3 Delaware high school grads will be UD football captains this season

Kevin Tresolini
Delaware News Journal

The University of Delaware football team’s leadership corps will be homegrown in 2021.

Three of the four captains recently elected by their teammates are graduates of Delaware high schools.

Defensive lineman Frank Burton III out of William Penn High, quarterback Nolan Henderson from Smyrna and safety Kedrick Whitehead of Middletown are joined by running back Dejoun Lee, from Springfield, Virginia.

Delaware safety Kedrick Whitehead.

Throughout most of its football history, Delaware teams had one captain and, in fewer seasons, just two. It wasn’t until the past 15 years that the Blue Hens began regularly putting three players or more in those venerated positions.

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While Delaware has frequently had captains with local ties, including present-day Chicago Bear Bilal Nichols (Hodgson) and Los Angeles Ram Troy Reeder (Salesianum), this is the largest representation ever among captains out of First State high schools.

“From people telling me I’ll never step foot on the field to having my name added to the prestigious list of team captains at this university,” Henderson tweeted. “It is an honor and blessing to lead this team.”

Delaware quarterback Nolan Henderson eludes Penn's Zach Evans in the fourth quarter of Delaware's 28-27 win at Delaware Stadium Saturday, Sept. 21.

Delaware is scheduled to open its repositioned spring 2021 six-game Colonial Athletic Association schedule March 6 against Maine at Delaware Stadium. A nonconference matchup between the Blue Hens and Delaware State is also on tap in Dover April 10. Another nonconference game prior to March 6 is likely but not expected to be announced until after preseason practice begins in January.

Burton and Lee will be seniors and Henderson and Whitehead will be juniors heading into the spring season, which does not count against players’ eligibility, meaning they’ll have that same eligibility in the fall. All four have played games for Delaware the last two seasons.

Burton, the 2014 state Lineman of the Year who transferred to Delaware from Ball State, has 52 tackles, including six for lost yardage, in his two UD seasons.

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Lee, who came to Delaware after a year at Army, was the Blue Hens’ second leading rusher in 2019 with 463 yards on 107 carries with two touchdowns. He also averaged 18.7 yards on 27 kickoff returns. He led the Hens with 606 ground yards in 2018.

Henderson sparked Smyrna to the first two state titles in its history in 2015 and 2016, and was state offensive player of the year as a senior. He became the first graduate of a Delaware high school to start at quarterback for the Blue Hens since Caesar Rodney alum Sam Postlethwait in 2001.

Delaware's Frank Burton III shakes off a blocker to make a play on Rhode Island quarterback JaJuan Lawson in the first half of the Blue Hens' season-opening loss at Delaware Stadium in August 2018.

Elevated to starter prior to Delaware’s fourth 2019 game against Penn, Henderson held the top spot the rest of the year, though injuries kept him out of three starts. Henderson completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 933 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception and also ran for 189 yards and a touchdown.

Whitehead, an All-State running back and linebacker at Middletown, was third-team All-CAA in 2019 when he was sixth among league tacklers with 103 and seventh with 8.6 per game. He led CAA defensive backs in both categories. Whitehead was just the third sophomore defensive back in UD history with 100 tackles.

Delaware running back DeJoun Lee carries on a gain in the first quarter of Delaware's 21-17 loss to Albany at Delaware Stadium Saturday.

'Most Improved' awards given

Delaware typically honors players who stand out at the end of spring drills. Those were canceled after one session in 2020. When the fall season was moved to the spring of 2021 because of COVID-19, Delaware basically had what resembled its 15-practice spring session in the fall.

So, again, the Blue Hens have recognized players who have excelled and are, therefore, expected to contribute more when the games come.

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Named “most improved” on offense were guard Stevon Brown, who hasn’t seen action in his two years but is vying for a spot on the Hens’ revamped offensive line, and tight end Braden Brose, who has mainly seen special teams duty. Both are redshirt sophomores.

Delaware's Chase McGowan (54) celebrates his sack with teammates Liam Trainer (11) and Frank Burton III in the third quarter of Delaware's 31-13 win at Delaware Stadium in 2019.

Defensive honorees were linebacker Liam Turner, who played in every game as a key redshirt freshman reserve in 2019, and defensive tackle Akie Nance. He retained his freshman eligibility by playing in just one game in 2019.

Also, senior Dae’Lun Darien was cited among special-teamers. The Penn State transfer had two receptions playing wide receiver in his first UD season in 2019 but is expected to return to linebacker, where he played for the Nittany Lions.

Hen scratch

Delaware is expected to announce the signing of at least eight high school seniors to a National Letter of Intent Wednesday, the early Signing Day for college football. That group includes quarterback Ryan O’Connor of Easton, Maryland.

The 2021 CAA fall football schedule, and thus Delaware’s, has not been announced, though it is known the Blue Hens will play Rutgers for the first time since 1973 on Sept. 18 in New Jersey. In CAA games Delaware was originally scheduled to host James Madison, Maine, Stony Brook and Albany and visit Elon, William and Mary, Towson and Villanova in 2021. The changes wrought by COVID-19 in 2020 will likely alter that. Delaware, for instance, didn’t get to host rival Villanova in 2020 and is playing at Villanova on the 2021 spring schedule, so playing a third straight at Villanova this fall seems unlikely.

Have an idea for a compelling local sports story or is there an issue that needs public scrutiny? Contact Kevin Tresolini at ktresolini@delawareonline.com and follow on Twitter @kevintresolini. Support local journalism by subscribing to delawareonline.com.