Expectations. , There was no sense in running and hiding from the University of Rhode Island football program during the dog days of summer. They were as plain as the nose on your face.
The hype train included Top-25 appearances in the following preseason polls:
- Stats Perform FCS (No. 22).
- Athlon Sports (No. 14).
- AFCA FCS Coaches Poll (Tied-No. 24).
Additionally, individual accolades were bestowed upon offensive lineman Nick Correia (Preseason All-American by STATS Perform and Hero Sports) and defensive back Jordan Jones (Hero Sports All-America squad and College Football America Yearbook’s starting lineup).
All aboard! Choo-choo!
A word to the wise. It’s best to jump on the bandwagon now. That way, no one can question your loyalty in the event that the preseason hype bears fruit in the form of visiting a place the Rams haven’t been since Ronald Regan was in the White House.
Is the hype real? To the fans, it undoubtedly is. Last week, URI announced that for the first time in program history, all football season ticket packages are sold out. Single-game tickets and field suites for the Alumni & Family Weekend game against Elon (Oct. 15) are sold out. Field suites are also completely accounted for the Governor’s Cup clash against Brown on Oct. 1.
The public and the prognosticators are excited about the prospects for the 2022 season –one that gets underway this Thursday (7 p.m.) at Stony Brook – following a 7-4 campaign in 2021 that left the Rams just on the outside looking in at the FCS playoffs. What about the coaches and players? How are they dealing with the buzz that in some respect represents uncharted territory?
“It’s about focusing on what we can control,” said Kasim Hill, entering his third season as Rhode Island’s starting quarterback, “but it’s also a blessing coming off the backs of those before us and everything they’ve built up to this moment. We’re just trying to carry it forward and take it week-by-week and win games.”
“Preseason doesn’t really mean anything. It’s about where you end the season,” stressed Jones.
Added Correia, “We’re blocking it out. We don’t want to get into all that. Are we ranked? We’re trying not to pay attention to that. We’re trying to build on what we have right now.”
Now known as the longest tenured head coach in URI football history, Jim Fleming noted there’s a growing sense of confidence among the group. Last year, the Rams tasted success – spending six weeks in the STATS Perform Top-25 and reaching as high as No. 12.
“They’ve got their eye on the prize, but we’ve got to put it together,” said Fleming.
Translation: it would behoove the Rams to avoid the kind of midseason swoon that came after last year’s team jumped out to a 5-0 start (3-0 in CAA play). A three-game skid placed URI firmly behind the eight-ball with the last gasp coming in a season-ending 43-28 loss at Elon.
This year, the Rams are preaching the importance of remaining consistent and avoiding the peaks and valleys that made last year so rewarding and frustrating at the same time.
“I thought we got ahead of ourselves last year. We were looking so far ahead that we lost sight of what we were doing in the moment,” said Hill.
As for the head coach’s take on the expectations heaped upon his squad from those who won’t call a single play, or be asked to block or tackle?
“As we all know, it’s rat poison and a ‘What have you done for me lately?” kind-of-thing,” said Fleming. “They’re grounded kids. I don’t think it goes to their heads. We’re thrilled about recognition – the preseason rankings – but everyone thinks we’re a top-25 team. Let’s go put it on the field. We’ll take the accolades until the time comes to play games, then we have to beat Stony Brook.”
URI has not appeared in a postseason game since 1985. It’s a lengthy streak that has a chance to be laid to rest – if you subscribe to what’s being prescribed externally.
“If everyone can live up [to the preseason prognostications], it should be a special season,” said Hill.
The remedy that holds the key to justifying the preseason buildup? Again, let’s hear from the QB.
“We have to stack the days together by working hard and preparing,” said Hill.
Brendan McGair is a sportswriter and columnist with the Pawtucket Times and the Woonsocket Call. A graduate of Providence College, McGair is a five-time recipient of the R.I. Sports Writer of the Year Award as voted by the National Sports Media Association (NSMA).
Follow McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03 and on Instagram @bwmcgair.