Football is BACK! Well…sort of! As they say, there truly is no offseason in the world of football. The boys have been practicing since March, and the Spring game is just one short week from today. We’re more than excited. If you haven’t checked out our preview of next season’s schedule, be sure to do it here! Without further ado, let’s talk some Tribe football!
The William & Mary Tribe is coming off a 7-5 season that saw the team fall just one game short of an FCS playoff berth. This coming season, the Tribe will look to rebound behind second year starting QB, Steve Cluley and the CAA’s top rusher, Mikal Abdul-Saboor.
After falling in the season opener against Virginia Tech a season ago, the Tribe went on a four game winning streak–earning themselves a top-10 FCS national ranking. In the end, the team would lose several key games down the stretch and tarnish its postseason aspirations. However, if things had played out slightly differently, the Green and Gold would certainly have qualified for its first playoff berth since 2011.
For example, what if W&M had won its Homecoming game against Villanova, a top 5 team that that the Tribe actually led 31-28 with less than a minute to go? And what if W&M didn’t blow an 11 point lead going into the fourth quarter on a cold, windy day in Harrisonburg?
A victory in either one of those crucial games may would almost certainly have given the Tribe enough to guarantee postseason play. Heck, if the team had won both of those games, they may even have been hosting an FCS playoff game. What we’re trying to say is, there is plenty potential on this squad, and if the Tribe can learn to close out a couple games this coming season, the playoffs are well within striking distance.
As we head into Spring ball, there are plenty of questions and roster battles to follow in the coming months. We’ll begin our preview of the offense, and will post an article detailing the Defense later in the week. Don’t forget, the Spring Game is this coming Saturday, April 11th at Zable Stadium. We hope to see you there!
It appears more than likely that Steve Cluley will be the unquestioned leader out from center this coming Fall. We have little doubt that he will vastly improve this offseason after playing all of last year as the starter, appearing in all 16 games during his Sophomore season.
Cluley showed flashes of both his running and throwing ability a season ago. In the Villanova game, Cluley amassed 350 yards passing and 3 touchdowns through the air. In the contest against Lafayette, Cluley ran for 87 yards and two 2 touchdowns on the ground, showing Tribe nation that he can indeed run as well as pass. We look forward to seeing Cluley take the next step this coming season. Look for Cluley’s improved understanding of the offense’s in and outs, improved defensive reads, and flexing of his throwing and running ability in the upcoming Spring game.
Depth-wise, the Tribe has two reputable and very capable backups in Jhalil Mosley and Tommy McKee, the latter of which earning Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year in his redshirt season last year. The question here is: If Cluley goes down with an injury, which of these two will replace him? Definitely be sure to keep an eye on these two this coming Saturday.
It is also worth noting how junior Frank Brown has developed since last Spring. He impressed us all in the Spring Game a year ago– and while last year’s performance may have been against the 2nd or 3rd defensive units, he proved that he could certainly become a dark horse in this race.
In what may be the Tribe’s deepest position group, the Tribe is led by returning first team All-CAA selection Mikal Abdul-Saboor. I mean, what is not to like about this guy? He is a hard worker, led the conference in rushing yards per game (115.1 ypg), and recorded the 6th best single season rushing total (1,266 yds) in school history. We expect big things out of “MAS” in his senior season, and we know he won’t disappoint.
In addition to Abdul-Saboor, the Tribe has a talented group of backs in Kendell Anderson, Jonathan Dunn (who also destroyed the Spring Game last year), and incoming freshman Brehon Britt–the 3-star recruit and brother of former Tribe basketball star Brandon Britt. It will be interesting to see how Coach Laycock splits the carries among this talented group in the upcoming season.
The tight end position proved to be an interesting and somewhat stressful area for the Tribe last year, starting with senior captain Bo Revell sustaining an injury on just the second play of the season opener against Virginia Tech. The group would also sustain injuries to backups Eric Hensley and Andrew Caskin.
However, Caskin showed signs of promise when on the field, especially in his game against James Madison– as he recorded two big receptions for 62 yards. He is the only William and Mary true freshman to start at the tight end position since at least 1989 (stats are not available prior to 1989). This is very impressive, to say the least, and speaks more to Caskin’s abilities than to the Tribe’s desperation at the position a season ago. The Tribe chose to go with Caskin over another capable tight end on the roster, Evan McGill.
We expect Caskin to play a large role and earn the starting job this offseason, with Hensley as the backup and primary blocking tight end. Either way, this kid will be fun to watch, and is certainly a name to know going into the Spring game.
The hardest position to build on this year’s team will undoubtedly be at the wide receiver position, after losing stars Tre McBride and Sean Ballard to graduation. The team will have to find a way to replace a duo that combined for just under 1300 yards and 7 touchdowns a season ago.
A lot will be expected of freshman speedster DeVonte Dedmon, who was the fastest player on the field in most, if not all, games last year. He will give the Tribe a deep threat on the outside, but the question here is: who will fill out the receiving corps?
Christian Reeves is the most likely replacement for Sean Ballard. Reeves saw limited action last year before getting injured toward the end of the season. He certainly possesses the size of a wide receiver (6”4, 215 pounds), and should be able to win one on one matchups against opposing defenders. Time will tell if this is the case.
The third receiver position looks to be a toss up between freshman Jack Armstrong and junior Kevin Hart. Hart saw action in 6 games last year as a reserve, while Armstrong redshirted.
The Offensive Line sustained plenty of injuries last season, but under the tutelage of veteran coach Rob Solderitch, who has been with the Tribe 20 years, the unit played more than admirably. This coming season, the Offensive Line will very likely be the deepest and strongest position unit on the entire team–assuming they can return and remain healthy.
So who is healthy? That will be the main question going into the offseason and Spring game. The starting unit lost every single player to injury at some point last year, including tackle Jerry Ugokwe, guard Connor Hilland, tackle Chris Durant, guard Dom Martinelli, and center Andrew Jones. Prior to all the injuries, this unit was scary good. Ugokwe alone is listed at 6’8”, 305 lb. Andrew Jones was a Preseason All-CAA honoree who would eventually earn First Team All-CAA honors. In the end, injuries would derail the unit’s chemistry.
However, the offensive line will look to remain healthy, protect Steve Cluley, and open up holes for Mikal Abdul-Saboor this coming season. With the Tribe likely to focus on a ground and pound offense, a healthy and effective offensive line will pay big dividends come September. If the offensive line can stay healthy, there is no reason the Tribe won’t boast the CAA’s best rushing attack.
If Cluley can keep defenses honest with his arm and MAS can continue to do as he does without injury, the offense can vastly improve in the offseason. We at the Blog cannot wait for the Spring Game, and as every day passes, we get closer and closer to the best part of the year: Football season.
Thanks for reading our preview, and expect one on the defense later in the week. ROLL TRIBE!!!!