September 16, 2013

Williams College 2013 Football Season Outlook

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WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- When one streak ends, the opportunity to start a new streak begins.

Last fall the Williams football team went 4-4 ending their streak of consecutive winning seasons at 24, but extending their streak of non-losing seasons to 26 (4-4 in 1987 & 2012).

The 2013 Ephs are committed to posting a winning season in 2013 and starting a new streak of consecutive winning seasons. "Our goal each year is to win the NESCAC championship and we're never going to change that," head coach Aaron Kelton said.

The 2012 season began with a win over Colby at home, but that was followed by three straight losses. Those three losses were followed by three straight wins, but the season-ending loss in the final game at Amherst ended the skein of winning seasons.

The 2013 Ephs return four starters on offense and five on defense as well as their place-kicker, kickoff specialist, and punter.

The loss to graduation in numbers was significant as the offense lost a primary weapon in record breaking WR/Kick Returner Darren Hartwell. He owns the Eph record for single season TD catches (10), career TD catches (21), longest punt return for a TD (77 yards) and is the all-time Eph leader in both punt and kickoff returns.

Also lost to graduation was four-year starting linebacker Chris Cameron who ranks 8th all-time on the Eph tackle chart with 189 tackles, including the Eph record for career solo stops (137).

While his offense has lost seven starters and his defense five starters, a bright spot for Kelton and his Ephs is the return of kicking specialist Joe Mallock.

Mallock, a senior place-kicker/kickoff specialist and punter, has been named to the Fred Mitchell Award Watch List (top national place-kickers) for the second year in a row.

Mallock was a 2012 First Team All-NESCAC selection place-kicker, leading the Ephs in scoring with 42 points, connecting on 11 of 18 field goal attempts and 15 of 17 PATs.

Mallock ranked second in NESCAC in punting with an average of 37.7 per punt, despite having never punted before arriving at Williams.

This fall Mallock will again be called on to kickoff and he will strive to improve on his 60.0-yard average in 2012.

"Joe is a kid who has been through everything in our program -- overcoming injury, struggling his first season as a kicker to now being the best kicker in the conference and a very good punter as well," Kelton noted. "He's a weapon and I feel very confident in what he's going to do. He has the ability to pin teams in on kickoffs and with his punts. He has a really bright future as a kicker if he maintains this pace."

Senior Luke Faust, a four-year letterman, will be the backup place-kicker if Mallock is unable to perform this fall.

Offensively the Ephs return two starting linemen and two members of the backfield. "Ideally we want to be balanced on offense," Kelton said. "We want to run the ball first and then throw."

The Ephs' offensive line this season will not contain a senior starter and on the two-deep chart almost all of the backups are sophomores or freshmen.

Junior Alan Felix will be the center again this season and his backup will be freshman Ben Wertz.

Junior AJ Walsh who started at right tackle in 2012 will be moved to left tackle this season. Backing up Walsh will be sophomore Tyler Fitzgerald.

Sophomore Patrick McLaughlin is slated to start at left guard and his backup will be a freshman Gardner Fish.

Sophomore Matt Jewett will be the starting right guard and playing behind Jewett will be freshman Kobie Allen.

Sophomore Charlie Grossnickle, who was pressed into the starting lineup in last year's season opener, will open at right tackle this season. Classmate Vince Molinari has been slotted as Grossnickle's backup.

"Charlie Grossnickle started the season when Cong Tian was injured in the Amherst scrimmage last year, which gave him some valuable game experience," commented offensive line coach Kyle Smesko. "We are somewhat experienced up front but we are young. We will have to rely on our size and athletic ability to help us get over our inexperience in a few spots."

Explosive senior running back Alex Scyocurka returns to be the Ephs' top ground threat. A healthy Scyocurka for all eight games would provide a dramatic impact on the Ephs' attack.

Playing in just four games last season Scyocurka rushed for 419 yards (5.3 per carry), including a Williams' record 93-yard TD scamper versus Wesleyan. Scyocurka possesses the strength and quickness necessary to allow the Ephs to drive the ball down the field, using up the clock and opening up the passing game.

Behind senior captain Alex Scyocurka the Ephs also have the battle-tested senior tandem of Marco Hernandez and Kristian Lapointe.

Hernandez picked up 104 yards on 27 carries (3.9) and also crossed the goal line twice.

In 2012 Lapointe ran 68 times for 226 yards (3.2), scoring two TDs and catching 11 passes for 73 yards.

Last fall senior Adam Marske opened the season at quarterback and played in five games. Junior signal caller Tom Murphy succeeded Marske and finished the season leading the Eph offense. Murphy appeared in six games.

