Do you know who led the Tribe to an 11-3 record (including a win over UVA), a Semi-Final FCS Playoff game, and a #4 season-end ranking (the second best W&M Football finish of all time)? That would be one of the Tribe’s all-time greats, QB RJ Archer. In his first full season as a starter, Archer threw for 2,778 yards, 16 TD, and 9 INT–a foreshadowing of great things to come. In that same season, he would lead the Tribe to the FCS Semifinals, where the Green and Gold narrowly fell in a heartbreaker to #2 ranked Villanova, 14-13. But this was still one of the best W&M seasons in recent memory; the playoff run included a huge victory over #1 ranked Southern Illinois, which earned the team a top-5 national ranking. Wow.
We at the W&M Sports Blog were lucky enough to meet RJ at the Home Opener (W&M @ NC State) game this year, which ended with him graciously agreeing to do an interview with us. Below, we profile RJ’s decision to attend W&M, his time with the Tribe, and his career after William & Mary in both the NFL and the Arena Football League. Enjoy!
Pre-William & Mary
We know you grew up in Earlysville, VA — right outside Charlottesville and UVA. Why did you choose to attend the College of William & Mary?
“My dad went to UVA and my mom’s family moved to Charlottesville when she was young, so we have a lot of family there and grew up going to all the home football games. So UVA was my first favorite school. As I was getting recruited UVA already had all of its QB commits for my year and they said I could walk on if I wanted to. As I talked more with Coach Laycock and William and Mary I really fell in love with the football program and was lucky enough to receive a scholarship, so that helped with my choice some. But, coming out of high school I wasn’t thinking about playing after college and honestly just wanted to go to a school where I would get the best education, I think I made the right choice.”
Time at William & Mary
As W&M is known for producing scholar athletes: what did you major in at William & Mary, and why?
“I majored in economics and minored in psychology. I chose economics because I feel like it can be applied to any career and day to day life, and psychology was just interesting to learn how and why people act the way they do.”
It’ll come as a surprise to most Tribe fans that may not be familiar with your story, but you actually didn’t take over as the starting QB until your Senior season, and actually started your W&M career as a Wide Receiver! And let’s not forget to mention you finished second on the team in catches each of those seasons. Could you detail your time at W&M as a Wide Receiver, and what that was like for you?
“My redshirt year on the scout team I would play mostly quarterback, but every now and then I would go and give our defense a look at receiver, depending on who we were playing that week. That season we had a couple quarterbacks that were battling for the starting job all season and both were going to be back next season. When spring came around Coach asked me if I had any interest at playing receiver and I said I’d do whatever it took to get on the field the quickest and help the team the most. It ended up working out pretty well for a couple years and I was able to fill in when we had some key receivers go down with injuries also. I enjoyed my time at receiver and I think the quarterbacks liked having me out there because I looked at defenses as a quarterback still and could see the same things they were seeing.”
Heading in to your Junior year, Head Coach Jimmye Laycock asked you to come back and play the Quarterback position. What was this like for you, especially as a successful Wide Receiver, who was also being asked to sit a year behind then-starter Jake Philips?
“It was tough not being on the field and feeling like you didn’t have as much of an impact on the game as I was used to. But, my whole time there I always told coach I’d do whatever was best for the team and that season that was what he thought would help the most. Jake and I were always close friends so I would do whatever I could to help at practice or in the film room on a week to week basis. At the beginning of the season Jake even went to our OC Zbig Kepa and asked if I could still play receiver and be the second quarterback, but I think Coach Laycock shot that idea down.”
2009 was a magical season. Not only for W&M Football, but for yourself. In what was your Senior year and first as a starting QB, you amassed 2,778 passing yards, 16 TD, and 9 INT, while also adding 255 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns. The team finished the year ranked #4 in the country, which was good enough for the second best W&M Football finish of all time (after ranking #3 in 2004). The Tribe would go 11-3, which included a huge win over in-state rival UVA in the season opener. Could you detail this game, as well as the team’s overall season and ensuing Playoff run?
