RICHMOND, Va. – When he was hired as Richmond's football coach last winter, Latrell Scott inherited a program two years removed from winning its first national championship, and one that has made deep runs into the FCS playoffs a matter of routine.
But in becoming one of the youngest head coaches in Division I football, the 35-year-old Scott also took over a team that had just said goodbye to 15 senior starters, including a four-year starting quarterback and four of its offensive linemen. And it still plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, which has become the pre-eminent league in FCS football.
Villanova last year became the CAA's fourth different national champ in seven years.
"It shows you what the CAA is all about," Scott said.
Thankfully for the first-time head coach, help was on the way.
Aaron Corp, once penciled in as the starting quarterback at Southern California, arrived as a transfer, as did Richard Muldrow, a 6-foot-8, 300-pound offensive lineman from Rutgers.
The school also will open its $25 million, on-campus stadium this season, and perhaps as importantly, was picked by the CAA's coaches and media to finish just sixth in the league.
Not much respect for a defending regular-season league champion.
"It's been placed in a few places around the building," Scott said of the prediction. "I'm not sure how it got there, but it's a tool, something that our kids have to focus on. We don't want to be the sixth-best team in anything we do, be it the conference or the country."
The players also enjoy being doubted in spite of their recent success.
"I think the year we won the national championship, every game in the playoffs we were the underdog," returning All-CAA center Drew Lachenmayer said as camp began. "It's always that little bit of an extra chip you have going into the week when people are doubting you."
And it's not like the cupboard is bare. Not even close.
Six of the seven returning starters were named to the CAA's preseason all-league team, including wide receivers Kevin Grayson (48 catches, 545 yards, 2 TDs) and Tre Gray (51, 713, 4), giving Corp two targets adept at stretching a defense. Also picked was fullback Kendall Gaskins (6 TDs), whose blocking will be key as the new offensive line works to protect.
On defense, lineman Martin Parker led the Spiders with 6½ sacks last year, and linebacker Eric McBride and cornerback Justin Rogers are three-time all conference first-team choices.
In their careers, they've been part of 35 wins and only eight losses, won the national championship in 2008 and advanced to the semifinals in the other two seasons.
Scott expects the seniors to help impart the secret of success to his younger players.
"You have to work to make sure that the younger guys understand and appreciate it," he said of the history, started under Dave Clawson, who left three years ago to become offensive coordinator at Tennessee, and continued under Mike London, now the head coach at Virginia.
Parker thinks the seeds for the tradition, and continuing it, are already planted.
"Once you learn how to win, you learn how not to lose," he said. "The feeling after a game, after the '08 championship, that's a feeling that you want back year after year."
To some, the choice of Scott was curious. He had never climbed to the coordinator level at the top level in college coaching, but was widely respected as an effective recruiter. He also had served as wide receivers coach under some highly accomplished mentors — Clawson at Richmond, Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee and Al Groh at Virginia — all in the past three years.
Plus, athletic director Jim Miller said, one supporter made a compelling argument.
"Some people are going to tell you he's two years away from being a head coach," Miller said Clawson told him. "But in two years, you're not going to be able to get him."
Scott consults weekly with Clawson, now the head coach at Bowling Green, and said he uses things he's learned from all his former bosses in building a staff and an approach.
He admittedly also has taken some time in adjusting to being in charge.
"I think I'm much more involved than I was in the spring," he said. "I have a much better feel for what's going on and kind of when and where to add my opinion. I was given the ability to hire a great staff, so I'm able to stay out of the way a lot, but also kind of insert my own opinion when needed. I'm a lot more comfortable than I was in the spring."
It helps that six of his assistants are holdovers from London's staff, and that defensive coordinator Bob Trott and defensive line coach Chad Wilt came with him from Virginia.
He and London also compared notes this summer as they swapped sides, he said, but those exchanges were limited because the teams open against each other at Virginia on Sept. 4.
It will be, Gray said, their first of many experiences they relish as underdogs.
"We like it," he said. "We like being looked over. It gives us the ability to show up every day, like we're supposed to, take it one week at a time, and handle our business."