Football seeks NESCAC crown with revamped offense

Football is accustomed to winning, as shown by its three outright NESCAC titles from 2001 to 2010. However, since the men’s undefeated 2010 season, the Ephs have sputtered to records of 5-3 in 2011 and 4-4 in 2012. This year’s squad will look to kick-start the 2013 season with a win in its first game this Saturday at Colby.

The most important position on the field is arguably the quarterback, and thus at the head of most great teams, you will find a great quarterback. However, this is not always a requirement. Some teams can rely on a quarterback who keeps them in the game by distributing the ball to his playmakers while limiting mistakes and playing consistently behind a strong defense.

The Ephs have a plethora of skilled players as well as what appears to be a formidable defense that could support their next starting quarterback.

Who that will be is another issue. Last year, plagued by inconsistent play, neither Tom Murphy ’15 nor Adam Marske ’14 were able to cement a stronghold on the position. Both are talented players;  Murphy has shown off excellent arm strength while Marske flashes top-notch accuracy. Who emerges as the Ephs’ quarterback may not be decided by the first game. Whoever it turns out to be will need to fill the role of a smart quarterback who limits mistakes and plays consistently if the Ephs hope to return to the top this year.

Behind the quarterback, this year’s offensive line might suffer some growing pains after graduating left tackle and tri-captain Peter Christiani ’13, as well as hulking right tackle Cong Tian ’13 and vocal guard Ryan Loughran ’13. Thankfully, the cupboard is not bare for the Ephs as returning starters AJ Walsh ’15 and Alan Felix ’15 are back to anchor the young line.

Because of strong recruiting, the Ephs will have five sophomore linemen, headlined by Charlie Grossnickle ’16, to choose from to fill the remaining spots. Grossnickle filled in last season as a first-year, making a few starts in place of injured starters. A potentially huge asset for the Ephs would be the return of Joe Wetherell ’14, a key player sidelined by injury last year. When this new offensive line comes together as a unit, they will be formidable to opponents.

The big question on everyone’s mind is how the Ephs will fare without Darren Hartwell ’13. “Darren Hartwell was one of the best receivers to ever play Williams football, and the team will miss him this year, but with his departure the wide receiver corps has been able to open up and place multiple receivers in plays that would usually be called to Darren,” co-captain Richie Beaton ’14 said. “This has allowed us to open up and be multi-faceted rather than one-dimensional as we often were last year, and this should prove to help us in the long run.” Beaton is one wide receiver who is looking to fill the hole left by Hartwell’s departure. All of Beaton’s experience, as well as his elite mental and physical preparation throughout the year has him poised for a breakout season.

Two other receivers who will look to make an impact are Greg Payton ’14, as well as Darrias Sime ’16, who bring excellent ability to the field. “Darrias [Sime] is faster and bigger than last year and has really created a name for himself as a deep threat on our team,” Beaton said. “Our quarterbacks know that they can throw it up and he’s going to go win it in the air.”

A final pass catcher worth keeping an eye out for is hybrid tight end Ryan Prokesch ’14. “Prokesch could start at any school in the NESCAC,” Beaton said. “He’s solid in the run game and has the hands of a receiver in the pass game. He’s been an integral part of our pro-style offense.” Look for Prokesch to be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams this year. Ultimately, this crew should make a ton of big plays for whoever steps in at quarterback.

As for the running backs, the main question is health. The Ephs have no shortage of talent, as co-captain starter Alex Scyocurka ’14 is arguably one of the best runners in the NESCAC when he is healthy. He averaged over 100 yards a game last year. Keeping Scyocurka on the field will be crucial if the Ephs hope to have a balanced attack this year. Kristian LaPointe ’14 also provides a nice change of pace option to complement Scyocurka in the running game.

The defense should be improved this year as the Ephs’ flaunt incredible depth at every level. Losing four-year contributor and former tri-captain Chris Cameron ’13, who was arguably the heart and sole of last year’s defense, as well as other graduated seniors, will be tough.

“Their savvy and knowledge will be missed on the field for sure,” co-captain Ernest Higginbotham ’14 said. “But we have faith in the guys stepping up this year, and I am certain they will prove to be just as great of players for us.”

The strength of the defense could be up front as Higginbotham and Adam Datema ’15 combine to form a huge defensive tackle duo. The edges will be covered by the high energy Mike Flynn ’15 and the strong James Howe ’16.

“We are pretty big up in the middle with lots of speed and athleticism on the edges, so I think we have a chance to be a formidable defense in that respect,” Higginbotham said.

As for the linebackers, there could be early struggles after replacing two starters from last year, but the group will eventually be fierce. An impact player for the linebackers could be Jack Ryan ’16, who along with Sime and Howe displayed promise among the rookies in the 2012 season. He showed incredible versatility and athleticism last year and could breakout this year.

The secondary is deep and should feature a lot of different players on the field at different times. One player who is sure to be a steady contributor is tri-captain Nathan Saffold ’14. Saffold is an extremely solid cornerback, and one of the few players who could cover Hartwell last year.

After the men’s first game at Colby on Saturday at 1 p.m., they will travel to Middlebury for their second game on Sept. 28. The men return to Williamstown for their home opener on Oct. 5 at 1 p.m. against Bates.