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Blue Hens May Run Ravens Offense


Joe Flacco called his former center, Matt Birk, on his way to sign his new contract Monday.

When the two were ready to hang up, Flacco tossed out a seemingly unbelievable final thought.

"Man, it's going to be two Delaware guys," Flacco said.

The Ravens offense may start with a pair of Blue Hens next year, and it's a big time for both of them.

Flacco just became the highest-paid player in NFL history. Entering his second season, Gino Gradkowski is in position to take over the starting center job.

The connection between quarterback and center is one of the most critical on a football field. The two must work in unison. And next year it might be a pair of Blue Hens getting that done.

"Two guys from Delaware will decide how the Ravens offense goes," Delaware Football Sports Information Director Scott Selheimer said. "If Gino doesn't want to snap the ball, the play's not happening. Once it gets out of his hands it all depends on what Joe does. That's kind of a neat thing."

There are no parades on the University of Delaware campus. The Flacco buzz has died down since the Super Bowl, when purple Ravens jerseys speckled the college town.

Flacco's rise to stardom has long been followed and Delaware has had other players in the NFL, including quarterback Rich Gannon and Denver Broncos safety Mike Adams.

But two on one team?

The Ravens have a number of small-school standouts, including cornerback Lardarius Webb (Nichols State), cornerback Cary Williams (Washburn) and wide receiver Jacoby Jones (Lane).

Flacco and Gradkowski's emergence, and a Super Bowl title, further speaks to the ability of small-school prospects making it big. Each transferred from a Division I team (Flacco from Pittsburgh and Gradkowski from West Virginia) to land at Delaware.

"Good athletes come from everywhere," Flacco said. "The bottom line is you have to be a good player, and you have to put a lot of hard work in. I think if you're willing to do that, and you do have the talent, then it doesn't matter where you come from."

While Flacco is five years removed from college, Gradkowski still has a lot of ties at Delaware and visits frequently. There's a pair of offensive linemen that could be drafted next year that Gradkowski mentors a bit.

"My former teammates that are still there tell me that I'm an inspiration for them," Gradkowski said. "It gives them a little hope that they can make it too. That's the coolest thing for me."

Gradkowski has plenty to worry about on his end, however. He said he's not thinking too much about the Blue Hen connection that could be, but rather about winning the job, first and foremost. Gradkowski has been working out in Owings Mills, Md., nearly every day since Birk retired.

Flacco asked Birk about Gradkowski on Monday. Then he expressed confidence in him during his post-contract signing press conference.

"I think Gino is ready to take that job over," Flacco said. "I think he has picked up the offense really well, and I think he's going to go out and show people he has the talent and he has the ability to go out there and do it in this league. It's definitely exciting that we can have that kind of connection."

For now, it's just a good story, a talking point. It's something the University of Delaware can beam about. "There's a lot of pride in it," Selheimer said. "Whenever anybody finds out they're from Delaware, they kind of raise their eyebrows like, 'Wow, that's amazing.'"

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