NOTE: This is Part One of an interview with Delaware Head Coach KC Keeler. Due to NCAA rules we cannot discuss incoming recruits until after they commit on Feb. 4th. The incoming recruiting class and coaching changes will be discussed in Part II.
GH: The offense was obviously under our normal standards last year. Why did our offensive line drop off so much from 2007?
Keeler: We had an outstanding offensive line in ‘07. We had 3 senior starters and a 4th senior who was in the top 7. In I-AA football, typically you allocate 12 scholarships for the offensive line position. During the spring of ‘08, we had 2 season ending injuries to Chris Daino (6’4", 300 lb) and Chad Horton (6’5", 280 lb.). So going into the ‘08 season we only had 6 experienced linemen for the 5 offensive line positions. Will Nagle and Shea Allard were both redshirt freshmen. So as you can see, we were in an unusual position on the offensive line. Being very young and also in an effort to get the best players on field, we had to play 3 centers. (Jon Herrman, Rob McDowell, & Kheon Hendricks). One of the major focuses this off-season was getting bigger and more physical offensive linemen. We want to play a physical style of football like we have in previous years. I think that was accomplished with this recruiting class.
GH: There is always a lot of talk on the GoHens message boards about transfer players. Once and for all, what is the philosophy of taking transfers?
Keeler: The philosophy of taking transfers is very simple: 1. Always take a great one, no matter what position. 2. Don’t take players with social baggage, 3. Take one in a need-based situation. i.e. if you had an injury on the D-line, you might look for a d-lineman to fill the void. But our belief is that you can get better home grown players (incoming freshmen) than randomly taking transfers that may have been mistakes at division I. In this years‘ recruiting class, we will probably end up with around 19 incoming freshman and two or so transfers. The ‘08 season was an unusual year for us in terms of transfers. We only anticipated taking 5 freshmen due to the low amount of seniors. (many of the seniors graduated mid-year so they only counted as ½ scholarship against our count). But unexpectedly we had some attrition due to injury or transfer and had some scholarships available. Recruiting after the ‘07 season was very difficult. Because of the unusual road schedule in the playoffs, our last day on the road recruiting was Nov. 14th. The next time we could get back on the road was Jan. 14th. Needless to say, all of the exposure on ESPN was great, however, there is nothing better than sitting in a recruit‘s living room with their parents or getting them on campus to do an effective job in recruiting. So when we had the attrition, I didn’t feel comfortable in the strength of the recruiting board and we took a higher percentage of transfers than we normally would have taken philosophically.
1. Always take a great one, no matter what position.
2. Don’t take players with social baggage,
3. Take one in a need-based situation.
GH: Last year we had a tremendous amount of injured players. Can anything be done to cut down on the number of injuries?
Keeler: Last year was another injury-plagued year for us. Where in 2007 we had very few injuries to key players, 2008 we had an enormous amount of injuries. There are a couple things we do to try to eliminate our injury situation. We physical every incoming scholarship player to see if there are any pre-existing situations we should be aware of. This also helps our strength coach when he is putting together a program for the player so that we can specifically design the program around the player‘s needs. The second thing is we do a post-season evaluation with our training staff to evaluate what the players’ needs are moving forward in terms of keeping them injury free.
Another big component of staying healthy is the weight room. Our strength coach, Jason Beaulieu, works around our inadequacies, but in all honesty; we will all be very excited when we break ground for the athletic/academic performance center. Jason does a great job with flexibility of our players, which is a big part in keeping your athletes healthy. The reality is that staying healthy is just a little bit of luck. 2003, 2004, 2007, we stayed very healthy. But there are some things that you can work on, and we work hard to keep the kids as healthy as possible.
GH: Last year we learned that Chris Daino and Cody Cipalla had to drop out of the football program due to injuries. Are there any other players from last year‘s team that will have to leave due to injuries?
Keeler: Injured players never drop out of the football program. The university still pays for their education and we have them put in hours around the office or field to keep them involved in the program. Right now we don’t anticipate losing any other players from last season‘s injuries. However, it is a long hard rehab/therapy process for the kids. Morales is 100%, Logan Shultz is still not in a position to attend UD. A number of the other late season injuries like Brian Void, Benard Makumbi, John Higginson, Anthony Bratton, Chuck Anderson, and Mike Atunrase, will miss spring practice. Martwain Johnston will miss spring practice due to a shoulder operation in the off-season.
"Injured players never drop out of the football program. The university still pays for their education and we have them put in hours around the office or field to keep them involved in the program."
GH: Over the past few seasons it appears that our Offensive Lineman have been asked to drop weight. This recruiting class has put a premium on bigger Offensive Lineman. Is that by design or coincidence?
Keeler: Due to injuries, last year is the only year that you can say we were undersized. That was not by intent, but by circumstances. We want to be bigger and more physical. Due to individual circumstances, we may ask a player to lose or gain weight to play a position, but for the most part, we want to be bigger and more physical.
GH: With players coming back after a year‘s absence and a great recruiting class are there plans to try returning players at different positions.? For example where do you expect Marcorelle (LB or DE) and Walters (CB or Saftey) to start the season?
Keeler: Matt Marcorelle is still a point of discussion with myself and the staff. Anthony Walters will definitely play corner this spring.
GH: What seems to have had a better impact on recruiting - winning a National Championship or the success of Joe Flacco?
"Joe has become a poster child for what is right with professional players."
Keeler: Every single day we use the fact that we are the only school in this conference to play for two National Championships in the last 6 years. I proudly wear my Championship ring every day of my life. Winning the championship was huge for recruiting, however I would have to say that Joe has also made a major impact on our recruiting. What you realize is that the NFL is tired of characters and are looking for players with character. Joe has become a poster child for what is right with professional players. Every recruit we talk to, we try to mention the two Joes. Joe Flacco; 1st round draft pick, Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Year, 1st rookie QB to beat the Cowboys in Texas Stadium, tied with Joe Namath for second most consecutive TD games by a rookie, and the first rookie to ever win a playoff game on the road and to win two playoff games. The other Joe is Joe Biden. Quite honestly, I think more have heard of Joe Flacco, than Biden. So in a nutshell, Joe has been a huge impact on our recruiting.PART II COMING SOON.........