Williams football coach Mark Raymond sees a fall season that is 'quite different'

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WILLIAMSTOWN — In a normal year, Williams College football coach Mark Raymond and his staff would have welcomed the members of the 2020 team to school and would have started practice last weekend.

Instead, some of the projected senior starters for the Ephs elected to take the fall semester off so they could return to play in 2021. Many other players joined their fellow students and have arrived on campus.

"It's quite different," Raymond said. "Guys would be coming in this Saturday, that would be the opening day of training camp. As a coaching staff, we would have been in for the last two weeks doing our preparation. It's been very different for us. We've spent a lot more time recruiting right now than actually getting ready for training.

"It's a different focus than usual."

This marks the start of Raymond's fifth school year at Williams. The 2019 Ephs are coming off a 7-2 record, which included a six-game winning streak, an overtime loss at Wesleyan and a 31-9 season-ending win over Amherst — a game where the Ephs shut the Mammoths out in the second half.

Fall sports teams at Williams, and other NESCAC schools, were the last teams to completely get through their complete regular-season and postseason calendars. Winter sports teams completed regular seasons but not their postseason schedules, while spring sports were stopped in their tracks.

Williams was slated to begin 2020 having lost 12 seniors to graduation, three of them first-team, All-NESCAC players. Two of those first-team picks were on defense in linebacker Luke Apuzzi and defensive back Ben Anthony. The other first-team graduate was tight end Kyle Horihan. Defensive lineman Oscar Unobsky was a second-team selection, and he graduated as well.

Raymond and his staff had to be feeling optimistic because, based on the final list of starters in the Amherst pregame notes package, 16 of the 22 starters from that game were due to be back. That included three first-team All-NESCAC picks and four more second-team selections.

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"We tried to just keep the momentum" going, the coach said. "The kids have worked really hard, and we're in a really good spot as a team. I know the coaching staff and players have worked hard to maintain that, whether it's going online or through Zoom meetings and phone calls. Trying to keep as much close contact with our current players as we possibly can, to keep the team concept together."

To say this has been an unusual offseason might be an understatement. Raymond and members of his staff are usually out on the road in the early summer, going to prospect camps to recruit future Ephs. In addition, three one-day camps that Raymond and the Williams staff run at Farley-Lamb Field were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Two main things. We haven't been able to evaluate student-athletes as we typically do in the summertime, go out to see them at camps or getting on our campus for camps. That's been the biggest thing," Raymond said. "We're trying to evaluate kids on their junior film. Add to that, we probably won't have any senior film to evaluate them on. The evaluation process has been a little bit different, not being able to get kids onto our campus, which is a great selling point for us. Kids can come here and meet people, and see what Williams is all about."

While not seeing some video might not help the Ephs coaching staff with their evaluation, the fact that full games are up on the web can help.

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"We've been able to spend more time watching more film on kids, and we've been able to cross-reference more as a staff too," he said, "in more of a team approach to evaluation and recruiting. It has had some advantages. We have had more time to do it."

The NCAA's Board of Governor's voted last month to allow athletes at Williams, and other Division III schools the same opportunity as the Division I athletes to get an additional year of eligibility.

"All fall sport student-athletes will receive both an additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it," the NCAA said in a release. "Student-athletes who do not enroll full time during the 2020 fall term have flexibility in the progress-toward-degree requirements that must be met for eligibility in future terms."

Williams had already seen some football players take the fall semester off in order to be eligible to play as seniors in 2021. Quarterback Bobby Maimaron is one of many Ephs who won't return here until the second semester.

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Raymond and his staff already have at least seven recruits who have begun the admission process to come to Williams for 2021. When you add to that the current class of first-year players coming to Williamstown and the fact that fall sport student-athletes will get that extra year of eligibility and an extra year to complete that year, there might not be enough uniforms for all the players.

"We're trying to manage [the roster] on the front end as a school, because the school doesn't want enrollment numbers to get out of whack either," Raymond said. "We're trying to do the best we can with that. In addition, there may be a roster limit, maybe relaxed for a year, just for everybody to get on track, too.

"There are a few things that schools and the conference are trying to do to mitigate that. We're going to have to get through the fall here, and see how the numbers really shake out."

One thing, the Williams football coach said not to expect at this time is spring football. Some Division I-FCS leagues have already announced that they will play a spring schedule, while the Division I-FBS University of Massachusetts — when it announced that there would not be fall football — did say it would look into playing some kind of spring schedule.

Raymond said that NESCAC schools would bite off more than they could chew by playing spring football.

"It has been brought up," he said. "It's a little bit too tough for schools from a resource part of things, on facilities, game management people, trainers. If you're trying to run essentially winter sports and spring sports and fall sports together, it would be kind of hard.

"And how wise is it to have a season finish in May and then start up again in August? There are a lot of unknowns there."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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