KINGSTON — The University of Rhode Island football team is starting to gain some respect, both locally and on the conference level.
After finally posting a winning season last year for the first time under coach Jim Fleming, the Rams were picked to finish eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association this season, and had two players named to the All-Conference team.
“We got six [wins], but we could have had eight,” Fleming said at this week's CAA Media Day in Richmond, Va. “How do we get there? Where do we go from here? Significant milestone to hit, to validate Rhode Island football in the eyes of many. We have a tremendous buzz going up in Kingston.”
The two All-Conference selections both play on the offensive side of the ball. Senior wideout Aaron Parker was a first-team selection in 2018 and carries over that distinction after setting a career high in receiving yards (972) last season.
Kyle Murphy is the other Rams player voted in by CAA head coaches and media relations directors. The rising senior offensive lineman earned his second straight conference honor. He started all 11 games last year, mostly at left tackle.
URI also had three players on the honorable mention list: fullback Joey Kenny, defensive lineman Brandon Ginnetti and special teams returner Ahmere Dorsey. One kick returner and one punt returner were named to the All-Conference preseason team, and Dorsey, primarily a kick returner, was beat out this year by Maine's Earnest Edwards.
Even with the newfound respect of their conference peers, Dorsey's relegation to the honorable mention list could be viewed as a snub. Dorsey had a staggering 851 return yards last season, including two for touchdowns. Edwards had just 351 yards, a long of 39 and failed to find the end zone.
“Ahmere Dorsey, I thought, was one of the best specialists in the country last year,” Fleming said. “That was evidenced by his production. We have an increased role this year on the offensive side for him.”
Even if the CAA is sleeping on Dorsey, the Rams have plenty to hang their hats on heading into the 2019 season. The improvements to Meade Stadium are being viewed by Fleming and his staff as a reward for the work put in by their players.
“We're thrilled to death,” Fleming said. “Our kids have been told to work hard and compete, and good things will come. We've had some significant contributions made by very generous people that got the ball rolling on this. They want to develop Rhode Island football to a higher level.
“Our kids are excited to go out and perform in what we expect to be a wild crowd that first night against Delaware.”
They'll play that first CAA game on Sept. 7 under the lights and on a newly installed artificial turf field. Fleming is equally excited about the product they will showcase at the newly improved Meade Stadium.
“I'm really excited to see what we can do on the defensive side of the ball this year,” he said. “We stack up. Our defensive line is deep and talented, our linebacking corps is young but talented and our secondary has a lot of snaps under its belt.”
On offense, the Rams figure to heavily feature Parker and his cousin Isaiah Coulter out wide. The backfield will feature touches from the experienced trio of Zoe Bryant, Naim Jones and Justice Antrum. The quarterback position is, as always, a little up in the air at the moment.
“The quarterback position becomes the focus of all the questions,” Fleming said. “We've got a guy with four games under his belt, Vito Priore. He established himself in the spring as the No. 1 guy.
“We'll have four guys battling in camp to establish the two-deep. Priore, Jahkari Grant, a state champion out of Connecticut that hasn't had a opportunity to play that much, Darius Perrantes out of California, and we're bringing in a grad transfer from UT San Antonio, kid named Alin Edouard. We'll see where that goes.”
Edouard has floated around the football landscape for a few years now. He started as a University of Miami recruit, but quickly switched his allegiance to Syracuse. Family and transcript problems prevented him from ever playing with the Orange, and he went the junior college route before ending up at UT San Antonio.
At 6-foot-3 and 206 pounds, Edouard is a dual-threat quarterback similar to the recently departed JaJuan Lawson. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for in pure athleticism.
Regardless of who is taking snaps under center this season, Fleming is unwavering in his ultimate mission. “Our goals are very simple; they always have been: win a conference championship, and obtain a team GPA of 3.0. We haven't accomplished either in [my] six years. We've gotten a winning season and the highest GPA in the history of Rhode Island football. [But] we're still not where we want to be.”