Most at the College thought they had seen the last of R.J. Archer on a frigid December night in West Philadelphia. There, the senior quarterback crafted a dramatic ending to his football career, dueling eventual national champion Villanova to the wire before falling 14-13 in a nationally televised FCS semifinal game.
The end result notwithstanding, Hollywood couldn’t script a better way to go out — Archer capped his final season by throwing for 239 yards and a touchdown, with the score coming on a 98-yard bomb that would become the longest play in FCS postseason history.
Except Archer had other ideas. After exhausting his NCAA eligibility on the gridiron, the senior will suit up once again for the Tribe, this time as a relief pitcher for the baseball team.
“It was something I was thinking about for a while,” Archer said. “I just wanted to see if it was a possibility.”
After getting a nod of approval from Head Coach Frank Leoni in a brief tryout last month, the senior will get that chance, ascending the mound for the Tribe as the squad’s new number 27 this spring.
“We’re definitely happy to have him,” Leoni said. “I think he has potential, he’s obviously a great athlete. We’re hopeful that he can get himself into shape and contribute.”
A standout pitcher in high school, Archer chose to pursue a collegiate football scholarship despite a senior year in which he posted a 7-3 record with a 2.05 ERA and 63 strikeouts. Receiving more attention as a quarterback, Archer signed with the College in 2005 to play football for Head Coach Jimmye Laycock.
The Albemarle High School product switched to wideout where he played his redshirt freshman and sophomore years, before assuming the starting quarterback job for his senior season. He led the Tribe to an 11-3 record – tied for the most wins in school history – and the program’s second appearance in the national semifinals.
But along the way, he never got baseball out of his mind.
“I knew while I was playing football it wasn’t an option,” Archer said. “But I always thought maybe my fifth year, if I was still healthy, I might give it a try.”
When that time came, the senior approached Leoni about a tryout just days after the College’s season ended against Villanova. The coach expressed interest, and Archer spent time on the mound over winter break, working slowly back into baseball shape, while gauging the reaction of his arm to repeated throwing. When he felt healthy, Archer returned to Williamsburg and received the coach’s final seal of approval in a short January bullpen session in.
“This has been my first glimpse at him, and he’s had some good moments, he’s had some bad moments,” Leoni said. “He’s rusty, he hasn’t played baseball in a long time. We’re keeping the expectations reasonable and realistic, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Currently, Archer is throwing a mid-80’s fastball with an off-speed breaking ball. That velocity is expected to jump as the semester wears on and he rounds into baseball shape.
“He’s trying to get the feel for pitching again,” Leoni said. “He’s almost like a freshman, he’s starting from square one. We just try to get him progressing at a faster rate, because he’s on a short clock.”
The senior is encouraged by his progress, while cognizant of the substantial learning curve he must ascend.
“Every day it gets a little bit better, location and stuff like that,” Archer said. “If you can locate your fastball, you’ll be alright, so I’m working a lot on hitting spots right now.”
Meanwhile, Archer must balance his pitching development with preparations for the upcoming NFL season. The senior has received interest from pro scouts as a quarterback, and will showcase his ability at the College’s Pro Day in late March.
“I’m working out on my own, just speed and quickness stuff for the Pro Day,” he said. “I’ll see what happens with that and then see how baseball comes. See if there’s a possibility [to go pro] in either of them at the end of the year.”
In the long term, he’s keeping his options open. But for now, Archer is squarely focused on one goal.
“He didn’t come to play so he could sit on the bench and be a cheerleader. He came to pitch,” Leoni said.