I-AA Delaware remains A-I problem in Navy's book

Phil Jackman

October 22, 1992|By Phil Jackman

In 27 years of coaching football at the University of Delaware, Tubby Raymond has sent teams out to win 217 times while losing just 66. But the Blue Hens haven't gone all the way to the Division I-AA title, although they've made the playoffs half the time during the last 12 seasons.

With just about all the starters back from last year's 10-2 team, the whispering around Newark this fall has been that this is Tubby's and the team's year. Shhh!

If it happens for the 5-1 team that provides the opposition at Navy's Homecoming in Annapolis Saturday (1:30 p.m.), it will be because of something that happened five years ago.

For years, the Hens functioned with a freshman football program, the equivalent of having one hand tied behind their backs. While just about everyone else was enjoying the fruits of redshirting athletes and four years of eligibility, Delaware went with LTC freshmen playing prep schools on Friday afternoons, then three years of varsity eligibility for its players.

Finally, at the end of the 1987 season, Raymond, with the blessing of the school's trustees, said, "We might as well adopt a five-year program."

What it has meant is the coach and his staff have had the opportunity to experiment with players, not only giving the recruits time to find their way around college life but to find their way around the football field.

For instance, three of the current offensive line starters started out as defensive players. A lad recruited out of Illinois to play quarterback fell to No. 4 on the depth chart at that position before moving to tight end, then to a spot in the interior line.

"With that extra year," says Raymond, "we've had a chance to really look at these kids and we haven't been afraid to experiment."

Navy coach George Chaump took a look at a couple of game tapes and noted, "One thing about Delaware, it uses its athletes wisely."

When you're a Division I-AA school, that's essential since NCAA rules dictate a maximum of 45 scholarships, about half as many as I-A schools are allowed.

"Yes," says Chaump, "but it's what you do with the kids you're able to bring in. Sometimes, I have a problem with the classifications we have in the NCAA. They have 45 scholarships; we get a lot more. But if they get better players, they'll be better. Ironically, their only loss came to a Division II school [West Chester]. See stuff like that and it's tough to figure out what the classifications mean."

Delaware started slowly, looking unimpressive in beating Yankee Conference foes Massachusetts and Rhode Island at home. It then fell to West Chester, 21-20, in the mud, playing without 6-foot-2, 245-pound sophomore Daryl Brown, the key man in its ground-oriented attack.

In the parlance of the day, this was called a "wake-up call" by the veterans on the team who are nothing if not outspoken. While a lineman was calling one of the assistant coaches "an idiot" after the loss, one of the backs didn't hesitate to question the strategy of the head coach repeatedly. As one observer puts it, "These guys are a very confident bunch and they won't be intimidated."

By 0-5 Navy?

Asked if he expected any problems with overconfidence among his troops, Raymond scoffed, "No way. In this game, you have to think relatively. Getting ready for West Chester, we looked at a tape of its game against Wingate. I didn't even know where that school is located. This week, we've been looking at Navy going against teams like North Carolina, Rutgers and Air Force. There are none of those on our schedule."

The Hens are coming off an important road win against Villanova last week and are on a streak that has seen them score at least 20 points in each of their last 21 games.

"The reason for that is because they run an offense [former coach Dave Nelson's wing-T] they probably invented up there, and they've modified and updated right along," says Chaump. "It seems they've been able to recruit a quarterback who puts it all together consistently."

That would be four-year starter Bill Vergantino, an option-type who pretty well dictated that the Hens would be leaning toward the run for a while.

Raymond isn't averse to tossing some surprises in there either, the winning score in the Villanova game coming on a razzle-dazzle end-around play run by a redshirt freshman.

The Middies were cruising, 25-7, at halftime of last year's meeting when Delaware won the second half, 22-0, and the game, 29-25. The Hens have won two of the last three and lost by four points the other time and Navy is just 13-11 against Division I-AA schools since 1984. So don't try to tell the Mids these guys are slightly inferior, they're not buying.

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