Interview with Coach Rocco

8/10/17

Big R, GoHens.net special correspondent
August 10, 2017

On Thursday, August 10th, I had the opportunity to spend 35 minutes on the phone with Coach Rocco doing an interview for GoHens.net. Although I have not been able to make it to a practice yet, I want to give a “shout out” to all the guys who have been attending practices and posting their observations, which formed the basis for many of my questions. In addition, the work done by our recruiting gurus created the foundation for the questions I asked in that regard.

As you read, you will see that there could have been some very obvious follow-up questions (such as, why is DeJoun Lee ineligible), but I knew I had a very limited amount of Coach's time (not like the 3 hours he gave me in February), and I wanted to get through as many questions as I could. In general, I found Coach Rocco to be very relaxed in answering my questions. There were still a number on my list that I didn't get to, but, hopefully, I'll have a chance for another interview with Coach later in camp and before the season starts.

I hope you enjoy the insight.

Big R

GH:  Hello Coach, thank you for making time today. I probably have more questions than what we have time for so I appreciate whatever time you can give me.

DR:  OK.

GH:  There are two broad areas that I wanted to ask about today – one is the team and practice, and the other is recruiting, because we have a lot of recruiting interest on our board. I thought I'd start there because I think those are the questions I can get through quicker leaving more time for the team questions.

So, the first question is: Has the reception on the recruiting trail been as good as you expected?

DR:  Well, it's probably been what I expected. With the understanding that we have already signed a class, I would say that if you had asked me that question in February, I would have said that our response and reception was better than I thought it would be. We had a losing season and got a late start, and we put together a really good class. So, as I look at this year I'd say things are about what I expected – we're in good shape with a number of really good prospects, great numbers in our camps, we've got a really good pool, and I think we're going to have the chance to put together another real strong class. So, I think it's about what I expected here, and they've changed so many rules with the NCAA that you have to make sure you're adjusting accordingly to get the kids on campus, and we did a real good job with that this summer.

GH:  How has the early signing rule affected recruiting? When you and I talked last time, you mentioned that you were on the committee and that you thought it was going to work out well for FCS schools – is that being borne out, or is it not quite what you thought?

DR:  Well, the cycle hasn't really played itself out yet, which it will do when we get into December, and then the hope or reality is that you are going to be able to sign guys that have been interested and committed to you and, so, not have to worry about losing them later in the process, since they've already signed. That was one of the biggest things for FCS schools about an early signing date. In the past, we would lose kids late every year to BCS schools whenever they had guys moving from school to school. So now you can protect that and keep it from happening with this early signing date. So, I think that's the biggest value for us at this level – we're not having to “babysit” committed student athletes in January because they will already have signed with us. So, there's no fear or phobia that you're going to get trumped at the last minute by some BCS school.

GH:  For the 2018 signing class, and realizing it could change, how many freshmen scholarship players are you looking at, and at what positions?

DR:  The number is about 16. But that doesn't necessarily mean all freshmen though. We'll probably have a pool of 16 new scholarship athletes coming into our program when the season's over. So, whether that means at mid-year we get a kid or two, or next summer, when the freshmen come in. So the number is about 16 and then, positionally, without going through the whole thing, we definitely feel we need to get a couple of quality tight ends, and we feel we need to get some young players in our secondary. Those are two areas that I think are really important in this year's class.

GH:  What is your philosophy about “half” scholarships? Do you pursue that or not?

DR:  Yeah, you do it whenever you think it's appropriate. You're going to gauge the interest and every decision you make is a business decision, so we'll have a couple or a few every year as we continue to build this back up. What that does do, if you give 4 kids a half, then you end up signing 18 instead of 16 and the audience doesn't know the difference. There is always some fluidity when you put all that together.

GH:  When you and I talked in February, one of the things you mentioned, and I may be using the wrong verbiage, but you felt that your hands were tied somewhat at Richmond because of the academic requirements and you might have to go to certain schools that were “feeder schools” into Richmond – that sort of thing. Now that you're at Delaware, do you feel that there is little more of an even playing field with some of the other FCS and, in particular, CAA schools?

DR:  Yeah I do. What happens in recruiting, is that you want your pool to be as deep as it can be. So you don't want kids to be eliminated for different reasons, other than that they're not good enough football players. One of those reasons might be a certain required SAT score. So, obviously we have good students here, we recruit good students here, but, for example, at some schools, they might say the SAT isn't high enough, so you might start losing guys who are no longer in your pool any more – they're no longer candidates.

Some schools don't have a lot of majors. We have a really good and diverse university here and we have a lot of options and a lot of majors. I've been at schools before – if a kid wants to be an engineer and you don't have it, there's a guy off your board.

