Senior Andrew Pierce became just the third Blue Hen to run for 4,000 yards in his career. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers).
BALTIMORE — Zach Kerr’s mom likes to give him a hard time about it.
The defensive lineman has been part of two college football programs – Maryland and now Delaware.
And both times the head coach got fired while he was there.
“My mom said, ‘Well dang Zach, every school you go to, they fire your coach, what are you doing?” Kerr joked. “I said, ‘It’s not me. It’s the business side of this thing.’”
The Blue Hens got a harsh dose of that reality when K.C. Keeler was fired unexpectedly in January after nine seasons at the helm of his alma mater’s program. But while Delaware’s players say they’re grateful to Keeler for giving them an opportunity, they know they also have to turn the page.
Keeler was let go after Delaware lost its final four games last season to finish just 5-6. Certainly the Hens’ status within in the Colonial Athletic Association isn’t very lofty right now.
On Wednesday, Delaware was picked to finish just sixth in the league this fall as the preseason poll was released at CAA Media Day at M&T Stadium. Villanova was tabbed the favorite to win the league title.
Kerr said that’s just a little more fuel for a program that already has something to prove.
“I mean nothing is going our way,” said the senior. “Nothing is pointing in a direction that says Delaware is a team that you have to look out for. So why not have a chip on your shoulder? Why not be upset with how people view us?
“Delaware is Delaware but we’re sixth in the CAA, we went 5-6 last year. … we’ve got to come out here and make some noise and let them know we’re Delaware and we’re back.”
“This season, there’s a chip on our shoulder,” agreed senior running back Andrew Pierce. “We’re just ready to go out there and prove people wrong every single day. I know we’ve been taking that mentality in the weight room.
“That’s why we worked so hard this summer. I believe we’re ready.”
First-year coach Dave Brock, of course, isn’t going to complain if his players have a little extra fire in them.
“If we don’t play with a chip on our shoulder, shame on us,” he said.
Then again, the former Rutgers offensive coordinator isn’t in a very good position to judge where his team stands in the CAA. Brock has only had about five months to get to know his own players, a number of whom were sidelined with injuries during the spring.
Plus, the last time he was part of the Colonial was in 2002 when he was an assistant coach at Hofstra.
“Here’s what I did, I let (sports information director) Scott Selheimer do our preseason voting,” said Brock. “I didn’t feel like it would be even legitimate for me to try to rank guys watching this tape or that tape. It’d be very selective and not very realistic.
“But I do think that preseason polls give you a pretty good indication of what other people think of you. And that doesn’t go unnoticed. We’re excited about the year and we’ll see what happens. I think we’ve got some good players.”
Two of those players are senior offensive lineman Bobby Kennedy and Kerr, who were named to the Preseason All-CAA team on Wednesday. Overall, the Hens return 49 letterwinners, including 19 starters.
Delaware will start training camp on Aug. 2 with the starting quarterback job up for grabs. Last year’s main starter, Trent Hurley, sat out the spring after undergoing ankle surgery while his spring-practice replacement, Trevor Sasek, was stabbed in an off-season altercation in Newark.
Both players are healthy for the beginning of camp.
“I’d love to have a guy in place two weeks out,” said Brock. “I’m not a ‘lingerer.’ I’ll make a decision. Ultimately I believe players decide who plays. … Especially at that position, it’s been very rare in my experience where someone doesn’t separate themselves. I’m hoping that happens.”
One of the players Brock does know very well is Pierce, who is a fourth-year starter. The workhorse back has been through a little of everything – from the high of going to the NCAA I-AA national title game as a freshman to last year’s struggles.
“That’s how life is, too,” said Pierce. “Football teaches you life. It gives you the ups and the downs. I definitely have seen that all. I’m ready to take on more of a leadership role this year and share my experiences that I’ve been through.
“I’ve always been a person that wanted to prove myself every day, just because of the things I’ve been through – being overlooked (out of high school). I always carry a chip on my shoulder. I know as a team, we want to show the coach where we are. We’re not that 5-6 team.”