After eight months of practice and anticipation of the 2008 season, the defending CAA football champion Spiders are looking forward to their first game, at 7 p.m. Saturday at Elon University.
"Our attitude is like finally, the first game," coach Mike London said at a press conference yesterday. "We're tired of beating up on each other. It's the first time these guys have played and there's an excitement to get going."
London, in his first season as a head coach, said during Monday's teleconference that it had been a whirlwind since he arrived at Richmond in mid-January. The other coaches made his transition easy, and London said the hard part would be to perform on the field.
Sixteen starters have returned from last year's team and the Spiders have the same Sports Network ranking they had at the end of last season -- No. 4. Elon is No. 15 in the Sports Network rankings, but London stressed that despite the difference in rank, neither team had the upper hand.
"For us it's the first game of several games and every game is important," London said. "Our ranking means nothing right now."
The coaches and players have had to rely on game tape to scout Elon. The two teams have met only once before in 1928 when the Phoenix lost to the visiting Spiders.
Elon returned 10 defensive starters along with eight offensive starters. London has been preparing his team for Elon's explosive offense.
London mentioned Elon's sophomore quarterback Scott Riddle, last year's Southern Conference freshman of the year, and junior All-American wide receiver Terrell Hudgins as particular points of focus for the defense.
While London has prepared his team for its opponent, he also has had the challenge of getting to know his players during the eight months he's been their head coach. He said there were some players who were injured during the spring practice season he didn't get to know well, but the summer camp has allowed him to answer any questions he had about his players.
"We're ready to go now and have a measured amount of experience," he said.
One of those injured players, now healthy, is defensive end Sherman Logan, who is entering his sixth season with the program after being granted a medical redshirt last year. Logan seemed just as ready as London to finish up the preseason and get back on the field.
"It's been over a year since I've gotten a quarterback sack," Logan said. "[Riddle] gets the ball to receivers quickly and accurately. As defensive end, it's exciting to play against a team that passes more."
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Logan and fellow senior defensive end Lawrence Sidbury Jr. were selected as preseason All-Americans this year. Logan said Sidbury was a great addition to the defense and they would be able to pressure Elon's offense.
On the offensive side of the field, the Spiders have a quarterback of their own to count on. Eric Ward will be the starting quarterback for his third year in a row. Junior offensive lineman Matthew McCracken was picked as a preseason All-American and sophomore wide receiver Kevin Grayson as a preseason All-Conference player.
Senior running back Josh Vaughan is ready to take the place of Tim Hightower, who graduated last year and is now playing for the Arizona Cardinals. He said he would rely on McCracken and the entire offensive line to give him space on the field to run the ball.
"I've been ready since Tim left out the door," Vaughan said. "Whatever opportunities are presented to us, we have to make the best of them. You have to go full speed with whatever chances you get."
This road game is one of seven the Spiders will play this season, which London said was daunting. Nonetheless, last year's team proved that it could handle hostile road environments, most notably in the five-overtime 62-56 win at the University of Delaware.
Last year's season-opener was also on the road, a loss at Vanderbilt University. The Spiders have won just two season openers since 2000, but last year's team was 6-1 against ranked opponents.
The Spiders have four conference titles in the past decade -- 1998, 2000, 2005 and 2007. The players have been through times of success, but also times of transition.
Logan has played for three head coaches -- Jim Reid, Dave Clawson and Mike London -- and said he just had to buy into what each coach was telling him. Though it has taken some time, he said he'd seen the program improve into the highly ranked team it is today.
Vaughan said the coaches had helped the players learn to prepare on their own, teaching them to break down film. He added that the players' love for competition kept them focused no matter who their coach was.
"We always challenge each other in the weight room, with who can bench press the most, and in the locker room," Vaughan said. "We're used to battling against each other -- when we step on the field it's like second nature."
Contact staff writer Barrett Neale at email@example.com
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