KINGSTON — There's no sport with as romantic a turning of the calendar as football. As July becomes August, the cleats and pads come out, with fresh hope thick in the air for teams all over the country. Sharp sounds of whistles and collisions break through the humidity, reminding all those nearby that football is officially back.
That was the scene in Kingston on Tuesday, where the University of Rhode Island football team broke out the full pads for the first time, on the fifth day of its training camp. The Rams looked like a group thrilled to be out for an early August practice, fully ready to expand on last year's success.
“You gotta take every day like it's your last, and play hard every play,” senior defensive lineman Brandon Ginnetti said. “You have to have good energy on defense. I'm trying to get my guys psyched up, trying to be the leader of this group. That's what they're gonna get in my last year.”
You'll often hear Ginnetti before you see him. The ball of energy had a big smile on his face throughout practice and was quick to pick up any flagging teammates.
He has every reason to be excited for the upcoming season. While his sack production dipped in his junior year — he had seven as a sophomore and only three last year — he is primed to be a big piece on this year's D-line.
“This group [of defensive linemen] has the work ethic,” he said. “We've had great [guys] in the past: Mike Ezirike, Jose Duncan. We miss those guys but the new group is just as athletic, just as good. We can get stuff done too.”
Ginnetti is far from the only player champing at the bit to get the season going. Preseason All-American Aaron Parker, a senior wide receiver, has put up gaudy numbers in each of his first three seasons, and doesn't appear ready to slow down any time soon.
“I'm looking forward to it, doing big things," he said. "Coach always preaches championship — that's what we're going for. We're coming out here every day, good against good. Iron sharpens iron.
“It gives me juice to play harder, but it's a credit to my team,” Parker said of his litany of preseason awards. “It's not just an individual award. Quarterback has to do his job, offense has to have camaraderie for me to receive all those awards. I don't really accept it as an individual award; I accept it as a team award.”
Parker is joined as an All-American by offensive lineman Kyle Murphy. For a team that has languished in mediocrity for many seasons, having two players bestowed with such a high honor marks a major change.
“We've done a good job of recruiting,” URI coach Jim Fleming said. “Very fortunate to have those type of guys. Did we think they were going to be All-Americans when we signed them? Sure, we thought they were good players. We were just trying to get competitive CAA players, and these guys have worked themselves into the All-American preseason thing.”
For the modest Parker to continue his tear through the CAA this season, he'll have to rely on a new signal-caller. Gone is JaJuan Lawson, who threw for 17 of the team's 25 receiving touchdowns last season. Vito Priore, who threw seven of the other TDs, is back, and shared time under center on Tuesday with three, mostly fresh faces: Darius Perrantes, Alin Edouard and Jahkari Grant.
“The new guys coming in, we're starting to get good chemistry,” Parker said. “Staying out here after practice, tossing some balls around, getting used to different speeds. There's no difference if it's Vito out there, Alin, Darius or Jahkari. We're gonna roll with who the coach goes with and that's it.”
Perrantes is a true freshman from Valley Village, Calif. In his final two seasons of high school ball, he threw for a combined 5,200 yards. Edouard is a graduate transfer from UT San Antonio, who has bounced around all levels of college football without seeing too much time on the field. Grant is a redshirt sophomore who got into two games last season for Rhody as a reserve quarterback.
Edouard and Priore got the lion's share of the snaps when the team was doing full 11-on-11 scrimmaging. A decision on who will start the season atop the depth chart seems a way's away, but whoever wins the job will have a full arsenal of weapons waiting for them to use.
“[Offensive coordinator] Will [Fleming] and the offensive staff have a really good vision of what they want to try and achieve,” Fleming said. “All things are possible when you're talking about a really good offensive lineup. We have a lot of interesting pieces. You look around, there's a lot of guys who touched the ball last year who were very productive.
“Wildcat, yes. Finding more of a role for [Ahmere] Dorsey in certain situations.”
Dorsey was electric in the return game last season, but a logjam of receivers in front of him on the depth chart limited him to a total of five catches. During Tuesday's practice, he was lined up as a slot receiver and made a handful of grabs.
The team is planning on a scrimmage early next week, and hopes to be out on the new artificial turf over at Meade Stadium around Aug. 15.
“Very exciting,” Ginnetti said. “It doesn't take away from what we're trying to do. In reality, it's just a new field ... but it's a new field. It's a big deal. We're all excited about it. We all can't way to get out there and play our best on it.”