Sudden stardom at W&M

SportsFootballCollege of William and MaryEducationNFLJoe FlaccoJimmye Laycock

R.J. Archer will never approach William and Mary's career passing records. But the owner of those marks says Archer can secure what he could not: NFL employment.

"The thing R.J. has going for him is that he's still very much raw," said David Corley Jr., the Tribe's running-backs coach. "I think that's what scouts are excited about. You look for guys who haven't peaked yet."

Raw is not a word often associated with fifth-year seniors. But Archer did not play a down at quarterback for William and Mary until last season, when he backed up Jake Phillips.

The delay didn't hurt. With two Saint Bernard-sized regular-season games remaining, the Tribe (8-1, 5-1 Colonial Athletic Association) is ranked fifth nationally, and Archer is among the league's most productive passers.

"Number one, he's a good athlete, number two he's smart and number three he's been in the program," head coach Jimmye Laycock said Tuesday as his team prepared for Saturday's regular-season home finale against No. 8 New Hampshire (8-1, 5-1). "He can do all the things you want him to do. It's just a matter of doing it on a consistent basis and a matter of experience.

"The mistakes he's made and the shortcomings he's had this season have been based on inexperience and not inability."

A three-year quarterback at Albemarle High near Charlottesville, Archer started at wide receiver as a redshirt freshman and sophomore at William and Mary. But rather than continue catching passes, Archer accepted Laycock's offer to apprentice behind Phillips for a year before ascending to a starter's role.

Laycock considers Archer's instant acceptance the epitome of selflessness. But in a reflection of his economics major, Archer takes a more pragmatic view.

"Being a competitor, you want to be out on the field," he said. "But at same time I knew it would pay off and I knew that it needed to happen. … It definitely helped me going into this year because each and every week I prepared like I was the starter.

"I learned a lot going back to the position. I think I would have been scrambling in the spring and summer to catch back up if I had spent the whole season at receiver."

Archer ranks third among CAA quarterbacks with 13 touchdown passes and 203.2 passing yards per game. He's thrown only four interceptions, boasts a powerful arm and is sneaky quick.

But with a bruising defense and effective running game, William and Mary doesn't need the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Archer to match the gaudy statistics of predecessors such as Corley (class of 2002) and Lang Campbell, the 2004 Division I-AA national player of the year.

"Some of the other quarterbacks I'm sure have better stats but it doesn't really bother me," Archer said. "As long as our (record) is better than everyone else's. My best yardage game (354) was against Villanova, and that was the game we lost.

"If you get behind, you have to stand back there and wing it and throw it around the field. You accumulate some stats that way but that usually means you're in close games or trying to scratch back from behind. It's nice to be able to get ahead in some of these games and come out in the second half and try to run the ball down people's throats."

Trampling opponents will become more difficult as the Tribe closes the regular season against New Hampshire and defending national champ Richmond before embarking on the playoffs. But neither Laycock nor Corley doubt that Archer can handle the burden of 40-50 passes in a game, if necessary.

In fact, their only gripe with Archer is his placid approach.

"R.J. in the past wasn't the most vocal guy," said Corley, who played two professional seasons in Canada. "But sometimes as a quarterback you have to jump-start the group a little bit vocally in order to get them to step up. You want to be encouraging, but sometimes you have to offer constructive criticism."

Said Laycock: "He has a very good presence about him, in that he's confident, very steady, very even-keeled, almost to the point of being nonchalant, which sometimes gets under my skin. But that's just the way he is. Some people show their intensity in different ways, and he doesn't show his outwardly."

With the Tribe one victory away from its first 9-1 record since the 1947 Southern Conference title season, no one is complaining about Archer's results. Moreover, NFL scouts are prowling.

"A lot of pro people are looking at him, oh yessiree," Laycock said. "You'd be surprised at the number of people who have been in here and liked him. We had one who left today that was just raving."

Archer dismissed the pro chatter as more appropriate for the offseason but did refer to a former CAA rival now quarterbacking the Baltimore Ravens.

"Scouts come in and out, and they're not just looking at me, that's for sure," Archer said. "But who knows? Joe Flacco from Delaware? It's worked out pretty well for him."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime

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