Williams football begins practice under first-year head coach


WILLIAMSTOWN >> On a quiet Wednesday afternoon, the whistle could be heard everywhere. So could the words "every drill is full speed."

That's how the first day of practice went for the Williams College football team, and it's first full practice under new coach Mark Raymond, who said he was more than ready to get started.

"Nerves, no. Anxious, absolutely," said Raymond. "We've had a long summer, so we were just anxious to get going. I was ready to coach these guys. No nerves, just excitement."

And to a certain extent, it was a longer summer than he was used to. Raymond, who took the Williams job in February, had been the head coach at Division III St. Lawrence. The Saints actually play their first game today. That, along with the massive number of Division I games this weekend, are things Raymond is very aware of.

"The nights are getting cooler and when you start seeing it on TV, we've been ready to go," he said.

Raymond replaced Aaron Kelton as the Williams head football coach this winter, and is trying to bring the Ephs back from three consecutive 2-6 seasons.

The first day turned out to be a quick three hours. The players were in helmets and practice jerseys. While there wasn't going to be a full contact drill until the weekend, there was some contact. Offenses and defenses ran plays. Coaches sent in plays from the sidelines, and the occasional running back got hit by a defender.

"I'm very pleased with the way these guys came into training camp," said Raymond. "They came in focused, they came in prepared, and I like their work ethic right now."

The Eph players, offense decked out in white tops, defense in blue and quarterbacks in red, were as ready to get started as the coaching staff was.

"The anticipation has been a big buildup," defensive tackle Chris Hattar said after the first full practice. "All the guys have been talking about it all summer.

"We've wanted to be out here for so long. It's great to finally touch the field, be together and get to work."

Williams will be practicing until Saturday, Sept. 24, when the Ephs open the season at Farley-Lamb Field against Colby. The Ephs haven't played the Mules since losing in Waterville, Maine in 2013. The last time Williams beat Colby was 2012, when the Ephs scored a 41-7 win at Weston Field.

Not only is Raymond getting used to his team, the players are getting used to the new coaching staff. Only assistant Kyle Smesko is back from Kelton's last Williams staff. Offensive coordinator Alex Smith was Raymond's offensive coordinator at St. Lawrence, while Tom Blumenauer once worked with Raymond at St. Lawrence, but came to Williams following stints at Endicott and Bowdoin.

There are a number of questions facing Raymond looking ahead to 2016. The Ephs graduated six starters from the offense and four from the defense. That group included a pair of All-NESCAC second-teamers — wide receiver Darrias Sime and safety Elijah Eaton.

But the biggest question mark comes on offense, where starting quarterback Austin Lommen and backup Mark Pomella graduated in June. Of the five guys in red at practice, there are no seniors, there are two freshmen and sophomore Amyhr Barber — who started at corner in the 2015 season finale against Amherst — is now a quarterback. It is a position Barber is familiar with, as he played it in high school.

"We hope they're all ready to compete," said the coach. "They've all prepared very hard. We have a couple of competitions with our two scrimmages, and I don't think it'll be determined until after that second scrimmage."

The Ephs will scrimmage Little Three rival Amherst on Saturday, Sept. 17, which follows an intrasquad scrimmage.

Raymond, who was the St. Lawrence head coach for six seasons, has been in the coaching profession for more than 20 years. He said this is one of the first times where he has to find a quarterback from scratch.

"I don't think so. I think this is the first," he said. "Those are unknowns. You don't really know. You can watch kids on film in the off-season but you don't really know what you've got until the lights are on.

"We're going to try to put these guys in as many tough situations as we can and see how they react."

Hattar, who had 24 tackles last year, was a member of the committee that was involved in the selection of a new coach. He said that there wasn't much staying awake thinking about the first practice because they were all tired from the opening day conditioning drills on Tuesday.

"The pressure to jell is always there. You're always thinking 'We don't have enough time,'" Hattar said. "We have meetings all the time. We're always together, we're always thinking about football and we're always talking about football.

"Although, we were pretty anxious to get on the field and we're watching these other teams, when we get out here, it's like we've been out here for weeks."

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.


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