I think one of the biggest reasons is major area of study. Some schools don't have a lot of majors. We have a really good and diverse university here and we have a lot of options and a lot of majors. I've been at schools before – if a kid wants to be an engineer and you don't have it, there's a guy off your board. He can't come to your school if you don't have his major. So, to me it's about probabilities. You're trying to increase the probability of being successful. If you're hunting to sign 2 or 3 wide receivers and you have a pool of 10 to 12, you'd like all 10 or 12 of those kids to be viable candidates. You don't want to eliminate them as you go on because, one has test scores that qualify, but not quite high enough, another kid wants a certain major and we don't have it. So, I think from our situation here, we're very appealing to a lot of people.

We're geographically located where there is a lot of good football, and we have a very good academic reputation, and we have a lot of options as far as majors. So that pool remains pretty much intact.

Some schools won't take transfers; some schools won't take kids from prep schools; some schools won't take kids from junior colleges. So the pool just gets smaller and smaller and smaller every time you say “We can't do that.” Whereas other teams in your league are taking those kids.

So, it's not necessarily a strategy as to where we want to go to get them – we just want to have all of our options available to us.

GH:  And that is the case here – you have more options.

...we're selling a good school – that's the great thing about it. You're selling a really good product that has a lot of variety, creates a lot of options, and we have an awful lot to offer...
DR:  That is the case here – it's very positive that way. We have more options that way and we're selling a good school – that's the great thing about it. You're selling a really good product that has a lot of variety, creates a lot of options, and we have an awful lot to offer, and I think that's a big part of the equation.

GH:  Do you find, here at Delaware, that the recruiting “battles” for lack of a better word, are more or less “ferocious” than you were faced with before, or about the same?

DR:  I'd say it's about the same – it's just different. We're competing a little more with a different pool of schools. Some of the geography kind of dictates that. So, we've had a couple of kids here in this cycle that – I've had some real common denominators in terms of the competition. And those are the different schools – different competition than what I dealt with at Richmond. So, a lot of it is geography, and some of it is the university's profile.

But that's “real” everywhere. You're going to be dealing with student athletes that are geographically centered – that's always a big factor; and then what kind of profile is the kid looking for. You know some kids want a private education – it's that simple. Some kids don't want a private education. Some kids want a really small school; some kids want a bigger school. So, once you get through some of those variables, I think geography is a big part of it; the conference you play in is a big part of it – so we're in some different markets right now than we were when I was at Richmond, so we're fighting some different battles.

GH:  It's interesting, because one of my questions has to do with geography. We have a couple of recruiting “gurus” who, in this day and age of social media, find it easier to track what's going on in the recruiting area.

So, our recruiting board is showing 7 commits at present, 5 from PA, 1 from DE and one from VA. You had explained to me in February that that is, more or less, the recruiting area – adding in NJ and MD, but are you surprised that there are none form NJ yet?

DR:  I think the thing that may not be common knowledge is the volume of people that come to our camps. That's the pool, and the ones that say “yes” are the ones that say “yes”. So there are a lot of factors that go into that and some of it is, who have you offered scholarships to, but we've had a lot of kids from New Jersey down here in our camps. In my world, the boundaries between states are somewhat insignificant – I look more at it as geographical areas. You look at Philly football that's really good, Southeastern PA football that's really good, Lehigh Valley football that's really good, South Jersey football that's really good, etc. – too me it's all the same –they're all coming down I-95 from similar distances and quite often they're competing against each other, so, in the moment, I'm not caught up in the states as opposed to a region, and all these kids are coming down to our camp.

GH:  From a volume and timing perspective, are you satisfied with the number of commitments you have so far – were you hoping to be farther ahead? Are you surprised that you have as many as you do? As you look at the timeframe, what's your goal?

DR:  Well, last year at this time I had zero. I kind of always have been comfortable being around half, so if I'm feeling I'm going to be at 16, to be at 8 has kind of been the norm; if I had 12, being at 6; if I had 18, maybe being at 9. You kind of want to put your class together, start formulating it, put that foundation together, but you still want to be able to make decisions as the season goes on, and redirect if you need to – a lot of things happen during the course of the season. It's kind of ironic that there's this assumption out there that – “I need one of these, one of these, one of these, one of these”, position-wise. And then, all of a sudden, you start camp and you find out that: “Well, I was wrong – my needs are different.” Because some kids that are coming in, incoming players, have already been moved. We made a number of roster changes this summer based on necessity, so it's not always cut-and-dried. So you don't necessarily want to get all 16 of your commitments in the summer, because then, when the landscape changes, you may not have enough flexibility to change with it.

GH:  You had mentioned the need for tight ends in this upcoming recruiting class and I know you have Luke Frederick and, if I understand it correctly, he's been moved to defense, and I know Atkinson was a tight end, so that's two tight ends right there, if I'm not mistaken.

