How URI became New England’s college football factory

Ryan Hannable
February 27, 2020 - 6:00 am
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INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to football in New England at the moment, Boston College, members of the ACC are the powerhouse, right?

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Not so fast.

It’s actually the Rams of the University of Rhode Island. Yes, the Rams that play in the CAA, part of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.

They have three members of their squad at the NFL Combine this week, while no other school in New England has more than one. Boston College has just running back A.J. Dillon, UMass does not have anyone and UConn has offensive tackle Matt Peart.

With wide receivers Aaron Parker and Isaiah Coulter, as well as offensive lineman Kyle Murphy, URI has more players in Indianapolis this week than Power Five conference teams such as Florida State, NC State, Oklahoma State, Purdue, Stanford and West Virginia. It also has three of the 12 total FCS players at the combine overall.

“It is certainly a mark of the quality type of athletes we’re able to attract at URI,” head coach Jim Fleming said via phone. “I think it is a tribute to the whole team’s attitude of trying to drive the program forward. These guys obviously own the achievement that they have been able to produce over the last three and four years. It’s been driven by their hard work and effort and determination and chasing a dream. 

“What is most significant for us as a program is that we have a very strong record now that if in fact you are good enough, you can get to the NFL through the University of Rhode Island.”

These three are the first URI players ever to be invited to Indianapolis and get the chance to workout in front of every NFL team at the same time.

Boston College typically has sent a number of players to the combine and NFL each year, including seven players at last years combine alone. 

Dillon believes the school should have received the same attention it has in the past, but also views it as his responsibility to prove this week that BC should have more players getting a chance to show their talents in front of the entire NFL.

“I mean, yeah,” Dillon said. “We have a lot of capable guys, and a lot of guys that are NFL ready. They will have that opportunity at pro day. My time here, it’s up to me to obviously show scouts and teams and media what BC football is all about. I take that mission on full-heartedly.”

While UConn hasn’t had as many players as Boston College, it would always be good for a few players at the combine — at least more than one like this year.

“You always feel like you could have more players,” Peart said. “Being the only guy, I am definitely going to put it on for UConn Nation and definitely do my thing.”

Following a 6-5 season last year, the Rams went 2-10 this year, including 0-8 in the conference. But, that didn’t deter their three stars from pushing each and every week to be the best players they can be. The hard work paid off with the trio being invited to the combine.

“It's really like a surreal reality to be here because we worked our ass off to get here and just seeing it all pay off,” Murphy said. “I know it didn't pay off as much as we wanted to overall four years, but our hard work really shows and I'm just excited to share this experience with them.”

Parker added: “Since we came in the door, you know, we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Coming into a not so good program, coming up, but we worked our tails off to get here and we put in the work every day. Woke up and attacked the day every day to be in a position that we are now.”

Parker and Coulter, who is skipping his senior season, are actually blood cousins from Maryland and both had over 1,000-yard seasons in 2019. But, Murphy, a very talented guard, may have the best chance of the group to get drafted.

Even though the program has had just one winning season in the last 18 years, the group is leaving the program in much better shape than it was before they got there.

“It's great to really put the university back on a map that really has been overlooked for a while. Even though we haven't had the record, we always had the talent," Murphy said. "So just creating the new culture there, and I was a leader, basically my junior and senior year. It was a great experience because I feel like we really changed the culture and we really brought a lot of recruits in.”

Fleming agreed that this will help attract even more talented players to the school and likely get the program going in a direction it hasn’t in quite some time.

“It says a lot about your program because yes, if you come in and do your thing you have a chance to move on if you’re good enough,” he said. “I think it is very helpful with recruiting and is one of those things that we’ll certainly take advantage of as much as we can. It doesn’t happen every year where you have three guys at the combine, particularly from a FCS school and particularly Rhode Island.”

While the program may not have a winning record, or be able to sustain long-term success over Boston College or even UConn, at least for one season URI can say they are the No. 1 football factory in New England.

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