We don’t like to kick anybody when they’re down. But that’s impossible to avoid when you’re talking about the Delaware State University football team because they’re always down. It’s just a matter of how far down they are. And, right now, they’ve sunk about as low as they can go and as low as they’ve ever been.
Delaware State is 0-5 heading into Saturday’s game against Howard in Washington. That’s bad enough. But it looks even worse when you consider that the Hornets have been outscored 249-58 in those five games, a rounded-off average of 50-12 per game, which means they’re losing by an average of 38 points per game. Their closest loss came a few weeks ago in a 26-point defeat to Norfolk State.
There’s a good chance you’re not aware of how bad the Hornets have been this season, possibly because the only state-wide newspaper in Delaware pretty much ignores the Hornets, along with a lot of other stuff, because of its undermanned and overwhelmed sports staff. So, we’ll fill you in.
First of all, it’s hard to blame the coach, because this is the first year at Delaware State for former Hornets star Rod Milstead, who inherited this mess. Then again, it seems like somebody is always inheriting somebody else’s mess in Dover.
The Hornets had a few good years under coach Al Lavan early in this century, including a rare MEAC championship in 2007, when Delaware State made it to the FCS (or, if you prefer, Division I-AA) playoffs, where they were drubbed 44-7 by the University of Delaware.
But other than that, the Hornets have been anywhere from bad to awful, and recently it’s been mostly awful – in the last three seasons, under coach Kenny Carter, the Hornets had a combined record of 3-30.
So, Delaware State has turned to one of its former heroes to lead them out of the wilderness, and Milstead certainly has the resume of a winner.
A former offensive lineman, he was one of the best players in Delaware State history and helped the Hornets win the MEAC title in 1989 and share the title in 1988 and 1991. He was a fifth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, the start of an eight-year career in the NFL that included stops in Cleveland, San Francisco and Washington, and he was part of the 49ers team – along with another Delaware State product, wide receiver John Taylor – that won Super Bowl XXIX by beating the San Diego Chargers 49-26. So, Milstead has won three conference championships and a Super Bowl ring, and that ain’t bad.
Now Milstead has two big challenges. The first is to restore some pride to the program right now. It doesn’t matter how much confidence a kid has when he gets whipped by 38 points a game. It has to wear on him and eventually wear him down. It’s only human nature that when you get waxed like the Hornets do every week, the first time something goes wrong the players think “Uh-oh, here we go again.” It doesn’t matter if you’re playing Pop Warner, high school, college or even the NFL – confidence in an elusive thing and once it’s gone it’s hard to get it back.
After that comes the real challenge – recruiting quality players to Dover. Coaching is important, of course, but talent is the most important thing and it’s clear Delaware State hasn’t had nearly enough of it in recent years. Somehow, Milstead must convince good players to come to a school with a long history of losing. He must convince them that better days are ahead and they could be part of something special.
That won’t be easy, but it can be done. Heck, even Wesley College, a Division III school that doesn’t give out scholarships, has had two of its players suit up in the NFL in the last couple of years – quarterback Joe Callahan, who played for the Green Bay Packers and was in the Eagles’ training camp this summer, and offensive lineman Matt Gono, who is currently on the active roster of the Atlanta Falcons as a rookie. They were both overlooked by bigger and supposedly better schools and were recruited to Wesley by the late, great Mike Drass. And that’s what Milstead has to do – find some hidden gems, guys that weren’t heavily recruited by other programs, but have the undeveloped talent to excel. And then he has to develop that talent.
It won’t be easy, because it never seems to be easy at Delaware State. Of course, when you’ve hit rock bottom like the Hornets have, there’s only one direction to go.