The Blue Hens have become quite accustomed to visiting Meade Stadium in Kingston, Rhode Island, where they’ll be playing for the fourth straight season on Saturday.
Liam Trainer’s familiarity goes a little deeper and, no doubt, fuels his desire in the matchup of Top 25 FCS teams.
Trainer’s dad, Joe, was Rhode Island’s head coach from 2009 through 2013. Liam and his brother and fellow Delaware linebacker Dillon were in the stands when the Rams handed Delaware a 38-34 defeat at Meade in 2011 that helped cost the Blue Hens an NCAA playoff berth that season.
Now Liam is a UD captain and starter who has become a key cog in a unit that has started strong, allowing just two touchdowns in wins over Navy 14-7 and Delaware State 35-9 to start the season.
He also realizes No. 9-ranked Delaware has a significant challenge looming against No. 17 Rhode Island (2-0) in the 1 p.m. showdown, which is the Hens’ Colonial Athletic Association opener.
“It is kinda nostalgic every time we go up there and play but at the same time we left last year with a bitter taste in our mouths [after a 22-15 loss] so, quite frankly, I am excited to go back there for whatever time in a row this is at their place and kinda take back what’s ours off their field,” said Trainer, a fifth-year Blue Hen who is eligible through 2023.
Brother Dillon missed the first two games with a knee injury that has sidelined him since early in preseason. But he has been back on the practice field this week. Dillon is a third-year Hen who played in every game during the 2021 spring and fall seasons.
Being around college football at a young age, Liam Trainer said he became fully indoctrinated in the dedication, diligence and demands that went into being a player. He has since embraced those requirements.
“For sure you can tell he’s a coach’s son. Takes one to know one,” said first-year UD coach Ryan Carty, whose dad Kevin Sr. was his coach at Sommerville High in New Jersey.
“ . . . He’s one of those guys that just, at all times, is caring about football. You need people like that, people who have no problem focusing on the task at hand.’’
Joe Trainer also coached at UD rival Villanova from 1997-2004 and 20014-17, yet Delaware was still able to snare Liam out of La Salle College High School.
Delaware defensive coordinator Manny Rojas said Trainer was a solid prospect, but some recruiters didn’t feel he had the necessary speed. At a UD recruiting camp, Trainer showed “short area quickness” that was perfectly suitable for his position, Rojas said.
Rojas left after Trainer’s true freshman season, spending 2019 as Lafayette’s defensive coordinator, before returning in that role at Delaware prior to the postponed 2020 season. In the 2021 spring season, Trainer became a key part of a stellar Delaware defense that keyed its run to the FCS semifinals.
“The speed of the game had slowed down for him,” Rojas said. “He was faster. I think a lot of teams missed on him because ‘Oh, he’s not fast enough to play linebacker.’ . . . The way he loves the game and the way he studies the game and knows where he has to be, he makes up for whatever speed everybody thinks he doesn’t have or may not have had with his footwork, his film study and his technique.”
After preparing for and handling Navy’s difficult triple-option offense the first week of the season, Delaware played its base defense for the first time last week against Delaware State. Carty said that means the expected major improvements coaches expect to see from the first game to the second should actually come this week.
“The first week is such an anomaly schematically that this is week-one-to-week-two for our defense,” Carty said. “We need to make improvements on what our normal defense is, not our triple-option defense.”
Trainer concurred, saying it was “an odd transition” going from defending Navy’s attack to Delaware State’s more traditional spread offense and “we definitely have a lot of work to do.’’
As the Navy game showed, one advantage the Blue Hens’ defense does possess, with players who’ve made more than 200 career starts, is the ability to be flexible and modify what it does against different offenses with unique strengths each week.
“The way our kids handle this defense and how we’ve evolved from when I first got here to now, they can adjust handle anything we throw at them,” Rojas said.
“That includes in-game adjustments. There may be something we really haven’t practiced much during the week but all of a sudden in the middle of a game we say ‘Hey this may be better.’ We sit them down and say ‘Can we run this?’ They look at us and say ‘Yeah, we can run that.’ ”
That may happen Saturday at Rhode Island against a potentially explosive Rams offense featuring returning starting quarterback Kasim Hill, a former starter at Maryland who has “made big plays in big games,” Carty said.
The solidly built 6-foot-2, 234-pound Hill is third among CAA quarterbacks in yards passing (526) and quarterback efficiency to start the season and also is mobile and a threat to run.
URI backs Jaylen Smith and Marques DeShields have each rushed for 170 yards the first two games. Ed Lee is second among CAA pass catchers with 222 receiving yards.
Up front URI features fourth-year All-CAA starters in right guard Nick Correia and tight end Caleb Warren.
“I think if we just do our thing and stick to our fundamentals we can get the job done,” Trainer said.
Delaware will be traveling to Rhode Island via charter flight after recent bus excursions encountered lengthy traffic delays. “It’s enormous,” Carty said of the importance of Delaware devoting the financial resources to do so . “ . . . Especially early in the season, it’s the compounding and the cumulative effects of things like travel that are not talked about enough in college football, particularly in FCS football.” A seven-hour bus ride each way, he added, “affects you for weeks” . . . Nic Ware stepped in for the injured Joe Zubilaga at one of Delaware’s three safety positions against Delaware State and played well, Rojas said, as did Ty Davis with increased duty. Ware is expected to also start at URI.
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