WILLIAMSTOWN — Twelve months ago, Mark Raymond would have been preparing his St. Lawrence University football team for its fourth game of the year. Now, at Williams, he and his players are ready to have the curtain come up Saturday.
"Obviously, the players are chomping at the bit. They've been watching college football games the last three weeks and they're really excited to get going," said the first-year Eph head coach.
Williams, and the rest of NESCAC, are the final college football teams to take the field. Williams will open its 2016 season Saturday at 1 p.m., when Colby comes to visit.
Three of Williams' first four games, as per the NESCAC schedule rotation, are at home. After Saturday's game with Colby, the Ephs will host Trinity and then travel to Bates, before coming home to play Middlebury.
This year's Little Three competition starts at Farley-Lamb Field against Wesleyan before the Ephs head to Pratt Field to close the season at Amherst.
"The seniors are going to lead the way," said Raymond, referring to the 13 seniors on the Williams roster. "They have really bought into the changes."
The changes are many. Not only will Williams do things differently, the players are hearing the changes from different voices. Only Kyle Smesko is a returning assistant, and he is now coaching running backs after being the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach last season.
Alex Smith is the offensive coordinator while Raymond will coordinate the defense. Tom Blumenauer is the new offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, while Ramon Mignott will coach linebackers and assist Blumenauer in recruiting. Leondre Simmon is the new defensive backs coach. Blumenauer and Smith worked and played for Raymond, while Mignott and Simmon played at St. Lawrence.
Former Eph defensive lineman Tom Foote, an assistant wrestling coach at Williams, will coach the defensive line. Matt Nazarian comes to Williams from Trinity to coach the wide receivers and tight ends.
Williams finished 2-6 for the third year in a row last fall. If fans are looking for a good omen, Raymond's former team is 3-0 and has pitched three shutouts.
There are 20 freshmen, or first-years, on the roster.
"We'll have a couple for sure," getting right into the action, said Raymond. "I think there are a couple of guys out there that have a chance, as long as they can learn and function in our system."
Williams graduated two quarterbacks, Austin Lommen and Mark Pomella. They were the only two who took snaps last year. That means whoever starts on Saturday will take his first varsity snap under center.
Sophomore Jaelon Moaney or freshman Jansen Durham are the two finalists in the preseason battle for the quarterback job. Moaney was a receiver-defensive back as a freshman. Both Moaney and Durham were four-year starters at quarterback in high school.
"The guys have been competing," Raymond said on Monday after the meeting of the Williams Sideline Quarterbacks Club. "I think the next couple of days, we'll have this nailed down."
Both quarterbacks played high-school ball in Maryland. Moaney played at Easton High School while Durham was at the McDonough School.
"They both bring some different skills," the coach said. "Obviously, Jaelon is a little more seasoned. Jansen is a young guy. They both throw the ball. They're both good leaders and they're getting better command of the offense every day.
"If you have two guys who can run the show, it's better than none. You'd like to be able to stay consistent and get someone nailed down, but if that doesn't happen for a while, we'll be OK."
Of the skill positions on offense, only at running back are the Ephs experienced. Junior Connor Harris will play tailback and sophomore Noah Sorrento will be the fullback.
The offensive line is anchored by center Ben Wertz, a three-year starter. One of the interesting moves on offense is the conversion of Tom Cifrino from fullback to offensive tackle. Under the old offense, he was primarily a blocker. Cifrino has put on a lot of weight and seems to be taking to the new position.
"We still want to be a physical, tough, balanced football team that takes care of the football," Raymond said. "That won't change."
Raymond may have installed some different schemes for the Ephs on defense, but Williams will still be running a base 4-3 defense.
"We'll see" if defense is going to be a strong point, said Raymond. "We have some good guys, who have worked hard. We certainly have more experience on that side of the ball."
Last year's leading tackler, safety Alex Brandeis, returns for his senior year. Linebacker Michael Berry, now a junior, was third on the team last year while senior linebacker Russell Monyette was the No. 5 tackler. Berry, Monyette and senior Justin Harris will play linebacker. Berry is the middle backer.
Chris Hattar and Sam Gowen, both juniors, anchor the middle of the defensive line. They had a combined 49 tackles, and Gowen had two sacks. Sophomores Jameson DeMarco and Austin Thomas will play end. DeMarco stands 6-foot-4, and might be a real pass rush threat.
Adam Regensburg, a starting wide receiver, will also handle punting and placekicking this year.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.