Spring is in the air, and that means footballs are flying, too, as spring practice gets rolling across the area. At Hampton, a revamped coaching staff hopes to help the Pirates rebound from their first losing season in 13 years, while at Old Dominion, the Monarchs will try to come up with an encore to a bang-up 9-2 start. William and Mary, a national semifinalist in 2009, has some key positions to fill. Christopher Newport, entering its 10th year of football, wants more than the .500 record it posted last season. Here are five questions each school will try to answer in April.
Christopher Newport Who can fill Tunde Ogun's shoes? 1 Record-setting running back Tunde Ogun no doubt will be a tough act to follow in the Captains' backfield, but former Tabb standout Corey Legister showed he may be up to the task. With Ogun hurt for a chunk of last season, Legister, then a sophomore, rushed for 375 yards and a touchdown on 80 carries. He'll have to show continued improvement to become the Captains' go-to upperclassman.
Offensive key? 2 Quarterback was a bit of a mess for CNU last year, with starter Matt Long going down early with a serious knee injury that left inexperienced sophomore Antonio Epps and true freshman Christian Woelfel-Monsivais in charge of the offense. Those results were mixed, with the two young QBs combining for 813 passing yards, three TDs and eight interceptions. CNU hopes Long, the recipient of a medical redshirt, can provide steady leadership behind center — and stay healthy — this year.
Defensive key? 3 The Captains' leading tackler from 2009 is back in senior linebacker Adrin Diggs, a former star at Smithfield High who had 90 tackles, nine stops for loss and two sacks as a junior. Another strong point will be in the Captains' secondary, where defensive back Randell Bronte-Tinkew, a product of Denbigh, had two interceptions and broke up six passes as a junior.
Is there strength in numbers? 4 The Captains have had as many as 78 players in spring workouts, a participation record that could help ease the depth headaches that plagued CNU at times in last year's 5-5 record, the worst in Matt Kelchner's nine seasons as coach. More bodies could equal more options — and more victories — as the Captains enter their 10th season of football.
X factor? 5 Someone will have to emerge as a deep threat for a CNU passing game that averaged just 115 yards per contest last season. The Captains lose Tony Spradlin, who had a team-best 24 catches for 297 yards and two touchdowns as a senior, but T.J. Foster is back after leading the Captains with 413 receiving yards and collecting two TDs on 21 catches as a junior.
Hampton Does Hampton have a quarterback controversy or a competition? 1 Herb Bynes, who threw for a school-record 2,713 yards and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore, battled an ankle injury for most of his junior season, throwing for 987 yards and eight TDs. David Legree, a transfer from Syracuse, split time behind center, throwing for 803 yards and seven scores. After off-season ankle surgery, Bynes isn't taking many reps in spring ball, but HU coach Donovan Rose expects a competitive battle for the starting job in the fall.
Offensive key? 2 With LaMarcus Coker and his Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference-leading 1,027 rushing yards gone, will this at last be the season Dennis Mathis sees meaningful time in the backfield? Mathis, a junior out of Phoebus High, redshirted last season with hamstring and ankle injuries after combining to rush for 557 yards on 149 carries in his freshman and sophomore seasons. Senior Steve Robinson rushed for 510 yards on 92 carries as Coker's backup last season, and Iowa State transfer Jeremiah Schwartz is also in the RB mix.
Defensive key? 3 Senior linebacker Julio Sanchez, who transferred to Hampton last season from Butler Community College, led the Pirates with 98 tackles last season. He had eight tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks and forced a fumble. He returns as part of a linebacking corps — which also includes seniors Jacobi Fenner, who had 50 tackles last year, and Gerald Francois and Carson Byrd, who combined for 24 tackles — that should be a strength.
Who are all the new guys? 4 Along with several transfers on the field, the Pirates will feature several (mostly) new faces on the sideline in 2010. Fred Kaiss, the Pirates' offensive coordinator from 2001-2006, returns to HU from Tennessee State, while Keith Goganious moves to defensive coordinator from linebackers coach. Shannon Hill (quarterbacks), Charles Huff (offensive line), Kaiss' assistants at Tennessee State, and Delbert Cowsette (defensive line) are also entering their first seasons at HU.
