Football in position to repeat as NESCAC champs

The 2002 edition of the Williams football team will look to pick up where last year’s undefeated team left off. At the helm once again for the Ephs will be Head Coach Dick Farley.

Last year, the legendary Farley won his 100th game en route to securing his fifth undefeated season during his 15 years at the Ephs’ helm. His .854 winning percentage ranks him second among all current NCAA football coaches and sixth all time, and he is the winningest coach in Williams football history.

Leading Farley’s offense will be quarterback Joe Reardon ’04. After splitting time during his freshman year with Jacob Moore ’04, Reardon won the job last year in preseason camp and never looked back.

Reardon finished last year with 1721 yards passing and 13 touchdowns and was named both New England Division II/III and ECAC Northeast Division III Player of the Year.

Returning in the backfield with Reardon are tailback Mike Hackett ’04 and fullback Tyler Shea ’04.

Hackett had a productive 2001 campaign, running for over 600 yards and four touchdowns over the eight game season.

Shea, a massive 235-pound force, ran for 216 yards last year and served as a key lead blocker. He also ran for seven touchdowns as he proved an indomitable force in short yardage and goal line situations. The Ephs will count on both Hackett and Shea to supply a consistent ground game so that defenses will have more on their hands than just Reardon.

“The key to a successful offense is balance,” tri-captain Garrett DiCarlo ’03 said. “We know we have a great quarterback in Joe Reardon, but we also know we have great running backs as well. In order for our offensive line to be a complete unit, we must be able to lay the tracks for a successful running game and air attack.”

Also returning is wide receiver Ryan Friend ’03. Friend led the team last year with 563 yards and four touchdowns and will be most remembered for his clutch 23-yard reception in overtime against Amherst that put the Ephs in position to win the memorable game.

On the other side will be Jamaal Mobley ’04, who will replace the graduated Colin Brooks. While the speedy Mobley saw limited time last year, he has the potential to be another potent cog in the offensive attack.

The offensive line, anchored by tackle DiCarlo, will also return guards Justin Classen ’03 and Brian Catanella ’03. All three saw significant time last year and will be counted on to pace the running game and protect Reardon.

At center will be Dan Giardina ’04, who performed well when he played in last year’s contest against Wesleyan, while Hayden Lynch ’04 and Scott Malish ’05 will both try and earn time at the other tackle slot.

On the defensive side, the Ephs return a strong core of linemen that will serve as one of the team’s strengths.

“Our defensive line will be strong,” Farley said. “We return a lot of guys with playing experience, guys like [tri-captain Mark] Rosenthal ’03, [William] McGrath ’04, [Justin] Sullivan ’04 and [Robert] Sherwood ’03.”

The returning lineman combined last year for 32 tackles for losses and 20 sacks, led by Sherwood’s six and Rosenthal’s five. While the defensive line should be a strong point this year, there are questions about a linebacker unit that lost three crucial members. The losses of James Kingley ’02, David Ewert ’02 and Eric Bellucci ’02 take away 110 tackles from a unit that only surrendered nine touchdowns all season.

The team is counting on Jeff Goldwasser ’04, who registered 28 tackles last year, to step up and fill the void left by the three.

The coaching staff is also experimenting with and converting defensive tackle Will Gilyard ’03 to linebacker. Gilyard, who is listed at 6’2 and 235 pounds, does have good lateral quickness but will likely miss the opener due to a shoulder injury. With that in mind, it remains to be seen if the switch will play off. At the third linebacker spot will be Wesley Connors ’05, who registered 14 tackles in his rookie season.

Only half of last year’s defensive backfield returns for 2002, but the two members returning this year are stellar. Preseason All-American Johnny Kelly ’03 returns at cornerback, where he has been an Eph mainstay for the last three years. The Ephs’ best cover corner since his freshman year, Kelly intercepted four passes last year even as teams avoiding throwing at him.

Returning at safety is tri-captain Scott Farley ’03. One of the team’s best athletes, Farley picked off three passes last year and was voted to first team All-NESCAC. Farley will not be limited to just defense, as he is expected to see time with the returns unit and at wide receiver, along with his role as kicker and punter.

The graduation of hard hitting strong safety Ben Sands ’02 will deprive the Ephs of one of the most feared hitters in the NESCAC, but the team is hoping either David Rackovan ’04 or John Schneider ’04 can fill Sands’s role.

The team is also unsettled at the another cornerback position, as Ian McCormick ’03, Kellen Williams ’04 and others fight to claim the starting job.

While the team does return several key players from last year’s team, depth is a concern for the team.

“Our numbers are down to the lowest levels in my 30 years here,” Farley said. “It makes practices more difficult, as we don’t want people getting banged up. We have had to start practicing guys both ways, which is something we haven’t done in the past, in case of injuries. I think the days of us being two or three deep are gone.”

Despite key losses and a lack of depth, the Ephs still should have plenty of talent to be at the top of the NESCAC once again. However, the team knows that it will be a league-wide target because of its success last year.

“We use that as our motivation,” DiCarlo said. “Knowing that every team is looking to knock us off, that each and every game is going to be a battle – that strengthens our focus.”

The Ephs will now have one last week to prepare for their home opener, having traveled to Phillips Exeter for a situational scrimmage against Colby this past weekend.

The Eph offensive and defensive units were able to work out against counterparts from another team, an exercise that revealed the offense to be slightly behind in preparation with the start of the season looming just days away.

With situational exercises, two-minute drills, and other controlled scenarios as the criteria, the Williams defense appeared to be solid.

The season begins this Saturday against a vulnerable Bowdoin team which went 1-7 in 2001. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Weston Field.