Over the past decade, the University of Richmond football program ranks in the top-10 nationally in total wins (87 – sixth), playoff wins (12 – second), playoff appearances (six – fourth), conference titles (four – most in CAA), NFL guys (10 – third), top-25 rankings (seven – fifth) and national championships (1 – second).
The man who was a member of the staff that started this decade of success has returned to take over the reins himself as the Spiders look to continue that success at an even higher level.
Russ Huesman, who served as Richmond’s defensive coordinator on the 2008 National Championship team, makes no mistake when addressing what he wants to accomplish with his return to campus.
“We have one goal as a program and that’s to win a national championship,” Huesman said at his introductory press conference.
Huesman and his staff will have a stocked cupboard returning next fall with eight starters returning on the offensive side of the ball, six on the defensive side and all of the special teams unit.
“There’s a bunch of talented players already here and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to coach them up and have a lot of success,” Huesman said.
On the offensive side of the ball, All-CAA Quarterback Kyle Lauletta will look to return under center after recovering from the ACL injury that cost him the final regular season game and the playoffs during the 2016 season.
Lauletta ranks in the top-five in the country in passing yards and TDs over the past two seasons. Last year, he became the only player in program history to throw for over 3,000 for two consecutive seasons.
Joining Lauletta will be rising junior Kevin Johnson, who stepped in during the FCS Playoff run and tossed for 761 yards and three TDs. The duo combined for just two INTs in the final eight games of the 2016 season.
Lauletta and Johnson will have plenty of familiar faces in the backfield with them as the entire running back group will be back, including Freshman All-American Deontez Thompson.
Thompson became the first Spider ever to rush for over 1,000 yards in his first collegiate season when he finished with 1,001 yards and nine TDs last fall. He will be joined by senior Gordon Collins (133 yards, 1 TD in two games) and sophomore Xavier Goodall (407 yards, 2 TDs in six games), who will both be returning from ACL injuries that ended their seasons prematurely last fall.
The loss of All-American Brian Brown will be a big one for Richmond, but All-CAA honoree Tyler Wilkins and Jarmal Bevels lead a stable of pass catching options, that also include tight end Garrett Hudson, who set a Spider record for yards by a tight end with 519 as well as catching five TDs last fall.
Up front, the Spiders lose to staples in Thomas Evans and Nick Vergos, but Marius Young and John Yarborough are expected to step in and fill those roles, along with a multitude of other options to protect Lauletta and Johnson, along with pound the running game, an area that Huesman and his staff have dominated opponents in during their time at Chattanooga.
Defensively, Richmond loses two long-time leaders in Winston Craig and Omar Howard, along with starters Selton Hodge, Kieran Gregory and Charles Mack, but the coaching staff feels good about the players who will be returning this fall to a revamped defensive style.
Huesman and his staff run a 4-2-5 defensive style that will bode well with the Spiders returning seven different guys who had INTs last fall, as well as the top cover corner in Jarriel Jordan who will be returning from a foot injury that hampered his 2016 season.
Spider fans will have plenty of chances to check out the start of the Huesman era, beginning with spring practices which start on March 14 at Robins Stadium.