WILLIAMSTOWN -- The last college football players in America to play a game will do so on Saturday. It's time.
Williams and the rest of NESCAC are the last football teams to report for training camp and when the Ephs play Colby on Saturday afternoon in Waterville, Maine., coach Aaron Kelton and his team will be among the last starters for 2013. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
"I would have loved to be two weeks in right now, or three like most of the country," Kelton said. "It is what it is. We know what we signed up for.
"I'm anxious for my guys. I'm really looking forward to my team. I think we have a good club."
The Ephs are coming off what was, for its fan base, a disappointing 4-4 season in 2012. Williams did, however, win three of its last four games before dropping the season finale at Amherst.
The biggest change for the Ephs comes on the coaching side. Defensive coordinator George McCormack is on sabbatical for the fall. That means Marshall Creighton comes over from the offensive side of the ball as the defensive coordinator. But Kelton, who was defensive coordinator at Columbia before coming to Williamstown, will call defenses.
"It takes more time [now]. My time is extremely precious and I'm home a lot later than I was," the fourth-year head coach said. "I'm still very involved in every aspect of the program."
Williams had its 24-year streak of winning seasons end last year at 24, but the Ephs had a 4-4 season in 1987, to give them a 26-year non-losing season streak.
The Williams mentor said that his team is "light years" better than it was when the 2012 season ended on Pratt Field in Amherst.
"I'll go all the way back to last fall. There were some guys who really stepped up and did a great job in the offseason in the weight room," said Kelton. "They're better football players. They're dedicated football players. They're guys who want to have a lot of success."
Twelve months ago, Adam Marske won the quarterback job and was 22 of 27 for 277 yards and 3 touchdowns in last year's opening win against Colby. In his next four games, the senior quarterback completed 39 games, and was replaced by junior Tom Murphy.
"[Marske has] done a great job all preseason leading the team," said Kelton. "We tell the guys you don't have to win the game. You have to manage the game. When we need you to make the throws, you make the throws.
"He's been able to do that."
Kelton said he's also confident that Murphy and sophomore Mark Pomella could step in and do the job.
That's the only place on offense where the Ephs aren't particularly deep. The Ephs return four of the top five runners from last year, and that group is led by senior Alex Scyocurka.
The senior from Longmeadow ran for 418 net yards on 79 carries and averaged 5.3 yards per carry before being injured and missing half the season. Seniors Kristian Lapointe and Marco Hernandez will back up Scyocurka. Qadir Forbes returns from an injury and is the starting fullback.
The Ephs are also deep at receiver. Listed as starters are Bill Griffin and Williamstown's Greg Payton, who had six catches between them last year. All of them belonged to Payton, who averaged a team-high 31.2 yards per catch. Griffin returns after taking a couple of seasons off.
There are no seniors on the offensive line. Junior Alan Felix anchors the unit at center. Three sophomores -- Matt Jewitt, Charlie Grossnickle and Pat McLaughlin -- all had experience last year.
Joe Mallock is on the Fred Mitchell Award watch list as the nation's top placekicker. He was 11 of 18 on field goals and missed only 2 of 17 point-after kicks.
With Kelton and Creighton running the Williams defense this year, don't expect to see any kind of radical changes.
"We'll do a couple of different things in terms of our fronts and some of the blitzes we run," Kelton said. "We're a 4-3 base defense."
The top three tacklers from last year are not back and two of them, Chris Cameron and Emmanuel Whyte, were linebackers.
But in NESCAC, Williams is "Linebacker U," and Kelton said that the Ephs may be young there, but they are pretty deep.
Junior Tony Blanco was fourth on the team with 50 tackles, and he'll return at the Will linebacker position. Sophomore James O'Grady starts in the middle while sophomore James Howe is the Sam linebacker. Kelton said there are six linebackers who he says "can really play," and they'll all see time.
Defensive ends Mike Flynn and James Howe and tackle Ernest Higgenbotham are returning starters. Higgenbotham is a senior, Flynn a junior and Howe a sophomore. Junior Adam Datema is the other starting tackle, and Kelton said those behind them are "relatively green."
In the secondary, starters Tom Cabarle and Nate Saffold return to their safety and corner posts, respectively, Andre LaFontant is moving from corner to safety and Josh Heimkemp will start at the other corner.
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