Feb 28, 2013, 8:38 AM EDT
Editor’s Note: Over the three weeks following National Signing Day, we will talk with local journalists and bloggers covering our 11 schools to get their take on the teams that they cover. Each day will be devoted to a different program. Today we wrap up the series by talking with Mike Barnes of William and Mary’s student newspaper, The Flat Hat, about the Tribe.
What are your general impressions of this year’s signing class?
I thought it was a very good class. It’s a smaller group than most others in the conference, but I thought they did a good job of targeting needs and tailoring their class to fit them.
Tribe head coach Jimmye Laycock offered a brief statement on the class as part of the school’s news release, but can you give us some additional insight into his thoughts on the class?
I’m sure he’s happy with the class. It was a good group. Like you mentioned, he released a short statement in which he said that he thought they did a good job of identifying their needs. He was happy that they got so many offensive linemen. That was one area that they really focused on.
The other thing that he mentioned was the versatility of the group. If you know anything about him, versatility is a big thing. They’ll recruit for various positions of course, but they also look at athletes who they feel they can possibly change into other things. This is especially true on on offense, where they’ll change quarterbacks to running backs and wide receivers. There’s a whole list of great players here who have been converted into a different position than they originally played. I think he has a couple of those guys who have the potential to do that in this class.
What impresses you most about this year’s class?
I would have to say the balance. Normally the program’s classes skew towards offense or defense, but this one was very even. They got three offensive linemen, four skill guys, three defensive backs and two linebackers. I thought it was a nice mix of size as well. They got some big wide receivers because they currently have some shorter, speedier receivers. The size of the offensive line has been a big thing missing down here, so that definitely stood out, too.
As we’ve noted, this year’s signing class is comprised of 12 players, representing one of the league’s smaller classes. What factors played into the smaller size of the class?
I went back and looked at their last couple classes, and they’re slightly bigger. Two big factors play into this. The first is if you look at their roster right now, it’s very sophomore and redshirt freshman heavy. They have 26 redshirt freshman coming in this year, which is obviously a ton. So they already have a very young group and probably didn’t have a lot of space left on the team.
Another reason is that this program relies heavily on walk-ons. So 12 is the official number that they’ve announced, but they’ll have five, six or seven more coming in as well. We’ve seen about six or seven guys on Twitter who say they’ve been offered a preferred walk-on spot and will be joining the team next year. There has been a long list of players here who have been walk-ons and become starters, including Adrian Tracy who is now with the New York Giants. Producing walk-ons who can contribute is a Coach Laycock signature.
What particular holes was the staff looking to fill with this year’s signing class, and how successful were they in accomplishing this?
One big strength of the program has been its pass defense, and defensive backs in particular. You had two really good ones graduate this past year in B.W. Webb and Brian Thompson. They have a couple other guys on the depth chart who haven’t started and can now play, but that was a huge need. So they’ve picked up three defensive backs, including a couple local guys.
Another hole that they were looking to fill was at running back. After Jonathan Grimes left here a year ago, it’s been a platoon type position. It looks like they’ve got a good guy in Jonathan Dunn coming in from Springfield, Va.
They also signed two big 6’1” wide receivers in Jesse Santiago and Keanu Reuben. Wide receiver has been thin here lately, so they’re basically trying to replenish that and a number of other areas when it comes to the skill positions.
At first glance, how do you think W&M’s class stacks up to others of years past?
I looked into it and last year’s class was very lineman heavy. They got six linemen and the main focus of that class was defense oriented. In 2011 it was more offense oriented. That class was a big one and is honestly one of the best classes I’ve seen here. You have a bunch of starters and contributors who came in with that class – Keith McBride, Tre McBride, Mikal Abdul-Saboor. You had Luke Rhodes and DeAndre Houston-Carson who are now starters on defense coming out of that class as well.
So compared to the last two classes that were more at one end of the spectrum, this 2013 class was very even. It was a good mix of offense and defense.
Who in this year’s signing class stands out to you?
I think the most intriguing name is quarterback Jhalil Mosley. The quarterback situation is interesting here. They started three quarterbacks last year and it’s been hard to keep them healthy. Quarterback has been the biggest question mark on the team over the past two years. And the interesting thing about Mosley is that he’s a dual threat, which is different than what they’re used to down here – a more bootleg system. Coach Laycock has had a pretty set offensive attack, so it’ll be interesting to see how they mix it up with this new quarterback.
We’ll see where he fits in with the other quarterbacks – Brent Caprio, Michael Graham and Rafael Ortiz. They also have two quarterbacks they brought in with the 2012 class, Christian Brumbaugh and Steve Cluley. So I go back to the fact that Coach Laycock likes to convert players. I saw an interview somewhere recently where Mosley said he’d be interested in playing a different position. If he’s as athletic as he appears, he may switch to running back or wide receiver.