“That was an awesome season from start to finish. We had such a great group of seniors that year that I think really set the tone for the whole team. Not just guys that were good at football, but guys that were natural leaders and showed the underclassmen how to come out to practice everyday and work hard. The UVA game was really special for me especially, having grown up there and gone to all of their games for 17 years. I knew the kind of team we had and I told the guys the night before the game not to worry about what everyone outside this room thought, but I know we have a better team and if we play our game there’s no doubt we would win. We carried that momentum throughout the whole season, aside from a few bumps against Villanova and Richmond. The playoff run was great also, going to Southern Illinois who was ranked no. 1 and getting a big win. Unfortunately Villanova had our number that year. If we pull out that semi final game I know we would’ve beat Montana the next week, but Villanova had a good team that year, they were tough to beat, especially at home.”
Ensuing NFL Career
Following graduation, you were immediately signed as an Undrafted Free Agent by the Minnesota Vikings in 2010. Could you detail your experience with the Vikings, as well as the Detroit Lions (2012) and Seattle Seahawks (2015)? What has this NFL experience been like for you?
“My time in Minnesota was good, shorter than I would’ve liked, but I learned a lot about the NFL game and the business. I wasn’t counting on a guy named Brett Favre to come back for another year, but that’s how it goes. I was able to go back up there near the end of the season when Favre got hurt and gained a little more experience then. I was in Detroit for camp in 2012 and that was a good experience. I felt that I had grown as a quarterback and was better there than I was in Minnesota. And then to get another shot last year in Seattle, was a little unexpected but a lot of fun. The OC there, Darrell Bevel, was also my OC in Minnesota back in 2010 so there was some familiarity with his offense which helped me. I spent the whole offseason there through OTAs and through the preseason. Russell’s backup at the time, Tarvaris Jackson (who was also in Minnesota with me in 2010), hurt his ankle in the first preseason game so I got a lot more playing time than I would have otherwise. It was a lot of fun and I thought I played well. It was really my first extensive time in preseason games, so definitely good to be out there. Seattle is one of the teams who normally only keeps two quarterbacks on the roster, so it didn’t work out for the long run, but I was able to be seen by the BC Lions in the CFL and finished their season with them up in Vancouver. All in all, I’ve had a great time with the organizations I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of. I’ve learned that it is a really tough business to make it into and stay around for an extended period of time.”
Recent Football Career & Life After
Currently playing for the Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League, we see that just last year, you finished with 4,661 passing yards, 92 TD, and 14 INT. Obviously, the AFL is a different animal, but those sound like pretty darn good numbers to us. How have you enjoyed your time in the AFL and how do you think it has it developed you as a player?
“Throughout the years I’ve played 4 seasons of arena football and I’ve really enjoyed it. The whole game is passing, which is a quarterback’s dream. It does lead to some unusual stat lines if you aren’t as familiar with the game. Playing on a small field, the throwing lanes and windows are smaller so I think it made me a more accurate passer. The game is also faster, with one receiver getting a running start, so you have to make decisions quicker also.”
Getting back to W&M: how have you managed to stay connected to William & Mary now that you live farther away from Williamsburg?
“It has been tough to get back for games, but I try to follow them either on the radio or if I can get a televised game. I always enjoy getting back to Williamsburg whenever I can, even if it isn’t as frequent as I would like.”
And of course we have to ask…still at the ripe age of 29, is the NFL still your ultimate goal? After all, Doug Flutie did play in the CFL for 8 years before returning to the NFL at the age of 35.
“Well, I’ll never say never, but I have somewhat changed my focus to my after football life. I’m down in Jacksonville, FL and I do medical device sales for Stryker Orthopaedics. I’ve enjoyed it so far, it’s challenging and competitive, much like football was. I still try to stay in shape just in case I get a call, I could always go out and throw it around for a few games if needed.”
We at the W&M Sports Blog would again like to thank RJ for taking the time to do this interview, and wish him luck in his professional career, whatever that may be, moving forward! We’ll be rooting for you! LET’S GO TRIBE!!!