Part 1 of a 2-part series

72 Hen, special correspondent
February 28, 2010

I recently had the opportunity to discuss football with Delaware Offensive Coordinator Jim Hofher. I hope you enjoy listening in on our conversation. We discussed a wide array of topics and he was extremely happy to share his thoughts for This is a two part interview. Part one deals with recruiting and player development. Part two, coming soon, deals with the spread offense and coaching philosophies.

GoHens: As you went through the recruiting process, what did you see as the position(s) of greatest need to fill with this year's class?

Hofher: Of course you always start with the positions where there is an outgoing senior because that means that there is a scholarship available at those positions. You can look at our incoming signees and see that we did not have a lot of offensive scholarships to give. Now, although we did not graduate a senior quarterback we did recruit a quarterback to keep in line with the philosophy that Coach Keeler has already made public that we want to develop young quarterbacks. As you know, we had been filling our quarterback needs via transfers. Coach Keeler had already made the decision, before I was hired, that we needed to do a better job of evaluating and successfully recruiting high school quarterbacks. So for two years in a row, we have done that. Last year we recruited Trevor Sasek and this year we recruited Justin Burns. So we feel really good in that area of our recruiting.

"Coach Keeler had already made the decision, before I was hired, that we needed to do a better job of evaluating and successfully recruiting high school quarterbacks."
On the offensive line we felt that we might have been short on the number of scholarship lineman that we have in the program. So although we only lost one senior, Corey Nicholson, we signed two offensive linemen. That brings us much closer to our ideal number of offensive linemen on scholarship.

GoHens: What is that ideal number that you mention?

Hofher: Every staff will have their own idea on this and it certainly is different from team to team but that number at the I-AA level is probably 11 or 12. In some circumstances it could be as many as 13 but that would be a luxury. As a fan you might not know the exact number of scholarship lineman but we were under where we needed to be.

GoHens: Please continue your analysis of this year's offensive recruiting class...

Hofher: Since Josh Baker is a 5th year senior, we brought in a TE in Sam Felecia. At WR we graduated Mark Duncan. By signing a couple of WR we are just about where we need to be at that position. At RB we were able to sign a speed back (Malcolm Yowk) and a big back (Andrew Pierce). We feel like we have an exciting group of running backs.

GoHens: Have you heard any news regarding Josh Baker being granted another year of eligibility?

Hofher: Nothing that has been shared with us.

GoHens: You mention that on the offensive line that Corey Nicholson was the only senior and the only player not coming back. How about Sam Burrows? Is he coming back?

Hofher: Yes, Sam is working with us right now in our off-season program. He has done a terrific job in his rehab from knee surgery and he is moving around great. Sam is really a terrific athlete playing at the interior line position. So it's one step at a time. He has had success getting through the off-season program and we are looking for him to have success getting through the spring practice and then summer training and pre-season practice. He has had his share of injuries and we are all rooting for him to be able to have success on the playing field.

GoHens: So, does it look like he will be able to practice in the spring?

Hofher: It looks like it. While I'm not a doctor, he is doing everything he is allowed to do at this point. We have not been given any red light as far as him being limited in participating in the spring.

GoHens: I know that Sam has really got to be happy about that. Are there any scholarships left for the spring in the event that a special player wants to transfer in?

Hofher: That's not a question that I can answer. That's a question for Coach Keeler to answer because he is in total control of where we are at any moment in regard to scholarships.

GoHens: Were any of the incoming freshman recruited with the idea that they might be able to help out immediately?

Hofher: I have to be careful. Am I speaking for the program or giving my own particular thoughts? Let me answer it this way. In every recruiting case we are unable to determine which incoming freshman is likely to be red-shirted and which incoming freshman would have a significant chance to play. The message that we send to every incoming recruit is that we need you to report in the best shape that you have ever been. We need you to be of the mindset that by being in great shape, by being a good learner and having some mental toughness and maturity, then you might have a chance to compete for playing time.

If we were to tell a young man in April that he was going to red-shirt, what would that do to his mental toughness and his summer preparation? He basically has already been told, "Hey, you're not going to play". In reality, we don't know at this time if he is going to play as a true freshman. So our message is - We want to help you. We'll give you the road map to help get you in great shape. So you need to get in great shape if you expect to be able to learn enough to have a chance to play. As a veteran coach, I could tell you right now that if I told a young man that he had no chance to play that he would not come into camp ready. And we want them all to be ready. Whether 10 freshmen see playing time or no freshman see playing time I just can't answer that at this time. This all sorts itself out little by little.

"If we were to tell a young man in April that he was going to red-shirt, what would that do to his mental toughness and his summer preparation?"

There is one issue that all incoming freshman have to deal with. The biggest challenge for any freshman, whether an athlete or not, coming to college is time management. Incoming freshman football players can especially be challenged in this regard. They have a lot on their plate.

GoHens: When you and the staff finished the evaluation of last year, were there any players that stood out? Were there any players that performed better that what you might have expected?

Hofher: That's a great question. A coach has to be careful in his own mind, thinking that a player is going to be limited or that a player is going to be great. You could be wrong on both accounts. I think you have to start from zero when you start your preparation. Start from zero when you get to training camp. Start from zero at the introduction of our schemes, of what we expect from the players and build from there. With that being said and because of the way he was limited due to injuries I think Tommy Crosby really did a fine job as the season went along. I don't know if it is fair to say he exceeded expectations but for a guy to do what he did coming off a lower back injury, he did a fine job. Phil Thaxton is another guy. We got a lot from him as a receiver after him being used mostly as a running back. He did a real fine job for us. And then you have Pat Devlin. We really demanded a lot from him and he had a terrific season. Now we know what to expect from him moving forward. Look at Rob McDowell. He played guard as a true freshman in 2008 and then switched to center as a true sophomore in 2009. There were a number of fundamental adjustments he had to make and he did a terrific job for us. We clearly played the bulk of the season with two true freshmen in the running backfield. We were not sure what we would get from David Hayes or Leon Jackson and they both did a very credible job for us.

GoHens: Last year we played about 10 true freshmen. Is that a trend that might continue?

"...if a player can learn quickly, can consistently practice at a high level and be productive it really doesn't matter if the player is a freshman or a senior."

Hofher: I don't know if I can answer that. I don't know if last year was an anomaly or not. What I can say is that if a player can learn quickly, can consistently practice at a high level and be productive it really doesn't matter if the player is a freshman or a senior. The idea is to be out there every day working to get better, working to help them self, working to help the team. I go back to something I heard Bud Grant say. He said, "The greatest ability is availability". You can apply it like this. If you are a college player, you stay academically eligible, or better, and you practice every day, you have the opportunity to get better. So availability is just as important as agility and mobility. Now a veteran player should have the edge in knowledge but a young player who does all these things can put himself in the position to play.

GoHens: The 2009 recruiting class had a number of very promising (and large) offensive line recruits. We have always heard that the offensive line is one of the positions that take the longest to develop. But, how do you feel about the progress of this group?

"At our level of play it is much more important to be fit than to just be big."

Hofher: We think a lot of Brandon Heath, Erle Ladson, Nick Cattolico and Adam Citko. They are all doing a terrific job in their training. Each one, in their own way, is working very hard to shape or re-shape the bodies they arrived in. Sometimes big can be too big. At our level of play it is much more important to be fit than to just be big. In high school a really big kid can just overwhelm his opposition. That's not the case in college. Brandon, Erle, Nick and Adam are doing a great job of getting fit and they will all get a lot of work this spring and we feel that we will be in a superior situation from a year ago.

This concludes part one of this interview. In part two Coach Hofher fields some hardball questions about the spread offense and play calling. Look for it soon!