URI, CAA Football To Return in February

There is a new feel to football at Rhode Island for Jim Fleming, who is in his seventh season running the show for the Rams.

With the team two days away from the start of preseason, everything about the 2020-21 season is different. Normally in July, Fleming is making final preparations for training camp. In July 2020, Fleming was making arrangements for snowplow availability, to ensure the team would be able to practice come Jan. 29, when the team hits the Meade Stadium turf for the first time.

“It is totally unusual to be getting ready to go to training camp the day after tomorrow, but I am excited about our group,” Fleming told the media Wednesday morning during a CAA Media Day Zoom session. “We have had an incredible resilience, and I think every coach (in the league) would attest to the same thing. The amount of disappointment, the amount of change in schedule, the amount of uncertainty, it has been absolutely astounding.”

In terms of outlook for the season, Fleming boiled it down.

“Really when you look at it, we need to be 50 seconds better,” he said. “If we were 50 seconds better, at the tail end of last year we could have finished with definitely six wins. But that is the ‘could have, would have, should have’ game.”

To Fleming’s point, each of the team’s first three league losses in 2019 came on the final play. There was a triple-overtime loss to Delaware, a three-point loss to New Hampshire when the Wildcats hit a field goal as time expired, and the biggest stunner of them all, a 50-yard quarterback scramble on fourth-and-6 with 11 seconds remaining to lift Stony Brook to a 31-27 victory. Later in the season, Rhody lost at Maine despite leading by 14 with less than 10 minutes remaining.

“The early part of last season was absolutely heartbreaking,” Fleming said. “It all seemed to come down the same way, where if we made one stop, we were winning the football game.”

The COVID pandemic has presented numerous obstacles for all programs in all sports across the country. Fleming has worked his way through the obstacles with a staff that includes seven men in their first year with Rhode Island.

“Any time there is change within an established program, it is either warranted or necessary because someone moves on. These guys have been here for a year, and we have yet to play a game together,” Fleming said. “These guys have done an incredible job. They have come in and managed the teaching component of it through Zoom. No matter what has happened, we’ve been able to come up with a good plan.

“It is a definite new flavor, and we are very hopeful that it will show in the form of a very competitive football team.”

The Rams will have two new coordinators, Patrick Murphy on the offensive side and Jack Cooper helming the defense. Umberto Di Meo will oversee the defensive line, and Chris Lorenti was brought in to work with the inside linebackers. Tyler Loftus is the new tight ends coach. Clayton McGrath and Braden Thomas were brought in as quality control coaches on either side of the ball.

“We’ve been able to bring in high-quality, young coaches who have brought in a lot of energy,” Fleming said. “It has been a tremendous challenge and an organizational nightmare, but we have been able to figure out our best way through it. I am extremely excited to provide the opportunity for these kids to go out and compete, which is what they came here to do. They came here to play football and go to school.

“Without the interactions with the kids, without the usual day-to-day, it has been very difficult to get to this point. I am very excited to throw myself into football, and we will take it day-by-day as it comes.”

Categories: Sports