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Friday, May 24, 2024

QB Shon Mitchell calm, confident as W&M heads into football opener

In an area and at a college known for history, it’s only fitting William & Mary’s 2018 football season will revolve around more history.

First off, Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock is preparing for his 39th — and final — season in Williamsburg. Laycock, who in early August announced he will retire at the end of the season, is the longest active tenured coach in Division I. He has a career mark of 245-189-2, the second most wins by an active Division I coach. His 109 career Colonial Athletic Association conference wins are second all time.

Secondly, and on a historically bad note, W&M is coming off a season in which it went 2-9, including an 0-8 mark in the CAA. It was the first time the Tribe had gone 0-8 in conference play in Football Championship Subdivision competition.

In an effort to turn things around, Laycock and company are turning to sophomore quarterback Shon Mitchell to lead the offense this year.

Fittingly enough, Mitchell made history last year with the Tribe. He was the first true freshman to start a game at quarterback since 1975, and the first true freshman to play at the position since 1981. He started three games, going 22 for 58 for 140 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.

“I think last year I was a wide-eyed freshman who was, for lack of a better term, thrown into the fire and was just kind of feeling his way out,” said Mitchell, who played at Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake. “This year, I feel more calm, cool, collected, poised. I feel like I have my feet underneath me and I’m confident that I’m going out there and I know what I’m doing. I know what I’m looking at, and I’m confident of the supporting cast around me that we are going to be able to go out there and make plays.”

Laycock also pointed to Mitchell’s confidence as a major reason he was named the starting quarterback.

“His maturity is very noticeable,” the coach said. “His intelligence and his confidence … is very evident when he plays, when he practices. He’s still got a lot to learn, like a lot of guys. … He’s probably a little too hard on himself sometimes when he makes a mistake. But he learns from his mistakes. I just think with his demeanor and his playing ability, the players around him have confidence in him. That’s important. And he has confidence in himself too.”

Mitchell, 6-foot-0 and 190 pounds, also knows it’s not up to just him to help the Tribe improve on its 15 points-per-game average. In the backfield, he’s got Albert Funderburke, Nate Evans, Tyler Crist and Will Barney on the two-deep roster for Saturday’s season opener at Bucknell. He has a strong corps of wide receivers in Jack Armstrong, DeVonte Dedmon, Jalen Christian and Isaiah Kinder. He’s confident in his offensive line.

“We have some explosive players coming back,” Mitchell said. “I think we have a good, solid line up front.”

Laycock agreed.

“The fact that we’ve got some depth at running back and we’ve got some playmakers coming back at wide receiver” has the longtime Tribe coach confident this season will be an improvement from a year ago.

Both Laycock and Mitchell also referenced W&M’s defense, which gave up more than 28 points in a game last year only twice, as a key to this season.

“I think we will be stronger defensively, but we have to play to our defense,” Laycock said. “And our defense has to play to our offense in so far as getting us some short fields. That’s one thing we didn’t do last year. We didn’t get many short fields so far as turnovers.”

One of the leaders of that defense is expected to be senior cornerback Raeshawn Smith (5-10, 178), who said one of the goals for that defense is to produce more turnovers this year.

“We only had 10 last year, and that’s not even an average of one a game,” noted Smith, whose first college scholarship offer when he was in high school (Chantilly) came from Bucknell. “We can certainly be a whole lot better. We talk about helping out the offense, and that’s one huge way we can do that; creating turnovers, creating extra possession for them, creating shortened fields for them, maybe getting points on the board from defense, defensive touchdowns.”

If the defense can do that, and if Mitchell can lead an improved offense, Laycock could end his W&M career in historical fashion.

“Coach doesn’t want us make this season about him,” Mitchell said. “But we do kind of, as a team collectively, want to send him out on a good note.”

Listen to the game

W&M will open its 2018 football season at 6 p.m. Saturday at Bucknell. Listen to the game on 92.3 FM The Tide and 107.9 Bach FM.

Bryan DeVasher
Bryan DeVasher
Bryan DeVasher is the managing editor-digital of WYDaily. A resident of Hampton Roads for more than two decades, he has worked for news organizations in Virginia, Illinois, Missouri and Indiana. He most recently was a member of the public relations staff for Virginia State Police.

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