DR:  That's right, and those are the two that I have to replace. So, if they were both here and had stayed at tight end, then I wouldn't have said I had a need for tight ends.

GH:  In the case of Frederick, was that a determination that the coaching staff made, or did he indicate that he'd prefer to play on the defensive side?

DR:  Well, as you know, we had some deficiencies on our roster and you can't pretend they don't exist, so you have some personnel things you have to deal with. Some of that was a response to that situation. Now, Luke was a really good defensive end in high school. I think is some ways, people saw him as much, if not more, on the defensive side of the ball.

The bottom line is that I have to focus on doing what's best for the team, and sometimes you have to be able to make some moves, think outside the box a little bit – if you need to find a guy for a certain position, and you have him on your team, then you have to move him to fill a spot and to create depth in some spots, so that's kind of what drove that decision.

GH:  How has the team responded to losing three veteran players recently especially considering two were starters and one a team captain?

...sometimes that answer is in front of your nose – you have to be willing to look for it. It's not always bringing a guy in - it's moving a guy over.
DR:  They've responded well. I think there is a reality that the knowledge or expectation within the organization existed in advance of what became the knowledge and expectation outside the organization. So when an announcement was made, I'm sure most everyone took that in a very hard, negative way. We had already moved on from it - our world is our world. So whether a guy graduates, or leaves for the NFL, or renders himself ineligible, you win with the players you have on your roster – not with the ones you don't have. So, it would have been no different than if one of those guys had left early to go to the NFL – it's next man up and here we go! It does create the necessity to reassess your roster – you have to take a step back and take a look at who has done these kinds of jobs before. Who might have the skill set to rush the passer? Who can carry the football? Who might have the skill set to do that? We've made some changes based on those thought processes. So, sometimes that answer is in front of your nose – you have to be willing to look for it. It's not always bringing a guy in - it's moving a guy over. So we've done a good bit of that and I think the psyche of the team is where it needs to be. You know, you never have enough good players, so losing good players is never a good thing.

GH:  And, the fact that Hills was a captain - you had mentioned back in February that you view camp as an opportunity to look at one or two players to add to the captain list. Are you still planning to do that, or have you done that already?

DR:  Yeah, I would have done that either way. I've gone to this model where, on the night before, or day of the Spring Game, we'll do a ballot with the players and I'll look at the ballots and draw a hard line – sometimes it's two, sometimes it's three, sometimes it could be four - and then I always reevaluate during the summer. I don't remove anybody, but we'll vote again and what I'll do is mention that these are our captains right now and we're looking to add to that group, so when you vote, you aren't including the guys that are currently captains, so we'll definitely do that at the end of camp. I think it will be interesting to see who might rise up and be recognized as worthy of being a captain.

GH:  When you were talking about moving people around and evaluating needs, I know at running back, you brought in Kane and there have been some articles written about him, so I'm not going to ask about him, but you moved Angeline to running back and you brought in DeJoun Lee from Army. How is Angeline doing – I know he was a running back in high school, and what's the DeJoun Lee story – how did he end up here?

DR:  There is no real story there. He's not eligible. He's a transfer from West Point. So he's not eligible this year, so he won't really be in the mix. He's a talented kid. We knew about him when he was in high school and we were at Richmond.

The thing that was kind of interesting with Angeline – I had exit meetings with all of our guys here this past spring at the end of the semester and during his exit meeting, I brought him in and I had his high school Hudl film pulled up, because I had recruited him when I was at Richmond, and I said: “I want you to watch this film.” And I said: “Where is this guy? Where is he? I didn't see him all spring. I don't know if anyone has seen him since high school.” And we had a conversation about playing running back maybe being a more natural thing for him and I don't think in that moment that I made the decision to do it, it was more a realization that this is a kid that should be contributing in our program and he played with passion, physicality and a motor, and he had a skill set. So I wanted him to see that and revisit that. And, then in asking him “Where is this guy?” I think he's kind of responded. So, he's certainly a viable option.

You know, Kane is an interesting young man. He's a big, physical kid. He's going to be a viable option too.

GH:  What player or unit has been the biggest surprise or shown the most improvement since you've come here?

DR:  [without hesitation] Wide Receivers.

GH:  And, is that both the existing players improving and the new players you've brought in?

DR:  It's been holistic. I think Erik Campbell is doing a great job. Obviously Matt Simon's doing a really good job leading that whole thing, but, we're throwing and catching the ball. We didn't do it very well in the spring. We didn't do it at all last year. Right now, we're throwing and catching the ball well.

