By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - When people ask, Delaware football coach K.C. Keeler prefers not to compare his current quarterback, Pat Devlin, to his former standout at the position, Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens.
Ask Keeler if Devlin feels the wear and tear of being the focus all the time, with fans, media and oncoming defensive ends and linebackers who are a little less star-struck by him, and, well, let the comparisons begin.
"That's the one area that I say, 'OK, let's talk about them'," Keeler said, "because nothing bothered Joe and nothing bothers Pat. I mean, nothing bothers him. Those two guys are just unflappable.
"Pat gets it. You know, 'I'm the quarterback, I know I need to do all the interviews.' Not that he necessarily wants to, but, 'I know I need to do that and I know that I need to have the offensive line over for a barbeque after spring practice.' That's Pat; Pat gets it. That's the same way with Joe. Joe got that, too."
A quarterback like Devlin is in elite company when he can be compared to Flacco. Of course, that's part of the territory - and pressure, if you will - for starting quarterbacks of Delaware's successful program. Their list is impressive, including Jeff Komlo, Scott Brunner, Rich Gannon, Andy Hall and Flacco. Brunner led the Blue Hens to the NCAA Division II title in 1979 and Hall guided their FCS champions in 2003, while Komlo (1978, Division II) and Flacco (2007, FCS) reached national title games, and Gannon was their most successful pro quarterback, winning the NFL Most Valuable Player award in 2002.
To his credit, Devlin doesn't make Delaware's upcoming season about himself. The senior is expected to be the first FCS quarterback taken in the 2011 NFL Draft, with current projections suggesting around the third round, but he has only team goals in mind. His Blue Hens want to improve off last year's 6-5 finish and challenge for the CAA Football title.
"I'm focusing on every part of my game," he said. "Anything that will help Delaware this year is what I'm focusing on. I need to make sure I'm in good enough shape so I can run the ball, I need to make sure that I have good arm strength, continue to work on my progressions, continue to work on my footwork and all that kind of stuff. Every single thing you can pick apart watching film and try to get better at."
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Devlin could have been Penn State's starting quarterback this fall had he not grown dissatisfied while sitting behind Darryl Clark and having to wait until the job opened up this fall. He transferred to Delaware after the 2008 season, just as Flacco went from the University of Pittsburgh to Delaware before the 2006 campaign.
Devlin, strong, accurate and possessing a quick release, had a strong junior season last fall, leading the CAA in passing yards per game (242.18) and total offense per game (253.7), while finishing second in passing rating (139.12). He completed 220-of-344 passes for 2,664 yards and 16 touchdowns, while throwing nine interceptions, and set a school record with 42 completions against FCS champion Villanova. He also rushed for four touchdowns.
The Blue Hens, though, were in a season of transition, and not because of their new quarterback. Their skill-position players were young, the offensive line was in the development stage and standout tight end Josh Baker was lost to injury. Devlin waded through the growing pains and remained a patient leader.
This season should be quite different, and Devlin envisions leading Delaware back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. The running backs and linemen are more experienced, and Keeler calls his receiving corps the best in the CAA, with Mark Mackey, Tommy Crosby, Phillip Thaxton the top options.
"We thought (Devlin) played well last season," Keeler said. "I think he'll even play better this year just because he's even more comfortable.
"If there's a glitch in the operation, he's now picking up the glitch and he's changing it there on the line of scrimmage."
"I think we developed a little bit more trust throughout the season last year. And definitely in the spring, I thought we played extremely well," the 22- year-old Devlin said. "We need to keep on progressing and we need to keep on talking to the coaches about what we feel we can do, what our strengths are and how we can capitalize on the strengths."
Devlin has been nominated for the Walter Payton Award, sponsored by Fathead.com. Last year, he finished 17th in the voting for the award that honors the outstanding player in the FCS.