night, he was playing with a chip on his shoulder because he had to sit out the previous two games while the NCAA investigated his amateur status.

Properly exonerated, Marciulonis came off Mike Brey’s bench and scored a career high 33 points as John Gordon hit a three point shot in the last seconds of regulation for Delaware to send the game into overtime where the Hens would win 99-91.

The Bob was rocking hard that night as an incredible game was elevated even higher because it was against an archrival, and it would help propel the Hens to a thirteen game winning streak including another win over Drexel in the America East Conference Championship game. The streak would finally end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the hands of Tennessee ending one of Delaware’s best seasons ever with a record of 26-5.

Tower Hill JV Baseball Circa Spring 1981.

I don’t remember whom we were playing, but for the purpose of this exercise let’s just say it was Friends who is to Tower Hill what Drexel is to Delaware. I also do not remember the exact circumstance, but let’s say it was the bottom of the ninth inning with the game on the line. I do remember that the bases were loaded and there were no outs as Tower Hill was trying to hold on to a slim one-run lead.

I was catching. Dean Eliason was pitching and Mike Morris was playing first base. The batter hit the ball back to Eliason who threw it me. I tagged home for the first out and threw it to Morris who tagged first for the second out. The runner on second never stopped running and was coming home hard. Morris threw it back to me. The ball arrived at the same moment the base runner did and a collision ensued. When the dust settled it was a garden-variety 1-2-3-2 triple play to end the game. Pretty cool, eh?

Phillies-Padres, Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1993.

I was the radio producer. After six hours of rain delays, game one finally ended at 1:10am. Amazingly game two started at 1:35am (curfew anyone?), and of course went into extra innings and did not end until pitcher Mitch Williams drove in Pete Incaviglia with a hit off Padre closer Trevor Hoffman at 4:40 in the morning. Harry Kalas who always understands the “moment” called it on the radio, “the Phils win it in the tenth on base hit by Mitchy Poooo!”

After producing a full post-game show (an edict from Scott Graham who in retrospect was correct, but at the time…), I finally left the Vet at 5:45am. Not quite “done” my day yet, I had to go to another radio station in Wilmington to do my only shift of the week, which was Saturday mornings from 6:00am to 11:00am. And from there right back out to the Vet for Saturday Night’s game.

A couple of days later the Phillies and Dodgers would play for six hours and ten minutes at the Vet in the midst of a July Philadelphia heat wave. This time Mitchy Poo would blow the save in top of the ninth, Poo indeed, before Lenny Dykstra would drive in Jim Eisenreich with the winning run in the bottom of the twentieth inning.

I will never forget the shot of Dodger broadcaster Vin Skully on the Phanavision screen doing play-by-play shirtless from his booth on the hot, late summer night. (Mike Corey don’t get any ideas!)

Broad Street Run, May 4, 2003.

A simple ten-mile run straight down Broad Street in Philadelphia made a bit more complicated by the fact that I was watching G-Love and Special Sauce until 5:30am the night before at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. Despite the “extra curricular” activities, I only missed my goal of one hour and forty minutes, which would be a ten minute per mile pace, by forty-three seconds. A small price to pay for the fun that is New Orleans!

This might be my personal crowning athletic achievement if it were not for the ping-pong round robin at Roommate Reunion Weekend, Dewey Beach, Delaware, Summer, 2006; but that my friends is another story for another time!

Delaware Football.

I started broadcasting the UD games in 1999, and during that time, I can easily pick my two favorites. The game at the Naval Academy on October 25, 2003, and then a couple of weeks later the triple overtime game vs. Massachusetts on November 15, 2003 .

What I remember most about the UMass game, other than the post-game recap that might be the longest on record, is some of the incredible individual performances that took place on the field, but also the amazing team cohesiveness that each squad demonstrated in one of the most physically and mentally grueling games I have ever seen. Delaware would eventually persevere 51-45 in 3OT.

A few weeks prior, it was a beautiful Fall day in Annapolis and the game had a perfect start for Coach Paul Johnson’s Middies on Navy’s Homecoming. Navy scored two touchdowns before Delaware could even register a first down scoring first on a ten-play drive and then, after a Delaware three and out, airing it out on one 66-yard play-action pass play from Craig Candeto to Eric Roberts.

It was desperation time for Delaware on their next possession facing a potential drive killing fourth and two from their own forty yard-line. Needing a spark, Delaware head coach KC Keeler called for a fake punt. Sean Blieler, the upback in the formation, took the direct snap and ripped off a twenty-four yard run extending the drive. After a collective exhale, Delaware realized that they could play with Navy, and finished the drive with a touchdown and would go on to win 21-17 after Dave Camburn knocked down a Navy pass in the end zone on the last play of the game.

