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After reporting for camp Sunday night, Tribe football players started their summer routine with William & Mary’s annual football media day Monday morning at Zable Stadium.
In between photo shoots with various photographers, players opened up about their offseason workouts, progressions and expectations for the upcoming season.
One player in the spotlight for the first time was Warhill alumnus DeVonte Dedmon, a sophomore wide receiver who had a breakout freshman campaign for the Tribe.
Dedmon, who hauled in 24 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown last season, is the top returning wideout for the Tribe. Last year, Dedmon caught more passes for more yards than the rest of William & Mary’s returning wide receivers combined.
Despite being one of the most experienced wide receivers returning for the Tribe, Dedmon has a humility about him that would suggest otherwise.
“Honestly, I’m not really The Guy,” he said about being the go-to receiver this season for the Tribe. “We have a core unit of 12 of us that have been ready to work since day one. I’m just looking forward to balling with those guys every day.”
Humility aside, Dedmon will need to step up this year after becoming the first true freshman to start at wide receiver for the Tribe since 1991.
Having to learn how to play wide receiver after a high school career as a running back, Dedmon’s freshman campaign featured some growing pains.
“In high school it was just go, go, go. At receiver, I’ve got to be more patient, understand what’s going on and read coverages,” he said.
Becoming more comfortable as a receiver and displaying exceptional speed, elusiveness and agility, Dedmon is expected serve as the game-breaking wide receiver for the Tribe across from big-bodied senior receiver Christian Reeves.
After an offseason that included classes and football workouts with his teammates, Dedmon said he is looking forward to stepping onto the field in front of his friends and family again.
“It’s wild, running out and hearing your name called by friends and family sitting in the bleachers,” he said. “It’s like, wow. I try to do it as best I can because I love Williamsburg. I love the people here and I hope they love me back.”
Quarterback Cluley Seeking Consistency Despite Young Wideouts
Second-year starting quarterback Steve Cluley will have his work cut out for him this season after losing his two top targets from last season, Tre McBride and Sean Ballard.
McBride, a seventh-round selection by the Tennessee Titans in the NFL Draft, started 11 games for the Tribe last season, catching 64 passes for 809 yards and four touchdowns. Ballard caught 29 passes for 487 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s really tough,” Cluley said about losing his top two receivers. “Tre and Ballard, being my first year starting they made it easier for me, especially Tre.”
Cluley, who started all 12 games last season at quarterback, said he has the utmost confidence in his younger receivers, who all saw live game experience last season.
“We have a lot of guys who are ready to step up and hopefully we get a rotation of guys in there,” he said.
After a “fun” offseason of throwing with his receivers, Cluley feels ready to build off his first season in which he threw for more than 2,000 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.
With goals of keeping his interceptions down and doubling his touchdown passes, Cluley accomplished his goal of bulking up during the offseason after “taking a bit of a beating last season.”
Taking a beating is something Cluley expects to avoid this season with an experienced group of offensive linemen returning this year.
With a combined 57 starts returning from last year, Cluley thinks the offensive line will help the passing game and running game, which will be led by senior Mikal Abdul-Sabaar who rushed for 1,266 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
Rebuilding in the Trenches
While the offensive line returns 57 combined starts from last year, the defensive line returns just 10, with eight coming from senior defensive tackle Tyler Claytor.
The Tribe will have to replace three starters along the defensive line from last year, Mike Reilly and Jasper Coleman, who were signed as free agents in the NFL, and four-year starter Stephen Sinnot.
As the lone returning starter from last year’s group, Claytor feels the pressure to continue the Tribe’s track record of fielding outstanding defensive lines.
“It’s a tremendous amount of pressure,” he said. “It’s hard losing that type of experience and guys having seven years combined between them. I think we have a lot of talent up front. Going through spring ball and going against an offensive line that started most of the year last year, going against those guys and making each other better, I think that’s what’s helped us.”
Joining Claytor on this year’s defensive line are sophomores Xavier Roscoe and Isaiah Stephens, as well as junior Peyton Gryder. Of the three, Stephens is the only one with starting experience after recording a pair of starts last season.
Holding Down the Fort
Normally, losing three of four starters along the defensive line would prove stressful. However, Claytor takes solace knowing he has a strong core of linebackers behind him, especially first-team All-CAA standout and All-America candidate Luke Rhodes.
The 11th two-time team captain in William & Mary’s 122-season history, Rhodes is looking to anchor this year’s Tribe defense at the middle linebacker position.
Coming off a season with 93 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks, Rhodes, a senior, will be called on to continue his elite-level play and clean up any potential holes caused by the young defensive line in front of him.
“Leading the defense and controlling the defense, making my plays that come to me and setting up players for other people, it takes all 11 of us to make plays,” Rhodes said. “I’ve always thought of myself as a leader. I like being in control, making the calls, being in the middle playing the run and the pass.”
And while offenses will be busy game planning around Rhodes, another group will have their eyes on him: NFL scouts.
Rhodes is aware of the potential to play in the NFL, but is trying not to let the thoughts of post-collegiate success get to his head while there is still a full season yet to be played.
Rather, Rhodes is keeping his head down and is working to get William & Mary back to the top spot in the Football Championship Subdivision, a spot the Tribe nearly held when he was being recruited six years ago.
“A conference championship, I want that ring on my finger. That’s what we came here to do and it’s something we haven’t had yet,” he said. “I want to win the conference, make the playoffs and make a run. The people of Williamsburg expect that out of us. They’ve had it before, they’ve had success. We’ve had great tradition, great players and great coaches. I think it’s our time to live up to it.”