If Brian Dennis were to go his redshirt senior campaign as a Delaware Blue Hen without touching the end zone, concluding his collegiate career without a score, he certainly would not be alone in that category among defensive players. Of course, defenders and special-teamers are routinely taught to have a nose for the football, but it is not every day that a “right place, right time” scenario arises.
After appearing in a pair of contests for UD a season ago, Dennis, out of nearby Concord High, saw his first action of 2019 in Delaware’s 31-13 season-opening win over Delaware State, its ninth straight over the Hornets.
This outing, however, transpired much differently than any of those in the walk-on’s career: Dennis joined the exclusive club of defenders with a touchdown, notching his first Blue Hens touchdown with a blocked punt returned for a 14-yard scoop-and-score that put the Hens firmly in control and up 31-6 in the fourth quarter. It was UD’s first blocked punt returned for a touchdown since Que’Shawn Jenkins’ score versus William & Mary in 2015.
“He’s a great example of a young man who loves Delaware, loves the game of football,” Delaware head coach Danny Rocco said after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s paid his dues and has continued to work hard, striving to be his very best, and took advantage of that opportunity. He’ll have more opportunities here as the season goes on and he needs to continue to embrace that.”
Opportunity knocked when Delaware State preseason All-MEAC punter Fidel Romo-Martinez had to corral a high snap and shuffle to avoid the pressure of an oncoming Blue Hens rusher. When Romo-Martinez hesitated somewhat and was slow to get the punt off, Dennis burst into the scene practically untouched, blocking the punt before it saw the air and scampering with the football into the end zone, trailed by jubilant teammates.
What was most memorable about the sequence, Dennis said following practice on Wednesday, was not the play itself, but what greeted him after he high-stepped to the home sideline.
“As soon as I just came over to the sideline, you got to see everybody was, like, jumping on top of me. That was the best part, just having everybody around me and just bringing so much joy to the team because we love just being around each other. And those [teammates] are like my brothers, so what happens for me is good for me but also good for them.”
“That’s one of the things I really enjoy, is just the spontaneous celebrations that occur during the game when big plays are made,” Rocco added. “And sometimes it’s by guys that aren’t necessarily the most recognizable guys on the roster, and that’s when the team really shows the most enthusiasm and energy because a lot of the guys are really rooting for some of those kind of ‘unsung heroes’ to rise up when given the opportunity. So, it was really neat, a neat moment to watch the sideline erupt and enthusiasm as he made that play.”
Now, Dennis and the rest of the Blue Hens turn their attention to Saturday’s visit to Rhode Island, which is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff under the brand-new lights at Meade Stadium. The Rams and Hens also met for both teams’ CAA Football opener in 2018. URI upset then-No. 15 Delaware 21-19 at Delaware Stadium for its first victory over a ranked opponent since 2011.
Ahead of its 2019 matchup against Rhode Island, Delaware recognizes the unique challenge its young secondary faces in containing a talented corps of Rhody pass-catchers headlined by preseason All-CAA selection Aaron Parker. However, Rocco values the veteran presence of Dennis among the defensive backs and how reliable he has been, both in preparation for Rhode Island and on a weekly basis.
“He’s doing a lot of things out here in practice, he’s doing a lot of things in the meetings to help us get ready, continue to prepare and put us in a position to be successful. So, he cares and he’s one of many that care, so he’s gonna do all the little things right, and if called upon, he’ll be ready to go out there and produce.”
“We take every single game seriously, just a one-game-at-a-time mentality, and they’re good, but we’re just going to go come in and do what we do,” Dennis said. “Stick to our fundamentals, and we feel like the rest should take care of itself as long as we handle things on our end.”