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After success in 1st 2 seasons, Old Dominion prepares to enter gauntlet that is the CAA
Old Dominion quarterback Thomas DeMarco is eager for the football season to get started.
Labeled as perhaps the best player in the Colonial Athletic Association by his coach, Bobby Wilder, the senior wants to show what he can do against top competition.
Old Dominion has won 17 of 22 games since restarting its football program two years ago, and this year will play a full league schedule in the highly regarded CAA for the first time.
“You’re always going to get the critics (who say) ‘You might have done well the last two years, but you didn’t play anybody,’” DeMarco said. “Now I get my opportunity to show. I’m excited because I’ve waited my entire life for this.”
Wilder feels like he has, too.
A quarterback at Maine in his playing days and then an assistant for 17 years with the Black Bears, Wilder was hired by Old Dominion in February 2007, 18 months before the first game.
He said perhaps the most significant game in the two seasons was a loss — 21-17 at home against CAA power William & Mary last year before a sellout crowd the Monarchs’ field.
“That was the game that had been circled on the schedule since we knew we were playing them in terms of where are we,” Wilder said. “We were in our 14th game of existence and they’ve been playing for 120 years. … That game in so many ways, it showed me as the head coach that we’re on the right path, we’re recruiting the right players, we’re doing the right things.”
But one game does not a trend make, he’s quick to add, especially not with the schedule-maker have handed Old Dominion a welcome to the CAA slate that includes eight straight weeks, finishing with a gauntlet of Villanova, James Madison, Richmond and William & Mary.
Villanova, JMU and Richmond have all won the national championship within the past six seasons, and the Tribe team that Wilder’s lost to played in the national semifinals last year.
Ronnie Cameron, a transfer from Hofstra, which disbanded its football program, said the culture of winning the Monarchs have forged in two seasons will help as they face this season.
“Honestly, I like the fact that a lot of these guys are somewhat ignorant to the fact of what we’re going into,” the senior defensive tackle and co-captain said, “because you have that confidence, like ‘I can beat anybody,’ and you need some of that feeling on your team.”
It starts with DeMarco, who at 5-foot-9 has always felt he had something to prove.
“I fully expect he’ll be one of the best quarterbacks, if not the best quarterback, in the league,” Wilder said, listing his intangibles and ability to get the ball into the end zone.
In starting the last 22 games, he’s thrown for 44 touchdowns against just 16 interceptions, and has run for 25 more scores. Last year, he averaged 289 yards of total offense per game.
“He has a chip on his shoulder,” Wilder said, to show that he belongs.
The loss to the Tribe, DeMarco said, was beneficial.
“I think the biggest thing that I took from it is that we have guys that can play at that level,” the California native said. “We matched them intensity-wise. We showed that we have the ability to play at that level. … We kind of set the bar higher for ourselves, as well.”
While beating schools like Campbell, Monmouth, Savannah State and VMI last year on the way to an 8-3 finish helped the culture, DeMarco knows CAA teams will present a bigger challenge.
“We understand the competition we’re going against,” he said. “We’re working really hard towards it and we’re excited and have been working for the past two years to get to this point.”
Cameron has yet to play a game for the Monarchs, but said he opted to come south when he needed a place to play because he liked the environment in Norfolk, and the program’s course.
Even knowing how tough the year could be, he offered a prediction:
“Everything’s on the table for us. We just have to go and get it,” he said. “We’re going to shock some people.”
By HANK KURZ Jr., Daily Journal