When Jimmye Laycock recruits, the William & Mary football coach promises players a three-fold “complete football experience”: a good education, the opportunity to compete for championships and the challenge of playing against a bigger school in a bigger stadium.
“Those are the games they remember for the rest of their lives,” Laycock, in his 33rd season leading the Tribe, told The Post in a telephone interview.
So the stakes are magnified for the Football Championship Subdivision program that heads north to Byrd Stadium for Saturday’s opener against Maryland, and regardless of how the Terrapins finished during Coach Randy Edsall’s inaugural season, Laycock considers his team a “decisive underdog.”
“That’s one of the things we use as a yardstick to help us improve as the season progresses,” said Laycock, who once interviewed for the Maryland head coaching job in 1991. “Going against a team with the size, the speed of Maryland, if we make a mistake, it can be a touchdown, whereas against other teams it could be a first down.
“The other thing is, I use it as a measuring stick insofar as their competitiveness. We’re going in with a lot of things against us. We can see how well we compete in a tough environment, a tough situation.”
The Tribe opened 2011 ranked third nationally in FCS, but three straight losses in late October and early November tumbled William & Mary out of the top 25. It finished 5-6, its first losing season since 2007. In its opening marquee matchup last season, the Tribe got trounced by Virginia, 40-3.
Before that, however, the Tribe had strung together some solid years, including consecutive appearances in the FCS playoffs. Three members of the Class of 2010 are in the NFL. In 2009, William & Mary beat Virginia in Charlottesville, 26-14. It enters the 2012 season receiving votes in the preseason top 25.
“Obviously we’ve had a pretty good run of success over the years, but slipped a bit last year,” Laycock said. “Players want to bounce back, get back into the hunt with the conference championship. That’s been their focus of spring, focus of preseason, to get back to play the football that we’re accustomed to over the years. Lot of guys stayed around over the summer. So far, preseason has gone pretty well. Good, consistent practices day in and day out.”
The hardest aspect of preparing for a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent like Maryland, Laycock said, is simulating depth in practice. Since Laycock took over, the Tribe has faced an FBS team in every season except one, but hasn’t faced the Terps since 2006. Maryland won that game, 27-14.
The Daily Press reported that William & Mary will receive $250,000 for the game. But Laycock sees more benefit in competition, not finances.
“By playing one of these games in the opener, it gets us focused in the preseason,” Laycock said. “We know that we have to do this better or it won’t look pretty against Maryland. I think it adds focus to the players, because they know they have such a big opener waiting for them.”
As a team strength, Laycock pointed to his offensive line, a solid experienced group that starts two seniors and three juniors. Defensively, starting middle linebacker Dante Cook is out for the season with a knee injury, but the secondary is anchored by corner B.W. Webb, a preseason all-American who was recently named to the Senior Bowl watch list. Webb had a 50-yard interception return with 2:39 left that clinched the Tribe’s upset of Virginia three years ago.
As far as the scouting report on Maryland, Laycock was hard-pressed to single out specific players, but acknowledged the challenge awaiting his team.
“Look like they have some very, very good athletes, outstanding receivers, defensive line, good secondary. But we know, when we play this level, we’re going to see bigger, faster, players than what we’re used to. So far as what we’ll anticipate scheme wise, we really don’t know.”
As far as game-planning against a team he hasn’t seen in six years, against a true freshman quarterback running a new system?
“Basically, what you want to do is get them prepared so they know what to do,” Laycock said. “It’s like a big exam. If you’re studying like crazy, you’re going to go in and do okay.”