It’s been over 450 days since we saw the William and Mary Tribe football team storm the field at E. Claiborne Robins Stadium on November 23rd, 2019, fresh off a 21-15 victory over the in-state rival Richmond Spiders in the Capital Cup.
Since then, the world has changed quite a bit hasn’t it? In head coach Mike London’s first season in Williamsburg, the Tribe had a bit of an up and down season, with several impressive glimpses of what is to come in the Mike London era.
William and Mary finished with 26 rushing touchdowns, the 11th best mark in program history.
Key to this impressive rushing attack was the play of true freshman quarterback Hollis Mathis.
The Pittsburgh native finished second on the team with 546 rushing yards to accompany his 976 passing yards and eight rushing touchdowns.
Mathis is sure to be the catalyst for the Tribe offensive attack in his sophomore campaign. First-year Offensive Coordinator Christian Taylor offered his thoughts on Mathis.
“Ever since I got here, he has worked his tail off. He is a dynamic athlete; explosive player and he is turning himself into a complete quarterback.”
As he improves as a passer, Mathis has the potential to be dangerous for the Tribe, especially with the return of senior wide receiver Zach Burdick.
The Aldie, Virginia native led the team in receiving yards last season with 655, while ranking 16th in the country with 19.3 yards per catch.
Be sure to keep your eyes glued to the Mathis-Burdick connection this season.
But Mathis and Burdick are not the only returning contributors on the offensive end.
The Tribe returns junior running back Owen Wright, who led the team with 584 rushing yards last season.
This means that the Tribe’s leaders in passing yards, rushing yards, and receiving yards are all returning to carry the offense this season.
According to Coach Taylor, another key contributor for the offense will be senior captain Ryan Ripley.
The offensive lineman played in all 12 games in 2019 and is going to be a pivotal force in the middle of the offensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Tribe graduated a number of key contributors including three-time all-CAA cornerback Corey Parker.
As a senior in 2019, Parker was second on the team in tackles with 80 and was a force to be reckoned with in the secondary.
Another key loss is that of linebacker Nate Atkins, who finished his storied William and Mary career with 316 career tackles, including 78 in 2019.
Another big loss on the defensive side of the ball, sophomore cornerback Latrelle Smith very recently announced his intent to transfer, after recording 47 tackles and two interceptions for the Tribe in 2019.
Thankfully, W&M’s leading tackler returns, with Trey Watkins lining up at the linebacker position; the junior recorded 83 tackles last season.
Alongside Watkins in the middle of the defense is senior linebacker Tyler Crist.
The three-time all-CAA fullback made the shift to defense late last season and immediately made an impact, recording 22 tackles and recovering two fumbles.
In his first full season on defense, Crist will be a key leader for the Tribe defensively.
This season is sure to be different than years past. After all, I am writing this in February instead of August!
While the Tribe played 12 games last year, the total for the 2021 Spring season is trimmed to just six.
And to add to the change, the Tribe will only play against three opponents this year, playing all three both home and away.
On the mindset going into the season, Coach Taylor said “the teams that are going to play the best are the ones that are handling the adversity the best. We want to win championships here. Right now, the focus is on the spring season, winning these six games and getting to the playoffs.”
There is some sense of normalcy however, with the three opponents coming from the Colonial Athletic Association.
That might be where the normalcy ends however, with the Tribe beginning the Spring season without fans in attendance, per the Virginia public health guidelines.
An empty Zable stadium is sure to be a change for the Tribe, but Coach Taylor remains optimistic: “It will definitely be different, but we can’t let it affect us. The football field is still the same size. The rules are still the same. It is still 11 on 11.”
The Tribe kicks off the season on March 6th on the road against Richmond.
Kickoff is set for 1 pm with the game being broadcast on FloSports. Fans can also listen online at TuneIn.com or follow the live stats on Tribe Athletics.
Despite the challenges, William and Mary is sure to have a superb, albeit shortened season in Spring 2021.
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