You've got to start with the two guys that are the veteran players in there - Cherry and Jarmon. They're catching the ball, getting open, making plays; they're competing, having fun. I've seen some energy there that I didn't see in the spring. I'm not being hard, I just didn't see it; we didn't have the continuity.

I'm very optimistic that Vinnie's back. He's our best “catcher”, our best “receiver”. He can do a lot of different things. We're building some value here. As we get deeper into camp, waiting on a little more official statement of his availability here. So that's been very encouraging for me.

Gene Coleman's going to be a really good player here for us. Thyrick Pitts is going to be a really good player for us. Really good start here in camp. There are guys that are just solid and dependable, and not to minimize any of that – Verboys is solid and dependable and having a good camp; I feel the same way about Carter and Davis and Amachi. We went from having, I felt “concern” to maybe having “depth” and “talent.” And that would be very exciting - if we can throw and catch it the way you see the good teams throw and catch the football, and get some quick strikes and big plays and momentum.

GH:  With regard to the offense, have you been able to install as much as you had hoped at this stage? And how is the QB play compared to where you had hoped it would be?

DR:  We've installed everything we can install – thrown everything we can throw at ‘em. We've got legitimate competition and the competition is bringing the best out of these kids. Joe is having a good camp. JP is learning the offense and gaining confidence every day - he's having a good camp. And, Kehoe has had some really good days in terms of just throwing the ball. So, they're working together. So, oddly enough, I'm sitting here saying that we're throwing the ball pretty well this summer, which is encouraging.

GH:  Are you a proponent of making a decision on a quarterback before the first game and more or less sticking with that unless something causes you to have to change?

DR:  Well, I haven't really talked about it much; I haven't addressed it much. With this early start to camp, we're still a long ways out, there's still a lot of time, I mean, a lot of time. And you get so many reps in camp. One of the things we went through this summer – I put a schedule together for two 7-on-7's every day. So, I was going to see to it that we were going to throw and catch it better this year. So, we're just kind of rotating those guys a little more freely than someone might think if they are just coming to practice and wondering “who's out there with the ‘ones'” – there's just a little more rotation and we're just getting different combinations, but, to this point, no one has beaten Joe out. It's not like anyone has trumped him right now, I just feel like we have options and I'm excited about that.

GH:  According to the official team roster, it looks like you have 13 QB's, although I think Castillo has moved to defense. Is that unusual, and what are you going to do with all of them?

This roster was so skewed a year ago from offensive and defensive players – it was unbelievable. There were 25 more players on offense than on defense, at certain times of the year...
DR:  Well, I moved half of them. This roster was so skewed a year ago from offensive and defensive players – it was unbelievable. There were 25 more players on offense than on defense, at certain times of the year, depending on what that looked like. So, we've moved a bunch of guys around, trying to balance our numbers out a little bit, trying to develop some depth, trying to even up our lines. But we have taken a couple of our quarterbacks and moved them over to defense, and they're competing. I've actually been encouraged. I like all my boys. I just like seeing kids getting better. I don't care if a kid is 4th or 5th team – if he's out there having fun and getting better, that excites me – I see guys competing and getting better and taking on new ownership, new responsibility. You can help the team a lot more by being a back-up safety or a role player on defense than you can being the 8th or 9th quarterback. So we did a lot of that here this summer.

GH:  And, looking at the roster, it appears there are 29 freshmen listed on the roster, of which only 13 were from the February signing class. Where did the rest come from?

DR:  Well a lot of these youngsters came here as unsigned non-scholarship incoming players. We had a really good pool of walk-ons.

GH:  That you had recruited?

DR:  No, you can't recruit the walk-ons. You can't use that word – you can't recruit walk-ons.

GH:  Right, but when you were recruiting to fill your scholarships, these were all players that you had talked to at some point, I would assume.

DR:  Kids that we had interest in, or had been to our camp and we recognized that we probably wouldn't have a scholarship for them. But, my gosh, they're good players and - “It would be great to have you on the team” – those types of scenarios.

I've said it before – any of the really good teams have great walk-ons. Penn State has been doing it for ever. Do you know how many kids go to Penn State not on scholarship?

GH:  You had mentioned that in my first interview with you.

DR:  Yeah – and they're just really good football players and, again, the ones that stay the whole way through, they end up playing because they've developed.

GH:  Given the personnel you currently have, how satisfied are you with the Defense's transition to the 3-4?

DR:  Overall, I'm very excited about the way the defense is progressing and the way they are learning and taking ownership. Coach Cosh and the defensive staff are doing a great job with the installation. And you need depth – that's where I spend most of my time, trying to make sure we have contingency plans over there. But we've got a really good group that I think has done an outstanding job of internalizing the defense and hopefully, we can continue to build on that.

GH:  Thanks Coach. I know you have to get going – I really appreciate your time.

DR:  You're welcome.