Football in quest of third straight NESCAC crown

Certain things have become autumn traditions at Williams College. Every year President Schapiro tells the incoming first-year class that they are the smartest yet, the Convocation ceremony provides everyone with a random barbeque and Head Coach Dick Farley leads the Williams football team to the top of the NESCAC. Last year was no exception, nor was the year before that.

Riding the strength of an undefeated season, Farley’s team prevailed in their first seven games. However, the 45-35 defeat at Amherst ruined chances for consecutive undefeated seasons and put a damper on the postseason.

With those memories still fresh, the coaching staff returns for the 2003 season with a mix of proven veterans and a heap of question marks at the skill positions. The most significant returnee for the Ephmen is unquestionably co-captain Joe Reardon ’04. The two-time NESCAC Offensive Player of the Year, has compiled an outstanding 15-1 record as a full time starter over the last two years, while shredding opposing secondaries for 4,245 yards over his three seasons. However, a hand injury has plagued Reardon for much of preseason and kept him on the sidelines for last weekend’s scrimmage against Tufts, leaving the team in the hands of backup Mike McCarthy ’06.

When Reardon does return, he will join an experienced backfield that returns all three key contributors from last season. Splitting time at tailback again this season will be the duo of Mike Hackett ’04 and Tim Crawley ’05.

Both players saw significant time last year and provided the staff with the solid combination of an inside force, Hackett, and a breakaway threat, Crawley. Easily filling the fullback position for the fourth straight year will be Tyler Shea ’04. The senior fullback again will be the Ephs’ first option in short yard situations, along with providing critical blocking for his backfield mates.

While the backfield will be a strength, the wide receiver core provides few certainties coming into the season. With the graduation of Ryan Friend ’03, Jamaal Mobley ’04 will become Reardon’s number one receiver. Mobley was a valuable asset to the offensive last year, catching 42 passes and will be leaned on even more this season.

While Mobley is a proven commodity, the rest of the corps combined for only two catches last season. Players such as Matt Dahlman ’04, CJ Bowker ’04 and former cornerback Kellen Williams ’04 will be counted on to take pressure off Mobley and the running game.

In the trenches, the Ephs return a senior left side, consisting of tackle Hayden Lynch ’04, guard Brian Cantellea ’04 and center Dan Giardina ’04, all of who started last season. The loss of all NESAC lineman Justin Classen ’03 and Garrett DiCarlo ’03, however, create two very large openings on the right side. At tight end, Mike Rabiner ’04 and Jon Siff ’05 both return.

On the defensive side, the front seven should be as strong as any in the NESCAC. Leading this group will be a strong unit up the middle led by co-captain Graham Goldwasser ’04 and defensive tackles Bill McGrath ’04 and Justin Sullivan ’04. Goldwasser led the team in tackles last season, including a pivotal safety against Tufts that ultimately decided the game.

“Graham [Goldwasser] is just one of those kids who has a nose for the football, always seems to be in the right place and has a knack for making big plays,” Assistant Coach Mike Whalen said.

Returning outside linebacker Wes Connors ’05 also returns for the Ephs this season. Connors was second on the team to Goldwasser in tackles and turned in a standout four sack performance against Wesleyan last season.

Helping out Goldwasser and Connors up front will be McGrath and Sullivan. Mainstays up front for the past couple seasons, the duo combined for 43 tackles and 10 sacks last season.

The X factor this season comes in the form of returning captain Mark Rosenthal ’04. A defensive end his last three seasons, Rosenthal spent his offseason cutting down his weight and improving his quickness to prepare for his role as hybrid linebacker/defensive end this season. How the coaching staff uses the former standout defensive end will have a big impact on the success of the defense this season.

Rosenthal’s shift, along with the graduation of Bob Sherwood ’03 has opened up both defensive end positions. Contributors such as Andrew Mauer ’04, Hugh Green ’04, Caleb Bliss ’05 and Ryan Belmont ’05 will be asked to step up to fill the void.

Just like the offensive counterparts, however, the defense has major questions in the skill positions. The graduation of All-American safety Scott Farley ’03 and All-NESCAC cornerback Johnny Kelly ’03 leave Dave Rackovan ’04 as the only returning starter to a unit that was tested throughout last season.

The coaches are relying on sophomores Jon O’Hanlon ’06 and Kevin Greener ’06 to fill in the vacant cornerbacks slots, while a host of candidates, including former quarterback Jake Moore ’04, John Schnieder ’04 and Tim Burbridge ’06 will be vying for time at the safety position.

The loss of the versatile Farley also leaves holes at the kicker and punter position along with return roles. Two first-years, Brendan Fulmer ’07 and Tucker Sawin ’07 have been competing for the kicking spot, while several candidates have tried out for punter.

With many holes to fill and strong teams throughout the NESCAC, including a powerful Trinity squad, the Ephs are not the clear-cut favorites they have been the past couple seasons. However, the strong group of returning starters still gives the Ephs a chance to capture their third straight NESCAC title. Their quest begins this Saturday at Bowdoin at 1 p.m. The game will be broadcast on WCFM.

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