We now pay homage to the big boys up front. Offensive Linemen are charged with two incredibly important tasks: protect the Quarterback and open up lanes for the Running Back. Suffice to say, without a good Offensive Line, you aren’t going to move the ball very far.
Last year’s starting unit was very deep. At its peak last year, the Tribe boasted a rotation that included Jerry Ugokwe, James Johnson, Matt Crisafi, Trevor Springman, and Dominic Martinelli. Injuries plagued the squad, but even still, the unit still played well despite the setbacks.
With experienced Seniors comprising a grand total of three season-starting Linemen last season, including do-it-all Captain Matt Crisafi, it was no surprise that our Running Backs were able to run the ball with great success. This year, the Tribe faces a daunting task in replacing these three Linemen, but thankfully, the team has enough talent returning and a wealth of options to choose from in order to get the job done.
The aforementioned three Seniors lost to graduation were Matt Crisafi (Do-It-All Lineman/Team Captain), James Johnson (Left Guard), and Trevor Springman (Right Guard). These three players alone earned 34 starts on the Offensive Line last year. Of course, the Tribe must replace these three this offseason. But who exactly will replace them? With a whopping 16 Offensive Linemen on the roster, the Tribe will not have to worry about lack of options.
As only a Redshirt Freshman last year, Jerry Ugokwe was anointed the starter at the all-important Left Tackle position. With incredible measurables, checking in with a 6’8’’ 305 pound frame, Ugokwe literally has an NFL body. To compare, Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns who is widely known for being the best Left Tackle in the NFL, checks in at 6’6’’ and 312 pounds. Jerry is two inches taller and just a tad lighter than Thomas—but not for long, as Ugokwe will undoubtedly be hitting the weight room hard for the next three years at W&M.
Over the course of the season, Jerry earned seven starts at Left Tackle last season, but also suffered an injury that left him sidelined for several games. But when Ugokwe did play, his size and strength were on display. Gaining the trust of the coaches as a mere Freshman, Ugokwe did more than impress in his first full season as a collegiate starter [It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a favorite of the WM Sports Blog writers, since he attended our alma mater, Georgetown Prep!]. This season, Ugokwe will be moved across the line to the Right Tackle position. Redshirt Freshman, Zach Rhodes, looks to back up Ugokwe this year.
Another returning starter on the line is yet another Sophomore in Domenic Martinelli. The 6’4’’ 295 pound Lineman from Pittsburgh, PA started nine games at Right Tackle last season. However, Martinelli also sustained an injury that prevented him from starting the other 3 games for the Tribe. Even still, like Ugokwe, Martinelli presents young talent on the Offensive Line, and another piece for the team to build around going into next season. As Jerry Ugokwe will now move from Left to Right Tackle, Martinelli moves inside to the Right Guard position for this upcoming season. Sophomore Kevin Jennings, who saw action in 8 games last season, will back up Martinelli this year.
With the departure of Senior Matt Crisafi, who technically played just about every position on the Offensive Line but was known mostly for his play at Center, in comes Andrew Jones. As injuries plagued the line last season, Crisafi moved out of the Center position and Jones took the wheel.
Jones appeared in nine games and earned seven starts at Center and quickly became one of the best at the position in the entire CAA. Jones’ talents were enough to garner him preseason All-CAA awards this offseason. Jones, now a Junior, becomes one of the “oldest” and most experienced players on the line.
Not to be outdone off the field as well, Jones was a CAA Academic All-Conference member and Deans List recipient in 2013. In short, he’s more than capable of the starting Center position. Backing up Jones this year will be Senior Baron Goodman, who surprisingly checks in as the only Senior on the entire offensive line this season.
The Tribe enter Summer training camp with questions as to which player will take over the Left Guard position. Two candidates come to mind: Connor Hilland and Nick Easter. Hilland is a 6’4’’ 287 pound Redshirt Freshman. Connor Hilland redshirted last season, but takes a very physical approach to the game, but because there isn’t any game film on Hilland, it will take a great offseason and training camp to win him the starting job.
The Tribe’s Offensive Line also boasts another Junior in Nick Easter. Easter saw action in 8 games last season, and with an opening at the Left Guard position, Easter now looks to find a more consistent role along the line. Easter is another physical player who also earned a CAA Academic All-Conference Team selection last season.
At what may be one of the most important positions in the game (protecting the Quarterback’s blindside!), the Tribe is searching for answers. Since Ugokwe was transitioned to Right Tackle and Martinelli moved to the Right Guard position, the Tribe has been searching for a bookend Left Tackle to take the reigns. The team again has two potential candidates for the starting job: Jared Templeton and Chris Durant.
Chris Durant was redshirted last season, in what was only his Freshman season. It looked as though Durant was well on his way to compete for a roster spot as a True Freshman until a knee injury ended up costing him the entire season. Even still, Durant’s potential looms large. The fact that he was competing for a spot as a True Freshman speaks volumes to his skills and ability at the position. He will need all the reps he can get this offseason, as he just may secure that starting Left Tackle position.
Finally, we have Jared Templeton, another Junior on the line. Templeton appeared in 12 games last season, all of which at the Right Tackle position. This season, Templeton looks to make the move from Right to Left tackle. Again, having game experience and the physical ability to get the job done may just give him the upper hand over Durant, who as previously mentioned, does not yet have any game experience.
Overall, this is a very deep unit for the Tribe. Open competition at Left Tackle and Right Guard makes room for players on the roster to step up and take over. But with 16 players and talent all around, the team will be just fine.