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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Opportunity Knocks, Donnelly Opens The Door

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

It’s an old saying and, like most old sayings, it got to be old because it’s true. And that old saying is: It’s better to be prepared and not get the opportunity than to get the opportunity and not be prepared.

Chew on that for a second while we introduce the man who brought that adage to mind, Tim Donnelly, a 20-year-old from Windermere, Fla.

Donnelly started the season as the back-up quarterback on the University of Delaware football team. The back-up quarterback runs the scout team on weekdays and holds a clip board on weekends and whereas it’s a nice gig in the NFL – good money for little work – it’s not much fun on the amateur level.

Donnelly, a junior, came to summer camp this year and competed with sophomore Trevor Sasek for the right to fill the large spikes left by All-American QB Pat Devlin, who is now a member of the Miami Dolphins practice squad. Sasek won the competition fair and square and was named the starter for the opener against Navy.

Donnelly was disappointed, of course, but he didn’t complain, even though he knew the promotion of somebody younger than him probably meant he would never be the starting quarterback at Delaware. And four years is a long time to sit on the bench.

Then fate stepped in, as it’s been known to do. Sasek was playing well against Navy and it seemed as if the Blue Hens’ quarterback position was once again in good hands, but then he twisted a knee and Donnelly put down his clipboard and picked up his helmet.

So, the opportunity finally presented itself and Donnelly was prepared. He completed 7 of 9 passes against Navy, played very well against West Chester and Delaware State and then, in his first real test, he led the Hens to a tough 27-17 victory over CAA rival Old Dominion on Saturday.

Donnelly completed 26 of 39 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns against ODU. And he was 8-9 in the decisive second half, when he connected with Rob Jones for a 32-yard, game-winning touchdown. Donnelly was rewarded this week when he was named as the CAA offensive player of the week.

Not bad for a kid who started his college career as a walk-on and finally earned a scholarship just this year.

“Talk about seizing an opportunity,’’ Delaware coach K.C. Keeler said. “I don’t have rules when it comes to an injured player, that he can’t lose his job. I will play the player who’s playing best. And it’s really going to be tough to get Timmy out of there the way he’s playing.”

That opportunity is what Donnelly has been seeking ever since he came to Newark. He knew he wouldn’t get it as long as Devlin was here and then it looked as if he’d never get it as long as Sasek was here.

“I’m used to having to earn everything I get,’’ he said. “And that’s the way it should be. As long as I get a fair shot, I have no complaints. But give me that shot.”

This week, Donnelly leads Delaware against another CAA rival, Maine, and the other coaches in the conference are discovering what Keeler already knew – this kid can play.

“I’m real impressed with him as a quarterback,’’ Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. “And I love using that word – quarterback. He’s somebody who plays the game the right way and gets the ball to the right person at the right time. … It’s almost frightening, with the efficiency level he’s performing at.’’

Frightening, maybe, but it shouldn’t be surprising, considering all the time and effort Donnelly put into his football career even when he knew he might never play in a game. He grabbed onto his opportunity and now it looks as if he’ll never let it go.