As would befit the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, the new coach's acceptance came down to history. Though Keeler's offense was foreign to Newark, he was not. Well before guiding Rowan to four New Jersey Athletic Conference titles in nine seasons, he had been one of the finest Blue Hens linebackers ever. In a 1978 playoff victory against Jacksonville ( Ala.) State, he intercepted passes on three consecutive defensive series, and the following year he helped Delaware win the Division II national championship. "If he didn't have the ties to the program, it's safe to say people here wouldn't have been so welcoming," says Johnson, "but K.C. Keeler is a Blue Hen through and through."
As if one needs proof, inside Keeler's office is a taxidermist-stuffed royal-blue hen, as ugly as the midseason scabs on a linebacker's knees. Whenever a recruit comes to Newark for an official visit and asks, "What the heck is a Blue Hen?" the coach need only point to the preserved fowl. In a way, Keeler admits, the unfamiliarity is one of the best things about the program, which has been around since 1889. Unlike Notre Dame, where players arrive knowing of Paul Horning, Joe Montana and Rocket Ismail, those new to Newark must learn what it means to be a Blue Hen. Wide receiver David Boler, a transfer from USC, says that until Keeler recruited him, "I never even knew the University of Delaware existed. I was like, Dela-where?"
Keeler has made it his objective to not only coach football but also educate his men on tradition. Before his first game as the team's coach last September he told them, "Today is not about me. It's not about Coach Raymond's retirement, either. It's about the responsibility of playing for everyone who wore your colors, about the men who built this program up.
"More than anything," Keeler continued, "it's about the pride of being a Blue Hen."
With that, Delaware upset heavily favored Georgia Southern 22-19. Afterward, some of the players went out to celebrate. And everything they bought was tax-free.