Despite All-CAA honor, Whitehead poised to be better as Blue Hens kick off

Kevin Tresolini
Delaware News Journal

Kedrick Whitehead is the only returning All-Colonial Athletic Association player on the University of Delaware football team.

His 2019 third-team All-CAA recognition was certainly warranted.

Whitehead was sixth in the CAA with 103 tackles for the 5-7 Blue Hens and first among league defensive backs. The safety became just the third sophomore defensive back in UD history with 100 tackles.

But the way Whitehead looks at it, he was just scratching the surface of his abilities as the Blue Hens enter their 2021 winter/spring season with a game Saturday at noon at Delaware Stadium against Maine. The seven-game slate replaces the fall 2020 season canceled due to COVID-19.

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Whitehead was a standout running back and linebacker at Middletown High. As a UD freshman in 2018, he backed up Ray Jones at the outside linebacker bandit position.

Delaware's Kedrick Whitehead drops Richmond's Savon Smith in the first quarter at Delaware Stadium in 2019.

That made 2019 his first season in the secondary.

“Having a whole year under my belt and two offseasons of training, getting my eyes right and my feet right, is just gonna correlate on the field and just make me play much faster,” Whitehead said this week.

Outside linebacker/defensive end Colby Reeder was CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year as a redshirt freshman in 2017 but was not All-CAA that year or in 2018. Reeder missed 2019 with injuries and is expected to play this spring, though not in the opener.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Whitehead, a junior, was a preseason HERO All-American. His 8.6 tackles per game in 2019 ranked 53rd nationally in the FCS in 2019. He also had his second career interception and five pass break-ups.

Whitehead said he still has a lot to prove and many areas in which to improve.

“One of the [things] I think I can work on is just being more of a leader in the back end,” said Whitehead, one of four elected team captains.

Delaware defensive back Kedrick Whitehead swoops in to intercept a pass tipped by intended receiver Keyston Fuller of Richmond as Fuller is hit by Delaware's Nijuel Hill in the second quarter at Delaware Stadium in 2019.

“It being my first year [in 2019 at safety], I was focused on making sure I was doing the right things that I needed to do. Now I’m playing faster, I’m playing more fluid, and I don’t have any second guesses or second thoughts of, ‘Am I doing this right? Am I doing this wrong?’ I can play faster, I can communicate better and I can just lead that defense the way it should be led.’’

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Delaware has a new, though familiar, defensive coordinator in Manny Rojas. Rojas, 37, played linebacker for head coach Danny Rocco at Liberty and coached with him there, at Richmond and Delaware before becoming defensive coordinator at Lafayette in 2019. Rojas returned to replace Chris Cosh earlier this year.

“One thing that I love about coach Rojas is the energy and enthusiasm that he brings each and every day,” Whitehead said. “He’s a younger guy so he’s easier to relate to. He just comes with the right energy and the right intensity each and every day and gets us fired up and ready to work.”

In assessing his defense, Rocco has expressed considerable delight with the development of his secondary, a unit that he said was “under fire” in 2019 and underperformed.

Whitehead is joined by safety Noah Plack and cornerbacks Nijuel Hill and Justis Henley. All are returning starters.

“I think the secondary is going to be that position where it’s going to kinda dictate to some extent how different we are,” Rocco said.

Whitehead called Delaware’s secondary “second to none to anybody in the conference,” adding: “One thing that I feel like is a difference from [2019] to this year is simply experience that we all have gained.’’

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Maine will certainly test Whitehead and his defensive comrades. The Black Bears, who were CAA champs and reached the FCS semifinals in 2018, were 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the CAA in 2019.

Delaware's Kedrick Whitehead pursues North Dakota State running back Adam Cofield in the second quarter at Delaware Stadium Saturday.

They return quarterback Joe Fagnano, who was twice CAA Rookie of the Week after becoming a starter at mid-season in 2019. He completed 65.8% of his passes for 1,835 yards and 17 touchdowns, including the three longest in school history. He has a couple of proven targets in wideout Andre Miller and tight end Shawn Bowman, the Howard High graduate from Bear.

“They had a couple games [in 2019] where they were phenomenal,” Rocco said.

Whitehead is among the UD players who concern Maine the most.

“Defensively, number 1, Whitehead, is probably one of the more impressive players I’ve watched on film,” said second-year Maine coach Nick Charlton, who was Maine's offensive coordinator when the schools last met in 2017. “There’s a reason he has all the accolades that he does.”

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.