Yes, there’s the parade and the floats, the pep rally, a reunion of sorts with family, but homecoming for Matt Crisafi is infinitely more personal. It’s a chance to show Tribe football players from 30, 40 – even 50 years ago – that the tradition they established lives on.
“A lot of guys always come up, and it’s nice to see those guys and to put on a performance for them,” said Crisafi, William & Mary’s 302-pound starting center. “In my mind I think we’re going out to show them that what they helped build is in good hands.”
If victory is the only criteria involved in making that point, Saturday’s task at Zable Stadium (3:30 p.m.) won’t be easy. The Tribe (4-3, 1-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association) faces conference rival James Madison University, ranked either 16th or 19th in the nation, depending on which poll you believe. JMU is 5-2 overall, 2-1 in the CAA.
Yet as much as Crisafi yearns to beat the Dukes, and as critical as the game is to the Tribe’s chances of landing a playoff berth, Homecoming has another meaning for the W&M offensive lineman. And it has to do with Keith Hill, Jr., ’10, and the impact he had on Crisafi’s collegiate experience.
“He was a fourth-year when I got here. I redshirted my freshman year, but traveled to the games,” Crisafi recalled. “I roomed with him when we traveled, sat on the bus with him. We have tests the night before each game, and I’d take the test and we’d talk about things. I’d watch film with him. So I wanted to model myself after him, look at the things he was good at and pick and pull what he did and develop the other skills that I had on my own.
“Now I feel like it’s time to pay that forward to someone else. One thing I picked up at William & Mary is that you have a line of stories like that involving others.”
Dom Martinelli and Jerry Ugokwe, two redshirt freshmen who have started some games at offensive tackle this season, are the beneficiaries of the call to aid Hill and now Crisafi have answered.
“I started last spring watching film with them, taking notes on their (practice performances) and giving them to them after meetings,” Crisafi said. “It was stuff that I was fortunate enough to have Keith do for me, and I need to pay forward to someone else. This program is so great it needs to continue to move forward and to be better than the people who were here before them.”
Crisafi is as good off the field as he is on it. He graduated with a 3.6 grade point average in finance with a minor in accounting. Through W&M’s Cohen Career Center, he learned of an opportunity to work for Stephens, Inc., an investment banking firm. He participated in a campus interview then was invited for a weekend series of interviews. Those took place on a Saturday. He flew home that night, and the next morning was offered a job in their Atlanta branch that starts in June. He’ll go there having completed his master’s degree in accounting.
But June’s a long time away. Crisafi still has about half a season to play. While he admits his bias, he says that the Tribe will go where the offensive line leads it as far as tempo and attitude.
“If we’re making mistakes and down on ourselves and not getting after it,” he said, “that’s going to spread to the rest of the offense.”
He has no trouble picking out the highlights of his career. One was a fourth-quarter drive against Delaware in 2010 that led then fourth-ranked Tribe to a 17-16 victory over No. 2 Delaware.
The other occurred just two weeks ago against Penn. The Quakers scored two quick touchdowns to pull within 21-14 with 7:58 left to play. But at the point, W&M ran the ball 12 straight plays, ground out 75 yards, ate up all but 90 seconds and iced the game with a touchdown.
“That’s probably the drive that’s stuck in my head the most of all of the drives of my career –that and the Delaware game,” he said. “Those two drives were the same, just different people. The drive was on us to get it done; we had to be more physical and we had to want it more than they did. I think the offensive linemen and the backs – even the receivers – were all getting their blocks in, so it wasn’t just us. But something just clicked. We told ourselves, ‘This is something we just have to do.’”
Getting back to his impending job, Crisafi said that the first person to interview him for Stephens was a W&M graduate who had captained the women’s lacrosse team.
“Maybe that’s why we related to each other so well,” he mused, “We both played athletics here and we know what that can be like.
“My story is indicative of the William & Mary story. This place just helps you grow. I don’t think there’s another place in the world where there’s that closeness and camaraderie and so many people willing to help you reach your full potential.”