Former Warrior handles full schedule with the Tribe

Published 5:59 pm Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When Andy Topping was on Nansemond River’s football team, Brian Maus, his head coach for three of the four seasons Topping was on the varsity squad, urged him to take his job as the team’s long snapper as seriously as when he played tight end or defensive end.

“He said, this will pay off if you keep working on it,” said Topping. “It’s helped me get to William and Mary. It’s helped me to get a spot on the field and participate in a great season.”

William and Mary (11-2) is in the final four of the Football Championship Subdivision (Div. 1-AA) playoffs. The Tribe travels north to face Villanova on Friday night at 8 p.m.

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W&M’s last time making it this deep into the postseason was 2004 and the Tribe has never reached the FCS/Div. 1-AA national championship.

Topping, a redshirt freshman for the Tribe, is listed as a tight end on W&M’s roster, but also practices as a reserve field goal/extra point snapper.

Late in the regular season in a victory over Towson, W&M’s first-string center suffered a broken left hand.

Next week against No. 7-ranked New Hampshire, a team that wound up reaching the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs, Topping took over the snapping for field goals and extra points. Topping’s had the job through the last four games, including W&M’s playoff wins over Weber State in the first round and at No. 1 Southern Illinois in the quarterfinals.

The Tribe rolled over the Salukis 24-3 thanks largely to a defense that has been at or near the top of Div. 1-AA all season.

“With our defensive line, we knew it would kind of be a brawl up front. On offense, we knew we just had to put some points up on the board,” said Topping.

W&M held SIU’s standout running back, Deji Karim, who had totaled more than 1,700 yards on the season heading into last Saturday, to 27 yards.

“The defense dug its cleats in early and the offense started to feed off the defense’s energy and emotion,” said Topping.

The semifinal brings up Villanova. The Wildcats gave the Tribe its first loss of the season, 28-17, in Philadelphia on Oct. 3.

The Tribe opened the season with a 4-0 record, including a 26-14 win at Virginia on opening night. Topping redshirted last season, so the upset in Charlottesville was his first game in uniform and his first game on W&M’s travel squad.

“That game was very special for us. It was a great day for everyone who was there,” said Topping.

The semifinal and national championship game, in Chattanooga, Tenn., will be on Friday nights, adding to a challenge Topping and all the Tribe football players are dealing with. It’s something Topping certainly wants to put up with for one more week.

This week and next week is the end-of-term exam period at William and Mary. This week, Topping, who is working toward gaining admission into W&M’s Mason School of Business, had an exam on Tuesday and had exams scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

Topping will take Thursday’s exam in the morning, instead of the afternoon time it was originally set for, since the football team will be traveling on Thursday afternoon.

For Friday’s exam, “it’s our responsibility to go to our teachers and find a time when we can take it,” said Topping.

“(The professors) do a lot to get us approved and not penalize us, but it’s up to us to go to our teachers and plan everything, and then of course still get it done,” said Topping.

At Nansemond River, Topping graduated fourth in his class. He earned the VHSL (Virginia High School League) Academic Excellence Award and was a Virginian-Pilot Scholastic Achievement Award winner.

As for concentrating on football, especially during the biggest games of the season, Topping said not a lot changes.

“When we’re on the field, it’s still 100 percent football. The difference is, when we’re not doing things for football, right now, it’s 100 percent about class and studying,” said Topping.

At a demanding college such as William and Mary, even the “regular season” of the school year is full. Topping said Wednesdays were his busiest days during this past semester.

A normal Wednesday started with lifting weights at 7:45 a.m. Topping had four classes lined up from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., a team meeting at 3 p.m., practice from 4-6 p.m., then another meeting, this one for the offensive players, at 8 p.m.

Topping says he doesn’t become stressed about the workload, academically or athletically. He can focus on what’s at hand and move ahead with it.

“You have to make sure you have a schedule each day and that you stay ahead of the game,” said Topping. “Once you think about how much stuff you have to do, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. You just make sure everything’s planned out as well as possible and you go.”

W&M’s head coach, Jimmye Laycock, himself a W&M alum and in his 30th season as W&M’s head coach, is just as much a leader for his student-athletes off the field as he is on the field. Laycock won his 200th game as a head coach with the victory over SIU.

Athletically, Topping said, “he does a great job basically preparing us for everything that might come up in a game.”

Off the field, Laycock’s coaching is equally valuable.

“He’s a role model for doing things the right way,” said Topping. “He tells us people are willing to do things for you, like rescheduling exams, when you always do things the right way.”

William and Mary and Villanova will clash on ESPN2 Friday night. Not only is a spot in the championship game on the line, but it’s a Colonial conference rivalry that has belonged to the Wildcats recently. No one in the Tribe’s senior class has beaten Villanova.

Win or lose, Topping and the Tribe will return to Williamsburg for a busy week.