The Atlantic 10 coaches and media picked the Tribe to finish third in the South Division, behind Villanova and Delaware.
Head coach Jimmye Laycock would love nothing better than to begin his 25th season with an upset of North Carolina. And the Tar Heels defense had better be vastly improved if they expect to avoid what would be a crippling opening day loss. The Tribe (5-5 last season) boasts a high-octane offense that is on a roll, having averaged over 39 points and 459 yards of total offense per game in its final four games in 2003.
Returning all-conference performer Lang Campbell (Sr., 6-3, 205) emerged with a breakout season last fall, in his first year as a starter. He completed 182 of 285 passes, with 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Campbell averaged over 229 yards passing per game with a 156.7 efficiency rating – seventh-best in the nation. He is an improvisational type, with the ability to turn a bad situation into something good. Mike Potts (Fr.*, 6-4, 215) is the top backup.
The feature back of a deep group is tailback Jon Smith (Sr., 6-1, 220), who has rushed for over 1,700 yards and 24 touchdowns in his first three seasons. Kent State transfer Elijah Brooks (So, 5-9, 209) will get his first action with the Tribe this year. He led the Golden Flashes with 403 rushing yards in 2003. Big Steven Hargrove (Jr., 6-1, 252) brings a different dimension to the ground attack, Trevor McLaurin (So., 5-11, 225) has moved from fullback to tailback, and Delmus Coley (So., 5-9, 195) led the team in rushing last season. Fullback LeVince Parrott (So., 5-10, 215) is versatile enough to play both running back positions.
Despite the graduation of Rich Musinski, now of the Tennessee Titans, Campbell still has a stocked pantry of talented wide-outs. Veterans' Dominique Thompson (Sr., 6-1, 190), John Pitts (Sr., 6-3, 215) and Josh Lustig (Sr., 5-9, 175) anchor a deep and dynamic position for the Tribe. Thompson is an explosive threat who averaged over 20 yards per catch in 2003. He scored three touchdowns on just six receptions. Pitts, a classic possession-type receiver, is in his fifth year. Lustig is an aggressive, physical athlete that plays much bigger than his size would indicate.
Named preseason all-conference, Adam Bratton (Jr., 6-4, 250) is one of the team's most dedicated members in the weight room. An excellent blocker, he also caught seven passes for 77 yards last year. Matt Trinkle (So., 6-5, 249) will see considerable playing time as well. He has excellent speed and ball skills for his size.
Like Carolina, W&M returns a wealth of experience, including five veterans who have at least one start. Leading the way are left tackle Matthew Witham (Sr., 6-6, 330) and center Patrick Mulloy (Jr., 6-4, 270). Witham protects Campbell's blind side, and Mulloy is one of the squad's strongest lineman with a 440-pound bench press. Left guard Ryan Lumm (Jr., 6-3, 270) as added size and strength over the offseason, right guard Cody Morris (So., 6-4, 285) started as a true freshman, and right tackle Michael Grenz (Jr., 6-3, 282) can play all three positions.
Seven returnees have starting experience, led by left end Adam O'Connor (Jr., 6-7, 278) [pictured right], who recorded a team-high 12 tackles for loss last season. A much improved Jonas Wilson (Jr., 6-2, 240) will man the other end position, along with team co-captain Walt Harrell (Sr., 6-3, 240) and Josh Wright (So., 6-2, 235). Tackle Larry Pendleton (Jr., 6-3, 285) made 52 stops last year, including two sacks and five hurries. The other starter in the middle is Justin Kelly (Sr., 6-2, 260), a fifth-year player. Mike McCarthy (Sr., 6-3, 270) will also see action at tackle.
The defensive leader is middle linebacker Travis McLaurin (Jr., 5-11, 240), another of member of the pre-season all-conference team. He finished second on the team last year with 120 tackles – 12 per game. At one outside position is returning starter Chris Ndubueze (Jr., 6-1, 237), a hard-hitter with good speed. The other side of the field is manned by two younger players Ryan Nickell (So., 6-2, 210) and Leonard Muldrow (So., 5-9, 180).
With talent returning and a new coach and defensive coordinator Jim Pletcher, the secondary will be capable of making big plays. Free safety James Miller (Jr., 6-1, 195) suffered through an injury-plagued season last year, but returned in time to pick off two passes and return one for a touchdown in the Tribe's 59-21 season-ending victory over Richmond. Competing for the starting strong safety position are Craig Patterson (Sr., 5-11, 202) and Jonathan Shaw (Jr., 6-0, 190). Cornerback Alan Wheeling (So., 5-9, 170) brings starting experience and consistent play to the lineup, while Richard Riley (So., 6-1, 185), the other corner, is back to full-speed following an illness-plagued 2003 season.
Kicker Greg Kuehn (Jr., 6-3, 200), twice named all-conference, has the leg to connect consistently from plus-50 yards. Punter Mike Mesi (Sr., 6-0, 195) averaged 41.2 yards per kick last season. A pair of experienced kick returners are back for the Tribe as well. Lustig and Hargrove averaged over 20 yards per return in 2003.