Those were great times for the Delaware Football team and hopefully better times lay ahead when it is not opponents like Sean Schaefer who inspire the reflections but Delaware’s own.

Bill Komissaroff

Another SideByrne

by Tom Byrne

I want to give a well deserved “well-done” to one of my Delaware football pre-game show compadres, the News Journal’s Kevin Tresolini, for his excellent piece last week on Delaware’s struggles in CAA. Great story and, in case some people missed them, terrific online stats and information to supplement much of what he discussed in the paper.

I wonder if some of the same commitment issues Kevin discussed might also eventually apply to football. That possibility never seems far from head coach K.C. Keeler’s mind. On Wednesday night’s “K.C. Keeler show” on the River 94.7, the coach again talked about the arms race recruiting has become and Delaware’s need to upgrade facilities. He says a consulting firm is coming in to assess where Delaware stands and what it should do. Hopefully, it will lead to some action… soon. You have to keep building and improving on what you have or you will eventually fall behind. Continuing commitment is necessary. James Madison coach Mickey Matthews made a critical point in his conference call with UD media this week. When talking about what JMU’s facility upgrades have meant to recruiting, Matthews said he’d forgotten (from his days at Georgia) the power showing a recruit top-notch facilities can have. Delaware has solid facilities, but they need to start getting ahead of the curve. They need to be proactive, not reactive (like with the field situation last year). I realize there’s only so much money to go around and plenty needs (athletics and otherwise), but it is wise to get the balling rolling on things sooner rather than later. Yes, Delaware will always have its tradition and his large fan base to fall back on in the recruiting wars (as Coach Keeler points out regularly), but I believe those things tip the scale when all other things are equal. If the other guy has you beat with facilities, tradition and a full stadium may not be enough to sway a player.

I’ll give you an example from down the road at DSU. I admit it’s an “apples and oranges” comparison, but bear with me. The Hornets were successful under head coach Bill Collick up until the early 90’s as Collick and his crew did “more with less”. I wish I had a dime for every time Coach Collick would pull into another school, bemoan the differences in what he called “amenities”, and then go win anyway. But the school seemed to feel that if Collick could win with less, why spend more? Well, that caught up with Del State in the mid to late 1990’s and we know what happened. Now, they are just starting to recover on the field and are still trying (and usually failing) to address their meager facilities. If they had made a commitment when the team was doing well, even just incrementally, they might have avoided 0-11 in 1998 and 1-10 in 2003. Clearly, the two schools are different animals on any number of levels. Certainly, Delaware will never fall off to the extent DSU did, but the expectations at UD are also a significantly higher and fans will not suffer quietly though even a small dip in success. You don’t want to lose those fans. Remember, that full stadium is one of your recruiting advantages.

Another example can be found at Wesley, the emerging Division III powerhouse in Dover. As the program there got stronger in the mid to late 1990’s, the Wolverines, led by the astute Mike Drass, started doing little things each year to build the program’s infrastructure. It culminated a couple of years ago with the instillation of field turf at Wolverine Stadium. You may not know, but Wesley not lost at home since that turf was laid, going to the NCAA semifinals last year (thanks to a couple of home wins). This year, the Wolverines are undefeated and ranked 4th nationally. They’re also a good bet to have the top seed in the South region come playoff time, which means, you guessed it, a bunch of home games in the D-III tourney. Again, comparing Wesley and UD is definitely a case of apples and oranges, but I believe idea of commitment does translate. You’ll be better off if you keep building as you go and make the occasional big splash, rather than waiting until you have to make major changes. That leaves you behind the curve and usually with a bigger bill to pay.

One other quick hit this week… a pat on the back to DSU coach Al Lavan and his staff. I had a chance to watch a tape of their game against South Carolina State we shot for TV 12. Here’s what jumped out to me. Trailing 9-7 in the fourth quarter and seemingly stagnant offensively, they went to their “go-to-guy”, wide receiver Shaheer Mc Bride. On the 13 play, 66 yard drive that led to the go-ahead field goal, six plays were designed to go to McBride, including a nifty middle screen that netted 29 yards and a pair of reverses that totaled 21 yards. In all, McBride accounted 62 yards on that drive. Lavan and his staff deserve credit for finding way to get their best player the ball when it counted the most. It keeps their MEAC title hopes alive for at least another week or so.
Tom Byrne is a Sports Anchor for WHYY-TV, Sports Director of WILM Newsradio, and Sideline Reporter on University of Delaware Football Broadcasts on The River 94.7