X factor? 5 Syracuse transfer Donte Davis, who caught 62 passes for 653 yards in three seasons with the Orange, won't join the Pirates until this fall, but he could become the consistent downfield threat the Pirates lacked last season. He joins juniors and leading returning receivers Isiah Thomas (27 catches for 550 yards) and P.J. Hicks (26 catches for 285 yards), and his presence may be all the more important in the absence of Damon McDaniel, who had 22 catches for 419 yards as senior.
Old Dominion Will Season 2 be a tougher test? 1 ODU went 9-2 in its inaugural Championship Subdivision season, an FCS start-up program record. The Monarchs' 2010 schedule, while not the full Colonial Athletic Association slate they will face in 2011, still features a step up in competition, beginning with a Sept. 18 home game against William and Mary. ODU also will take on Cal Poly, Hampton and Georgia State this year, along with Monmouth, one of the two teams to beat the Monarchs.
Offensive key? 2 Thomas DeMarco was a one-man wrecking crew for the Monarchs, throwing for 1,921 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushing for another 892 yards and 17 TDs. He was the second-leading rushing QB in FCS play and contributed 255.7 yards of offense per game. A shade shorter than his listed height of 5-foot-11, DeMarco is a fierce competitor who brought a year of junior-college experience last season and now has a year of FCS play under his belt.
Defensive key? 3 The Monarchs surrendered 396.6 yards per game last season, but ODU's young defense returns virtually all its key components, now seasoned with a year of experience. Leading tackler Mychael McJunkins, a junior linebacker who had 85 tackles last year, is back, as is sophomore end Chad King, who had a team-best 11 tackles for loss, and sophomore tackle Edmon McClam, who blocked five kicks.
What transfers could have a big impact? 4 The misfortune of Hofstra, which folded its football program after last season, has been ODU's gain. Defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron, who had 13 tackles in four games as a redshirt freshman, joins the Monarchs. So does defensive end Deron Mayo, a former star at Kecoughtan and younger brother of New England Patriot Jerod Mayo who started five games and made 33 tackles as a sophomore.
X factor? 5 Another transfer is generating a lot of buzz, but hasn't played a down in more than a year. Defensive tackle Dominik Davenport, a dominating force in two state title runs for Phoebus High, transferred to ODU after redshirting one season at West Virginia. Many eyes will be on "Baby D," who made 124 tackles as a high school junior, as he settles in with the Monarchs.
William and Mary Who will be the Tribe's QB? 1 With the graduation of R.J. Archer, who led William and Mary to an 11-3 record and a national semifinal appearance in his only season as a starting quarterback, who will take over behind center? Mike Paulus transferred from North Carolina to compete for a chance. Terrance Schmand, 4 of 7 for 57 yards in four games last year, is listed as the starter on the spring roster. Other contenders include Brent Caprio, a redshirt last year, and senior Mike Callahan, injured in 2009.
The next Tracy? 2 Losses don't get much bigger than defensive end Adrian Tracy, who tied a school record with 12 sacks and had 22 tackles for loss as a senior. A pair of junior ends will get their shot at making an impact in Tracy's absence. Marcus Hyde had 4 1/2 sacks and seven tackles for loss as a backup last season, while fellow reserve Ravi Pradhanang had 3 1/2 sacks and four tackles for loss before missing the final six games of 2009 with an injury.
Offensive key? 3 Jonathan Grimes rushed for 1,294 yards as a sophomore and averaged 145.9 all-purpose yards per game. He's back in a stacked backfield that also includes senior tailback Courtland Marriner, who had 458 yards and seven touchdowns last season, and senior fullback Terrence Riggins (290 yards and two TDs). Grimes has totaled 2,223 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground and another 603 yards and three TDs receiving in two seasons as a starter.
Defensive key? 4 Though Tracy and stalwart tackle Sean Lissemore (6 1/2 sacks, 14 tackles for loss) are gone, the Tribe's leading tackler is back. Middle linebacker Jake Trantin had 90 tackles — 10 for loss and 2 1/2 sacks — as a sophomore, and is joined by senior outside linebacker Evan Francks, who was second on the team with 89 tackles. The two combined for 17 1/2 tackles for loss and five sacks.
X factor? 5 Cornerback B.W. Webb, a former star at Warwick High, showed game-changing ability in a freshman season that earned him Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Webb ranked second in the nation with eight interceptions and led William and Mary with 11 passes defended. If he continues to evolve into a shutdown corner, it would give an added boost to a Tribe defense that allowed just 229.8 yards per game last year, second-best in the country.
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