WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Williams College football team has a mix of experience and youth that head coach Aaron Kelton would like to see pay off with a quality 2012 season.
The Ephs and the rest of NESCAC open their football seasons Saturday. Williams will host Colby at Weston Field at 1 p.m., one of five NESCAC games on the calendar.
Kelton's Ephs prepared for Colby by scrimmaging Little Three rival Amherst a week ago. The third-year Williams coach said all went well.
"I was really pleased because our kids played hard," Kelton said. "When they play hard and they give everything they've got, I can't ask for anything more than that. It was a chance to hit somebody else and a chance to show what they were capable of doing."
Williams returns eight starters on offense and only three on defense. Kelton said the offense might have to carry the defense in the early going.
Two of the three new starters on offense are sophomores and two starters on defense are sophomores. Kelton is confident the young players will be able to step right in.
"Our players are good. When we recruit our kids, we hope they'll be able to contribute early," said Kelton. "To have four sophomores playing in the first game of the year says that we've been able to target good kids. We'll have some freshmen who will play on Saturday.
"We know that, and we try to put them in a position to be successful."
His No. 1 target is literally No. 1 in your program. Darren Hartwell was All-NESCAC as a receiver, as a punt returner and as a kickoff returner. The senior from North Reading, who wears No. 1, was second in NESCAC in receiving yards per game and fourth in receptions per game. Williamstown's Greg Payton, a junior, caught 10 passes last year and will also start.
The third wideout is senior Jeff Riemann, whose first catch against Colby will be the first catch of his career. Williams is deep at receiver, with juniors Richie Beaton and Jeff Brewington and a slew of freshmen. Sam Krieg starts at tight end.
Alex Scyocurka returns at running back. The junior from Longmeadow carried the ball two times in the opener against Bowdoin before suffering an ankle injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season. Tom Wohlwender, who was seventh in rushing in NESCAC, took the majority of snaps. He was banged up against Amherst and could miss the first two games.
Juniors Marco Hernandez and Kristian LaPointe will back up. Tim Morris is the starting fullback with former linebacker Hill Hamrick backing up.
There's a mix of veterans and youth on the line. Three seniors - Pete Christiani, Cong Tian and Ryan Loughran - return. Tian at tackle and Christiani at guard will block Marske's left side. Sophomore Alan Felix will start at center while A.J. Walsh is the starting right tackle. Freshman Dan Loughran, Ryan's younger brother, could be one of many first years seeing some time on the line.
Joe Mallock, who is on the Fred Mitchell Award watch list, will handle the placekicking. The Mitchell Award is given to the top kicker in Division I-FCS, II and III football.
It's on defense where Kelton gets to play Bob the Builder, as he and defensive coordinator George McCormack are basically rebuilding a defense from scratch.
The only returning starters from last year are linebackers Chris Cameron and Emmanuel Whyte and corner Andre LaFontant. Whyte wasn't even in the starting lineup when the 2011 season began.
Whyte will replace All-NESCAC pick Dylan Schultz in the middle linebacker slot. Cameron returns to his post as the Will linebacker while sophomore Antonio Blanco will be the Sam linebacker.
Seniors Tom Foote and Ebeneezer Gyasi will anchor the line from their defensive tackle spots. Junior Ernest Higginbotham and sophomore Mike Flynn will man the end positions. Freshman James Howe will also see some time at defensive end.
Since NESCAC has become a more pass-happy league, a team's secondary is more critical than ever. Four quarterbacks threw for more than 1,300 yards in eight games last year, led by Middlebury's McCallum Foote's 2,420.
That means LaFontant and fellow junior Nate Saffold will have their work cut out for them at corner. Williams' defense had eight interceptions last year and Dan O'Mara took five of them with his diploma. Ladd Hamrick, who was a backup safety, is the strong safety this year. Chris Kim will play free safety. Both safeties are juniors.
Payton was fourth in NESCAC in punting, and he returns to handle the chores this year.