Last fall, William and Mary had its least-productive offense since 1980. Of the 123 teams on the Football Championship Subdivision level, only 11 averaged fewer than the Tribe’s 15 points per game.
Looking back, it’s no coincidence that DeVonte Dedmon took part in only 29 of W&M’s 704 plays from scrimmage. A broken wrist in Week 1 at Virginia prematurely ended what was expected to be a busy senior year for the Tribe’s most dynamic player.
Since the injury came well before the NCAA’s cut-off for a medical hardship waiver, Dedmon was granted a fifth year of eligibility. William and Mary will be counting on him to provide the playmaking ability its offense so badly needs.
“DeVonte makes a big, big difference,” W&M coach Jimmye Laycock said. “He’s an explosive player. He can make a small gain into a big play. And the quarterbacks have confidence throwing the ball up to him because they know he can make plays for them.”
Dedmon showed flashes of that early in his junior season. In the first four games, he had 19 catches for 366 yards and three touchdowns. But slowed by injuries, Dedmon added only 16 receptions for 167 yards the rest of the season.
In 2017, with the inexperienced Tommy McKee taking over at quarterback, Laycock’s plan was to get Dedmon as involved as possible. And, true to form, Dedmon was the target on four of McKee’s first five passes in the season opener at U.Va.
But in the third quarter, while retreating to field a long punt, Dedmon bobbled the ball. He recovered it but, in the process, broke his wrist.
“It was crazy, because we did an X-ray up there at U.Va., and they told me it wasn’t broken,” said Dedmon, a three-sport athlete in his days at Warhill. “They just put me in a little brace. That Monday (two days later), I found out I had broken my wrist.
“At first, I was really upset. I went through a time when I was like, ‘Man, I wish I was out there.’ But I knew my team needed me in different ways, so I needed to be a better leader.”
Dedmon was one of two Tribe receivers with game-breaking ability. The other, South Carolina transfer Jalen Christian, missed five games with an ankle injury. He caught seven passes all season.
The Tribe had eight touchdown passes in 2017. Only six teams in FCS had fewer.
“We had such inexperience at quarterback, and you try not to give them eight million reads,” Laycock said “So we wanted to take everything through DeVonte. Two out of three plays, we were hoping the throw would go to DeVonte.
“Then, all of a sudden, he’s out of there, and you have to revamp what you’re doing. It made a big difference.”
Both Dedmon and Christian are back, which, if they remain healthy, should give W&M big-play ability. Jack Armstrong, whose 14.2 yards per catch led the team last season, and Isaiah Kinder also return.
But W&M will need help from its younger, and unproven, receivers. Dedmon believes they’re up to it.
“Our young guys are doing great,” he said. “We have (6-foot-3) Anthony Mague, a big-body guy. Jordan Lowery, another speed guy. Zach Sims, speed guy. We’ve got a lot of great receivers in that room, and I can’t wait to see them play.”
As for last season, which produced only two wins, all the Tribe can do is get better.
“We don’t want to go out like that as seniors,” Dedmon said. “You’ve got to do what you can for this team. You’ve got to do what you can for your brother. That’s the way we look at it.”
Laycock said he expects sophomores Shon Mitchell and Ted Hefter to go into the fall as co-leaders at starting quarterback. “I wouldn’t say which one is ahead,” Laycock said, “but I’d say those two are the top two.” …
Sophomore running back Noah Giles, who averaged a team-best 6.2 yards per carry last season, tore his ACL during a non-contact drill. He is scheduled to undergo surgery. …
Saturday’s spring game is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m.
Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveJohnsonDP.