Ben Dinkel was on a team that beat the Blue Hens.
Now he has joined them, which he hardly envisioned after helping South Dakota State get a win over Delaware and reach the 2021 spring FCS title game.
There, Dinkel and South Dakota State lost to Sam Houston, where the offense was operated by Ryan Carty.
Now Carty is the football coach at Delaware and Dinkel is his punter, an ironic turn of events that Dinkel relishes.
“It’s funny,” he said, “but I think everything happens for a reason and I’m supposed to be here and it’s just been a great experience so far.”
The 5-foot-10, 220-pound Dinkel and his right leg have proven to be important weapons for the Blue Hens, who are 3-0 and ranked No. 8 nationally in FCS. They host Hampton at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Pirates’ Colonial Athletic Association debut.
It certainly beats the position in which Dinkel found himself a year ago. After being South Dakota State’s starting punter for two seasons, he lost his job last fall, though Dinkel ended up with a better punting average as the backup than the starter had.
If that didn’t happen, Dinkel surmised, he would have stayed at South Dakota State for his final season of eligibility and wouldn’t have landed at Delaware.
In that regard, he suggested, it turned out to be “a blessing in disguise.”
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It was a tough blow and humbling experience but, ultimately, Dinkel said, “I got a lot better not playing” because it forced him to try different techniques.
“It’s always been my dream to go somewhere as a grad transfer for my last year,” he said, “and had that not happened I think I probably wouldn’t have. So I get a new experience for my last year and get to see a different part of the country and it’s been great. I love it here.”
Dinkel, from Kearney, Nebraska, first developed a knack for kicking the ball a long distance as a youth soccer goalkeeper. That carried over to being his team’s punter in football from elementary through high school, where he was also a standout defensive back.
He averaged 41.6 yards per punt his first season as the Jackrabbits’ starter in 2019 as a redshirt sophomore, then 41.9 in the spring 2021 season.
That included three punts for a 47.7-yard average, highlighted by a 61-yard boot, in the Jackrabbits’ 33-3 win over Delaware in the FCS semifinals. He punted four times for a 45.8-yard average in the 23-21 NCAA title game loss to Sam Houston.
Carty, of course, was more concerned with operating his Bearkats offense that day than whom the opposing punter might be.
“I had no idea that Ben Dinkel was punting for them,” Carty said. “I did not know that kid’s name.”
When Dinkel entered the transfer portal, he wasn’t aware there had been a coaching change at Delaware. But he soon connected with new Delaware special teams coach Art Link and set up a visit to Newark.
“I like to go see new things, go see new places, travel and this was the perfect opportunity,” said Dinkel.
His only previous trip to the East Coast though was South Dakota State’s win at Villanova in last fall’s FCS playoffs.
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“I got on campus the first day, I absolutely loved it,” he said of his visit to Delaware. “I wanted to commit that night actually but I ended up doing it the next day. I knew right away. The people were great.”
His addition has quickly paid off for Delaware.
Dinkel had a clutch 63-yard punt to pin Navy deep in its own territory in Delaware’s 14-7 season-opening win in Annapolis, where he also earned post-game raves from Carty after snagging a high snap on an extra-point kick in his job as holder.
In the 35-9 home-opening win over Delaware State, Dinkel’s 57-yard punt was downed at the DSU 1 by Johnny Buchanan. It led to Trey Austin’s blocked punt that Quincy Watson recovered for a touchdown.
On the season, Dinkel has a 42.6-yard average with three kicks longer than 50 yards and five inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
“I feel like I’ve punted pretty decent,” he said. “I’ve had a few that I’d like to get back but that’s just the way she goes.”
Carty praised Delaware’s entire punt unit for its flexibility and reliability this season, saying “it’s kind of like our offense, to be honest, because of people moving around.”
The group features several starters, including All-American safety Kedrick Whitehead stationed just behind the line of scrimmage and often in motion, and has benefitted from Dinkel’s dependable play.
“He is the steady consistent punter in the back that’s gonna do the right thing every time,” Carty said. “Put the ball where it’s supposed to be. And I think that’s important, as when we call a right kick, he kicks it right. When we call a rugby kick, he kicks it rugby. We call a left kick, he kicks it left. Those things matter because that’s where you’re covering.
“… And then he’s talented. He can boom them. He can put them where he wants. He’s done a really nice job of pinning people deep, his kicks that go inside the 10. I think he’s one of the better ones that I’ve seen and we’re happy he’s on our side.”
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