Tribe's Backfield In Rebuild

Greg Madia, Publisher
Dukes of JMU
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Associated Press

HARRISONBURG — When Jimmye Laycock opens his 38th training camp as coach at William & Mary, not much about it will be routine.

The Tribe comes off a 5-6 campaign in 2016 and must replace the starting quarterback and the starting running back from last year’s squad.

Both signal-caller Steve Cluley and running back Kendell Anderson graduated. Anderson was a second-team All-Colonial Athletic Association choice after finishing his senior season with 1,077 rushing yards. Cluley was a three-year starter behind center.

“That’s one of the good things and one of the challenges about college coaching,” Laycock said. “Every year, you have to reshape your team.

“It’s challenging, it’s exciting and it’s one of the things that I enjoy.”

And Laycock has to settle on new personnel in the backfield while breaking in a new offensive coordinator. Last month, William & Mary promoted running backs coach DJ Mangas to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

In August, Laycock, Mangas and the rest of the offensive coaches will work together to narrow a five-man quarterback competition down to a starter, the longtime coach said.

“That’s probably the biggest thing in regards to this year’s team, it’s determining the quarterback because we won’t have anyone with any experience,” Laycock said. “That’s going to be different.

“We have other areas with experience, but the quarterback position is really what’s up in the air.”

The race for the job features junior Tommy McKee, sophomore Brandon Battle, redshirt freshmen Ted Hefter and Dean Rotger, and true freshman Shon Mitchell.

McKee was the backup to Cluley in each of the past two seasons, and Mitchell, who enrolled early for spring practice, went 52-6 as a four-year starter at Oscar Smith and finished as the all-time Virginia High School League leader for passing yards with 11,380 in his career.

“They all bring different things, but they’re all inexperienced,” Laycock said.

Laycock said if one of the quarterbacks separate from the rest, the offense would then fall into place.

As for replacing Anderson, who racked up 149 yards and a touchdown when the Tribe played at James Madison last fall, there is an easy solution if sophomore running back Albert Funderburke returns fully healthy.

Funderburke suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 4, but registered 294 yards and four touchdowns on 39 carries to start the year.

“I’ve not determined yet what his availability is going to be,” Laycock said. “If he’s not available, then we’ll have a very young running back or running backs back there.”

This year, JMU goes to Williamsburg on Oct. 21. The Dukes knocked off William & Mary 31-24 in 2016 — one of four losses that came by 10 or fewer points for the Tribe.

Laycock said the difference in those tight games were turnovers.

In the contest at JMU, Dukes cornerback Taylor Reynolds recorded a fourth-quarter interception of Cluley to secure the win.

“I thought we played really well up there,” Laycock said. “It was a couple things here or there.

“Then down the stretch, we lost a couple really close, but I thought what was impressive was our kids kept hanging in there even though it was tough and there was disappointment.”

William & Mary won two of its last three games, including a 34-13 romp of Richmond in the season finale.

Around the quarterback and running back, William & Mary returns All-CAA second-team wide receiver DeVonte Dedmon and All-CAA second-team tight end Andrew Caskin. Left tackle Chris Durant, an All-CAA third-team offensive lineman, is back as well.

On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Isaiah Stephens, who had 37 tackles last year, leads the Tribe’s front and co-captain cornerback Aaron Swinton, who racked up four interceptions in 2016, leads the back end.

William & Mary opens its season on Sept. 2 at Virginia.

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