As I mentioned before, William and Mary has been a proven place for developing defensive backs with the likes of Darren Sharper, Derek Cox and B.W. Webb coming out of here. I also read somewhere that when Keanu Reuben came on a visit, he really enjoyed his time with B.W. Webb, which was a big reason he ultimately decided to come here.
I think Dunn also has the ability to be a really good running back. It looked like Chris Durant, one of the offensive linemen, was pretty highly recruited as well. Like Mosley, I believe he was another one that decided on William and Mary over James Madison.
Virginia has always been a boon when it comes to football talent. With eight Virginians in this year’s class, the Tribe clearly faired very well in recruiting in-state talent. Has this traditionally been the case for the program?
To my knowledge it’s actually somewhat of a surprise that there are so many Virginia kids in this year’s class. Traditionally this program recruits in the Northeast and gets a lot of kids from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Maybe half of a given class will come from the Virginia area, but not nearly as high a percentage as this year’s group. I think it’s a good trend, but to me it was surprising.
As a university, William and Mary is somewhat unique among its CAA Football counterparts in that it’s a smaller school and is also widely known for its academic reputation. What kind of role does the school’s size and academics play in recruiting there?
I think they’re selling a different kind of experience here. Not only are they selling the success and stability of the program in terms of its coaching staff, but academics is also a big factor. In some cases, when someone is trying to decide on offers from different schools, the strong academics here can be a differentiating factor. I’ve spoken to many athletes here who have commented on choosing William and Mary over other schools because of the academics. It changes who you recruit and where you recruit, which is why I think they’ve been so present in the Northeast. On the whole, I think they’re able to sell it as something very positive.
The Tribe is only two seasons removed from back-to-back playoff appearances, including a berth in the 2009 FCS Semifinals. How has this success changed people’s expectations for the program?
I think it has. If you look back over the last decade, the teams were pretty consistent and were always around .500 or better. They won an A-10 Championship and advanced to the national semifinals in 2004 and were then pretty quiet until the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Those were two huge seasons back to back. They went to the semifinals again in ’09 and made a lot of noise in 2010 as well.
The following year, William and Mary was picked number one in several preseason polls and that was really supposed to be the year. It obviously didn’t work out that way, which was disappointing for the fans, who have really raised their expectations since those two consecutive years making the playoffs.
So while it hasn’t worked out these past couple of years, the expectations are definitely still there. They know what this program is capable of now.
The 2012 season was a rough one for the Tribe after the team finished with a 2-9 record and winning just one game in conference play. What was the sentiment in and around the Tribe community coming out of the season?
There was the obvious disappointment. After the first losing season in 2011, it was tough for fans to see programs like Richmond and Villanova bounce back from there own tough 2011 seasons. But to have two of those years in a row was disappointing for the fans.
And I don’t think people were clamoring for any changes by any means, but it was a bit of surprise that the offensive coordinator, Zbig Kepa, stepped down after the season because he was here for nearly three decades. That was an interesting change following the season.
You mentioned Richmond and Villanova having resurgent seasons in 2012. How much pressure is there for W&M to return to the level of success it had several years ago?
I think there’s a certain amount of pressure this year. I think the quarterback situation is going to be a huge storyline, but I’m sure Coach Laycock will have some tricks up his sleeve and maybe do something new at quarterback this year.
As far as the fans go, after seeing Richmond and Villanova rebound so quickly this year, they’ve seen several strong recruiting classes come through here now and feel like there’s a lot of promise. I just think they’re looking for something new, especially on offense.
Do you have a sense of the community’s expectations for the program in 2013?
Older fans are probably expecting the traditional Laycock to come back when he was known as a bit of a tricky play caller in the 80s and 90s after first arriving here. The offense has certainly had its struggles this year, so I think there’s been some clamoring for a different approach to there. That will likely happen now with the opening at coordinator. They tend to focus more on the offense here because they’ve had such a strong offensive tradition over the years.
I know it’s early, but given your insight into the program, what do you think we can anticipate from the Tribe this fall?
No one really knows what to expect on the offensive side of the ball since they have yet to hire their new offensive coordinator. I think a lot of it depends on what happens at quarterback though. And the three quarterbacks who started this past year all do different things: Ortiz is more of a run guy, Graham is more of a pocket passer and Caprio is a mix of both. So expectations may be a bit more defined after we see who comes out of the quarterback competition, which traditionally hasn’t been decided until the week leading up to the season.
When it comes to the skill positions, and especially at running back and wide receiver, they are fairly solid and should be set for the fall. They’re in good shape there.
On the defensive side of the ball, I think it’s going to be a good group. It’ll be a matter of improving the run defense and getting off the field. William and Mary was in the middle of the pack when it came to defensive statistics in the CAA with the exception of third downs after letting a lot of teams convert third downs. Having issues with run defense also allowed the clock to run down, which was a problem in the beginning of the season.
So I think a lot hinges on the quarterback and an improved run defense. In terms of special teams, they’ll really need to figure out their kicker situation this year as well.
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