Richmond football reached the FCS semifinals and was one game away from playing for a national championship last season. Thanks to that success, the Spiders are preparing for another run at the national title — this time with the pressure of national spotlight and higher expectations than the team has received in years.

Last year proved to be a breakout year for many first-time starters. As a result, several of these players were greeted back to campus by a plethora of preseason accolades. These honors included seven preseason all-conference nods and three preseason All-American awards.

Most notably, David Jones, a safety who had nine interceptions a year ago, was named to the watch list for National Defensive Player of the Year.

“Nobody really knew who I was,” Jones said. “I worked my way up to have such a good year my first year starting. It’s definitely a blessing because I’ve come such a long way.”

On the other side of the ball, Kyle Lauletta, redshirt-junior quarterback, was named to the watch list for National Offensive Player of the Year.

“Last year was my first year starting, so nobody had any expectations that I was going to be any good,” Lauletta said. “It’s really nice to get recognized, but at the same time, if you read into it too much you get cocky, and that’s obviously not what I want to do.”

Despite stellar seasons for both first-time starters and a No. 3 national ranking to end the season, Lauletta and Jones both said they were not satisfied.

Last August, the unranked Spiders were picked to finish fifth in the CAA. Now, after winning the CAA and advancing to the FCS semifinals, the conference favorites have secured a preseason ranking of No. 4.

“There’s definitely a feeling to the whole camp that we’re going to be really good this year,” Lauletta said. “It’s scary how good we can be. Last year we had a bunch of first-year players. Now we have a lot of big playmakers returning, so we should be really great.”

Jones, receiver Brian Brown and linebacker Omar Howard were all selected as STATS preseason All-Americans. 

The Spiders have aspirations of a national championship, but the road between preseason and Frisco, Texas, where the title game is played, will be riddled with a powerful opponents. In the CAA alone, Richmond will face five other nationally ranked teams.

“That’s why you always play hard, because you never know,” Lauletta said, making the point that any team in the CAA can win on Saturdays.

The Spiders will start the 2016 season on Sept. 3 against the Virginia Cavaliers.