Just one week into the 2012 season, William and Mary finds itself in the familiar position of not knowing who will start at quarterback.
Head coach Jimmye Laycock ruled out one of the top three candidates Tuesday. Junior Brent Caprio, sidelined by a shoulder injury he suffered early in the Tribe’s 7-6 loss to Maryland last Saturday, will not play against Lafayette, his status beyond that is unknown. With Caprio gone, the College will turn to either redshirt sophomore Raphael Ortiz or junior Michael Graham, who himself is just getting back from a preseason ankle injury. Ortiz got his chance to audition for the starting role Saturday, when he went 7 of 16 for 100 yards. Graham got to make his case last season, when he was probably the Tribe’s most consistent signal-caller.
“It’s just like what we told our quarterbacks in preseason, that we want them all to think of themselves as starting quarterbacks,” Laycock said.
But Graham and Ortiz bring two distinct styles to the offense. Ortiz, who saw his first significant game action for the College at Maryland, is more mobile while Graham, the more experienced of the two, tends to stay in the pocket.
“Sometimes [Ortiz] gets out of the pocket before he should. … He’s a pretty strong runner,” Laycock said. “He gives you a bit of an unpredictable dimension in there; sometimes that’s good, and sometime’s that’s not good. But I think as far as making checks or calls at the line and reading the defenses, Mike’s probably further along with that because of his experience.”
Laycock said that regardless of who gets the start, the gameplan will be virtually the same, which most likely means a heavy reliance on the three half backs that saw action in week one: senior Meltoya Jones, redshirt sophomore Keith McBride and redshirt freshman Mikal Abdul-Saboor. For Jones, it’s been a long wait to finally get significant game action. The Hampton-native spent his first three years behind all-time Tribe great Jonathan Grimes, who graduated in May.
“I had a good time watching Grimes run the ball, me and him are pretty good friends, but it feels really good to be out there finally on the field, playing with the other guys being a part of that struggle, that battle out there,” Jones said. “Because really that’s what we’re all here for, to play.”
Sitting behind a great back like Grimes certainly has its advantages, but Jones said it wasn’t quite a mentor-mentee situation.
“We kind of learned from each other. He of course had his strengths, I have my strengths. … I admire the way he ran the ball, how tough he ran, how tough he was,” Jones said.
Now with Grimes gone, the senior says the three new backs collectively filling his shoes all bring different advantages to the table.
“I’m the older guy, so I know the offense a little better,” Jones said. “Keith has a little more of a height advantage, and he’s a speed guy, too. Saboor has a little more size; he’s thicker, so he’s a little tougher to take down.”
On the other side of the ball, the College’s defense is looking to build on a sterling performance at Maryland, where it held the Terrapins to just seven points while forcing four turnovers. What makes the defense’s showing even more impressive is that two of its players were making their first-career starts, and both made an impact. Redshirt freshman linebacker Luke Rhodes, stepping in for senior linebacker Dante Cook, led the team with 11 tackles. In the secondary, redshirt freshman DeAndre Houston-Carson notched his first career interception.
“We prepared a lot for it, and I think that really showed when we got on the field,” sophomore defensive lineman Stephen Sinnott, who recovered a fumble against the Terrapins, said. “Luke Rhodes really stepped up at mike [linebacker]. He knew the gameplan in and out, and he got everyone set on the field.”
But if playing Maryland comes with the challenges of taking on an FBS program, squaring off with Lafayette will pose the challenge of playing a completely unfamiliar opponent. Despite having a long-running football program like the College, the Leopards have never taken on the Tribe.
From what Sinnott has seen, though, Lafayette’s offense doesn’t appear to be much different from the Tribe’s.
“We’re expecting them to try to run the ball on us,” Sinnott said. “That’s been their strength in the past. They have a good running back, and they have a big offensive line, so our game plan as of now is to try to stop the run and make them pass against us.”