Delaware seniors relish opportunity
Injury provided Bratton another chance at a title run
Jerry Trickie, NCAA.com
FRISCO, Texas -- Not everyone gets a chance at a do over. Delaware’s seniors know they are lucky to get that opportunity on Friday as they return to the FCS title game for the second time in their careers.
When the Blue Hens face Eastern Washington (7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN2/ESPN3.com), safety Anthony Bratton says he will be espeically thankful for the unexpected opportunity he has in front of him.
That’s a unique way to think about a season-ending knee injury, but it’s exactly how Bratton sees it. If not for his bad luck on a practice field early in 2008 season, he would not be in this position. Instead, his eligibility would have been used up last year and he would have already moved on, hopefully to playing professionally. But that setback has given him another chance to travel with his teammates half way across the country to Frisco, Texas, to try to wrap up the program’s second title since 2003.
“It wasn’t planned, but things happen for a reason,” Bratton said of having to redshirt in 2008 and go through extensive rehab. “I’m glad (the injury) did happen, I’m glad to be here again. It’s unfortunate I had that injury and it took me out a year, but good and bad things come from it and I’m glad this is one of the good things.”
Bratton is part of arguably the best secondary in the FCS. Along with fellow seniors Anthony Walters, Tyrone Grant and Daryl Jones, the back end of the Blue Hens’ defense has helped the team rank fifth nationally in total defense (277.8 ypg), eighth in pass efficiency defense (98.6) and No. 1 in scoring defense (11.5 ppg).
Working together as one unit -- especially as a group that posts those kind of numbers -- doesn’t happen overnight. It takes experience playing in important situations, earning an implicit trust. That’s something Bratton relishes and is embracing the chance to do one more time.
“We’ve all been here before; we’ve all played in big games, so we all know what it takes to play in a big game,” Bratton said. “We all know to stay calm, play disciplined, stay focused, do the fundamentals that will win you the game.”
There is a difference this year. The last time the upperclassmen were in the title game, Bratton said they may have reveled in the atmosphere too much.
“This year is a little different,” Bratton said. “We’ve been here before, so we’re not overwhelmed with it, we’re more relaxed, more comfortable with the surroundings and atmosphere. This game, I think everybody is a lot more focused, and it’s more business this trip than it was in ’07.”
Bratton isn’t the only one with that feeling.
“We’re not as excited, I guess, as everyone else is because we remember what it was like in ’07,” said Walters, who was a redshirt freshman during the Blue Hens' last playoff run.
“We remember in the fourth quarter. Appalachian State, some of their starters had their shoulder pads off and were standing in their jerseys. We remember things like that and it makes us even hungrier now.”
The opposing players were standing around because the game was out of hand. That 2007 contest ended with Appalachian State pulling away for a 49-21 win. The following year, when Bratton was injured, Delaware went 4-8. The Blue Hens didn’t make the playoffs last season either. Delaware’s upper classmen -- especially the eight who have started a combined 39 playoff games during their careers -- are glad to have a chance for a re-do, no matter the route it took to get here.
Just ask Anthony Bratton.
Need to Know
• This will be Bratton's last collegiate game, win or lose. With that in mind, he said he would have some words for the younger players before they all run onto the gridiron for the final time together. “Take a minute, soak it all up. Then let’s get down to business. It’s going to fly by.”
• When they hit the field Friday night, TE Zack Reed and OL Kevin Uhll will set a Delaware record for longevity. The seniors will each being playing in their 53rd consecutive game, breaking the former mark of games played set by Rick Lavelle (2000-03). Reed said that Lavelle emailed him recently to say he was following the team and give congratulations to the pair. It’s a mark Reed never entertained reaching when he first joined the Blue Hen program.
“Being a 207-pound long-snapper my freshman year, I never dreamed I’d get the chance to play in two national championships,” Reed said.
He also noted the duo started to realize “we had a little streak going,” and over the past year, the ribbing has ensued as to who might end the run and how.
“For about the last year, we’ve been joking about hurting each other and trying to take streak from each other. But apparently we’re going to break it together, and I’m alright with that,” Reed said with a chuckle.
• The teams will not have a lot of down time while in Frisco. Between practices, film sessions, position meetings, public appearances and media gatherings, the players will have a full plate each day. But if there is ever a little free space on the schedule, college kids can find a way to fit in time for some video games.
Don’t add Anthony Walters to the list of opponents you want to face if you’re playing NCAA or pro football.
“I was a dog at video games,” Walters said with a big smile and bigger laugh.
The sage veteran says that a couple of the younger guys on the team have possibly surpassed him, but he still plays enough to hold his own.
“If a tournament happened, I wouldn’t play. I’d just be an automatic bid into the championship. I wouldn’t have to play to get there,” he said.
One benefit of spending so much time honing his skills on the joysticks? Getting better at his job on the field in real life. Literally.
“Believe it or not, you know parents want to take their kids away from video games, (but) if you let them play Madden a couple times, they’ll be able to tell you what Cover 2 defense is and where the open spots are. It’s the same thing with Cover 3,” Walters said.
Delaware has been out front for most of the season as it has led or been tied for 728 of a possible 840 minutes this season … the Blue Hen defense held each of their first nine opponents to 17 or fewer points, its longest stretch of holding teams to 17 or fewer points since 1972 … opponents have connected on just 16 of 76 third down conversion attempts the past seven games … five players have caught at least 25 passes … quarterback Pat Devlin has thrown just two interceptions in 350 pass attempts … Devlin has completed 71.6 percent (60 of 84) of his pass attempts in the playoffs … Delaware has been explosive following its halftime adjustments, holding a 34-3 advantage in the third quarter of its playoff games.