Designated Hitter: A tale of two college football teams
Both Williams College and the University of Massachusetts have seen the highest of highs in their respective divisions and the lowest of lows. Both schools recently have been at the bottom of the barrel. One has made its move back up more quickly than the other.
It was 11 months ago that Mark Raymond's first season at Williams ended with a 28-3 loss at Amherst to close out an 0-8 season.
One full recruiting cycle under the belt of Raymond and his staff and the Ephs found themselves at 3-1 heading into Saturday's game at Middlebury.
Who knows how the season will end. After all, the Ephs still have the Little Three games upcoming. Wesleyan and Amherst are two of the top teams in the conference.
But it is fair to say that what Raymond and his staff have done in less than two years is quite the turnaround.
"It's never easy, because there are a lot of options for kids," Raymond said. "Certainly, knowing Williams and knowing how this recruiting cycle works here, a year of experience has helped us."
It has helped, because roughly one-third of the 22 field position starters on the Williams team are freshmen.
Some of the names are very familiar — quarterback Bobby Maimaron, wide receiver Frank Stola, and linebackers T.J. Rothmann and Jarrett Wesner — and have made their presence felt on the field.
There are five freshmen starting on offense. The list includes tight end Justin Burke, wide receiver Justin Nelson and guard Patrick Watson. Watson was hurt last week, and his place was taken by a sophomore.
"I think [potential recruits] can see that we're improving which is important. Kids always want to see that," Raymond said. "In that sense, you have something more tangible to show them."
Raymond says he and his staff take time out of every week to follow up with potential recruits, and some of the staff get out on Friday nights to watch high school football games.
There are no guarantees that this group of Ephs will bring the team back to the perfect season of 2010, but after five consecutive .500 or worse seasons, Williams is in far better shape than it has been in a while.
Then there are the Minutemen of Mark Whipple. There is no doubt that Whipple and his staff are out and about the nation looking for players to help establish UMass in Division I-FBS football. The turnaround is happening much, much slower than in Williamstown.
UMass is winless in six game, but it's kind of been almost in all six.
Take the most recent game, Sept. 30, at home against Ohio. UMass led 27-24 with 2:26 left in the first half, but the Bobcats outscored UMass 24-2 to take a lead it would not give up.
"I want to win and our guys want to win," Whipple said during a post-game news conference after the Ohio game. "We're putting plays together and players in position. The effort's there. We just didn't play well on defense and we'll get that fixed.
"We had a couple of miscommunications on offense, and those things are correctable."
It's been the story throughout 2017 for UMass, and as we know, close only counts in horseshoes.
In the loss to Hawaii, the Rainbow Warriors scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes of the game to go home with a win. At Coastal Carolina, UMass tied the game at 21 on the first series of the third quarter. Coastal scored the next 17 points. In the loss at Temple, UMass trailed 19-14, and the Owls scored 10 unanswered points.
Then there was Tennessee, where UMass had cut an SEC school's lead to 17-13 in the third quarter in front of 100,000 fans. UMass had the ball four times in the fourth quarter and could not get the go-ahead score.
Winning one game won't help.
UMass has a home game next week with Georgia Southern and the following week with Appalachian State. A two-game winning streak, heading into a road test at Mississippi State could do wonders for the team's confidence.
If it can happen in Williamstown, it can happen in Amherst.
Reach sports columnist Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 or @howardherman.
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