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Home Field Advantage: Optimism emerges despite 4-7 finish

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December 5, 2007

10:39 PM

It’s easy for Tribe fans to look at the football team’s 4-7 finish and be discouraged, and with good reason.

p. This is a storied football program that has been tremendously successful in the past, most recently in 2004 with its run to the national semifinals. However, it is also important to take a look at some of the circumstances surrounding this year’s disappointing finish.

p. For starters, the College was completely ravaged by injuries this season. Senior wideout Joe Nicholas, who is in the top 10 of almost every Tribe career receiving category, missed most of the season with a knee injury. Also injured were junior receiver D.J. McAulay, a speedster who dominated defensive backs in the season-opener against Delaware, junior tailback DeBrian Holmes and linebacker Michael Pigram.

p. Another factor in this season’s end result is the College’s schedule. Of the team’s seven losses, one was against a team that will be playing in a BCS bowl game (Virginia Tech), four were against FCS playoff teams (Delaware, UMass, JMU and Richmond — Delaware and Richmond have both advanced to this weekend’s semifinal round) and the final two were against teams who spent a good portion of the season in the FCS top 25 (Villanova and Hofstra).

p. The defense undoubtedly needs significant improvement, as the Tribe finished last in the CAA in scoring defense, allowing nearly 40 points per game. They will have the opportunity to do so next year, as they return 10 of 11 defensive starters. Head Coach Jimmye Laycock is quick to point out, however, that an extra year of experience doesn’t necessarily equate to improvement on the field.

p. “That’s what I try to get across to the players. Just because you go to the weight room doesn’t make you stronger,” Laycock said. “Just because you get older doesn’t make you better.”

p. The offense has a lot to look forward to next year as well, as they will be returning junior quarterback Jake Phillips, who has emerged as one of the CAA’s elite signal-callers this season. Holmes, who was running with tremendous burst and power before being injured this season, will be back as the primary running threat (if he is able to get past his legal trouble from this weekend, see page 1), and the receiving corps will be in good shape with McAulay and junior Elliot Mack, who emerged as a big-play threat this season.

p. There’s been a lot of talk this season about the dominance of the CAA as the premier conference in the FCS. There is a trend, some say, toward CAA schools lowering their academic standards and loading up on transfer student-athletes from FBS schools.

p. I thought of these claims at the postgame press conference of a recent home game against a CAA opponent, as I was struck by the inarticulacy and thoughtlessness of the responses by two of the opposing team’s players. The two young men were friendly enough, but were less than respectful of their opponents and were far less well-spoken than one would expect from students of an academic institution of its reputation.

p. When Mack and sophomore safety David Caldwell came into the press conference, however, it was like night and day. Despite having just suffered a huge defeat, the two players were respectful, well-spoken and thoughtful in their responses.

p. “All we know is what Coach Laycock instills in us, and that’s to be respectful, win or lose,” Mack said.

p. Having a team that represents its school well is something not to be taken for granted, and ultimately is something that is far more important than wins and losses.

p. That being said, nobody wants another 4-7 season. And if the CAA continues to go the way it’s headed with its football teams, then there might come a time when the College should consider moving to another football conference.

p. However, if the team lives up to its potential next season, the only move the Tribe should be making is back into the upper echelon of the CAA.

p. __E-mail Jeff Dooley at [email protected]__

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