Murphy connected on 45 of 97 passes for 682 yards and four TDs, while Marske hit on 61 of 115 tosses for 711 yards and three TDs. Marske was picked off nine times last fall and Murphy was victimized times.

Sophomore Mark Pomella entered pre-season off a strong JV season in 2012 and showed he was ready to push the two veteran QBs for time behind the center.

"I'm excited for the healthy competition at our QB position," said Eph offensive coordinator and QB coach Bill Barrale. "Both Adam Marske and Tom Murphy have valuable game experience and they each have their unique strengths that we will take full advantage of. Mark Pomella was impressive in JV games last year and his development will add to the competition. All three are very good athletes."

"We've got two capable guys with game experience at quarterback," Kelton noted. "In my opinion Adam Marske has edged out Tm Murphy for the start in our first game."

Last year's first and second team fullbacks, Tim Morris and Hill Hamrick have graduated. Morris and Hamrick both were commissioned Second Lieutenants in the U.S. Marines just before graduation in June, so the Ephs will open with some inexperience at the position.

Returning to the team this fall after missing his sophomore season due to injury is Qadir Forbes who will assume the role of starting fullback. Forbes is rounding into game form from an impressive pre-season. "Qadir is getting more and more comfortable each day and likes to hit," stated running backs coach Mike Silipo. "He is an athletic fullback who likes to get out in the flat and he can also handle running the ball when we need a tough yard or two. He will be great for us in pass protection, blocking for our strong backs and his energy is infectious."

Junior Daniel Loughran, formerly a guard, and freshman Thomas Cifrino are in the running to back up Forbes. "Both are tough kids trying to learn the offense, and for Daniel a new position," said Silipo. "Our future at fullback is very promising."

At tight end senior Ryan Prokesch is penciled in as the starter with sophomore Alex Way serving as the backup. Prokesch moves up from a backup role last year, where he caught three passes for 44 yards and scored one TD.

"We are very deep at the wide receiver position," said assistant coach Ben Oliva. "Richie Beaton will be one of our go-to threats this year. I believe we have enough talent at the position to have many guys making plays in any given game. Seniors Bill Griffin, Greg Payton, and Jeff Brewington will all see time. Sophomore Darrias Sime, junior Steven Kiesel, and freshman Lewis Hayes are going to have significant roles as well. This group should be one of the strongest in the league with their combination of size, speed, and ability. I expect them to dominate opponents in the air, catching the ball, and on the ground, blocking!"

Richie Beaton is the team's top returning pass catcher, having snared 16 aerials for 195 yards (12.2) as a junior. Beaton has improved immensely over the past two years and his ability to go on vertical routes makes him a true deep threat. Senior Jeff Brewington caught 10 passes last fall for 136 yards (13.6) will be counted upon to add to that total this season.

Senior Greg Payton, who has seen time at both wide receiver and tight end, is expected to push for playing time at after an injury filled junior campaign that limited him to three games and six catches in 2012. Payton's catches totaled 187 yards (31.2) and he recorded one TD.

Payton has also served as the Ephs' punter in the past and this fall will be the backup punter behind Joe Mallock.

A year ago the Eph offense was held in check by throwing 12 interceptions and losing four of nine fumbles.

Defensively the Ephs return three of four players in the defensive backfield, one linebacker and two defensive linemen. Kelton will be fine-tuning his defense to be stingier than last season, when opponents scored at a rate of 18.8 per game.

The Ephs will play an updated version of their traditional 4-3 defense this fall to handle the no-huddle, up temp schemes prevalent in NESCAC.

Eph opponents ran 83 more offensive plays than the Ephs last season.

Williams will be looking to exert more pressure on opposing offenses to get the ball back in the hands of the Eph offense by forcing more than the 13 turnovers they generated in 2012.

"The defensive line group has been a pleasant surprise out of pre-season camp," Kelton offered. "The top 6-7 kids all have game experience and they are all bigger, faster and more mature as players. We have a chance to be really good up front with the kids we have coming back."

Highlighting the list of returnees on defense are the three starters in the secondary; senior captain and cornerback Nate Saffold, senior cornerback Andre Lafontant and junior safety Tom Caberle.

Saffold broke up three passes and tallied 19 solos in his 28 total tackles last season, while adding one tackle for a loss.

Lafontant posted 17 solo tackles in his total of 19, contributed two tackles for a loss and broke up one pass. Senior Kevin Barbary is set to backup LaFontant.

Tom Cabarle recorded 33 solo tackles last fall and added 13 assists and broke up three passes. Sophomore Elijah Eaton will serve as Cabarle's backup.

Players expecting to see time at cornerback include sophomore Josh Helmkemp and freshmen Taysean Scott and Mike Davis.

 Dylan Barbour and Graeme Black will battle for the open safety spot and provide depth.

The Eph defensive line returns both ends from a year ago, but one will move inside this season.

Senior captain and defensive end Ernest Higginbotham is the top returning tackler on the Eph defensive line. Higginbotham led the Ephs with seven tackles for a loss, recorded two sacks, broke up one pass, forced a fumble and 17 of his 31 tackles were solos.

This fall Higginbotham will move inside to tackle. Joining Higginbotham at tackle will be junior Adam Datema.

Datema in six games last year recorded 18 tackles (9 solos), two tackles for a loss, a half of a sack, broke up a pass, blocked two kicks and recorded a safety.

Interior defensive line backups include senior Mike Lomio and junior Etienne Aduya

Defensive end Mike Flynn, a junior, and returns to the defensive end position he held down in 2012. Fourteen of Flynn's 23 tackles last fall were solos. Flynn also registered two sacks and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Junior Griffin Hewitt and freshman Hansoon Koonta.

Sophomore James Howe will man the other defensive end position, having shown great promise as fill-in late last season. Howe is the fifth leading Eph returning tackler with 28, 19 of which were solos. Nine of Howe's tackles were behind the line of scrimmage with 5.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks. He also broke up one pass and recovered a fumble.

"I think this front four has a chance to be pretty good," said assistant coach Marshall Creighton.

"With so many of the offenses spreading you out and playing up tempo we plan to take advantage of our depth on defense and play a lot of guys," Creighton commented. "That's exciting for everyone involved and it's a positive and good thing for our defense."

Junior linebacker Anthony Blanco had a breakout year as a sophomore and is the only returning starting linebacker this fall. Blanco was the fourth leading tackler on the Eph squad with 50, which included 31 solos. He tied for the team-high in interceptions with two, returned a fumble for 18 yards and recorded four tackles for a loss.

After Blanco the other two linebacker slots will be filled from the 5-person pool of senior Sean Hurley and sophomore James O'Grady will man the middle linebacker spot and the trio of senior John McKenna, sophomores Johnny Bond and Jack Ryan at the second outside position.

"The strength of the linebackers is our depth across the board," said Creighton. "We are all learning a new system and learning to play together within that system."

The job of replacing Darren Hartwell as the Ephs' kick and punt returner will likely fall to Tom Cabarle and Kristian Lapointe.

Caberle returned five punts last season for 46 yards (9.2) and four kickoffs for 50 yards (12.5).

The Ephs will look to their veteran defensive unit to keep them in the game and to allow their less experienced offensive unit to get established.

A consistent offensive attack combined with solid play from the veteran defensive unit should put the Ephs in contention for the NESCAC title.

Asked what he considered to be the strength of the 2013 Eph team Kelton said, "Attitude. They work really hard and you can see they worked at it in the off-season. As a group they worked at becoming a better team and better individually in the off-season, which can only help us."

"I think we've got a good team if we can get some consistency on offense and defense," Kelton added. The 2012 Ephs scored 60% of their points (102) in the first half of the eight games, but only 59 in the second half.

"I think we can surprise some teams, Kelton said. "The pressure is off the kids. We're only dealing with the pressure we put on ourselves. This is one of the most talented teams across the board – first year (undefeated) team included – that's exciting."

The 2013 season will begin with two games on the road. On September 21 the Ephs travel to Colby for their season-opener and the following Saturday they will be at Trinity.

The home opener will be on October 5th when the Ephs host Bates at 1:00 PM.

The 2013 season will close at home on November 9th at noon when the Ephs take on Amherst for the 128th time in "The Biggest Little Game in America."

The Homecoming tilt versus Amherst will air live on The New England Sports Network (NESN). This season's finale will be the last game played on a grass surface at Weston Field as a new synthetic turf will grace the newly re-configured Weston Field Athletic Complex in the fall of 2014.

The Ephs will be striving to stop Amherst's modest two-game win streak in a series that has seen 127 previous contests and is led by Williams 71-51-5.

Looking ahead to the re-configuration of the Weston Field Athletic Complex Kelton said, "It helps recruiting when people see that you are willing to upgrade the facilities and it has also energized the kids and the staff."

"It will be great having everything all in one place instead of practicing at one end of campus and playing at the other end," Kelton concluded.

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