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URI's Aaron Parker gets tackled by Maine's Katley Joseph during Saturday's game against Maine at Meade Stadium.

Rhode Island football’s first winning season in 17 years made some believers out of its conference mates.

URI was picked eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association’s preseason poll, announced Tuesday at the league’s Media Day event. It’s the highest spot for the Rams since 2011, when they were also picked eighth.

“All the coaches here, the No. 1 goal we all have for our program is to put a winning football team on the field each and every year. It’s a critical mark. It’s one that took a little bit longer than I thought it would take to get there,” URI head coach Jim Fleming said. “But at the same time, you can’t slight the significance – 17 years without a winning season. It’s been much longer without a championship, but at least we were able to hit that mark. Extremely rewarding, but at the same time, for the people in our locker room and our coaching staff, yeah, we got six, but we could have had eight. How do we get there? Where do we go from here?”

URI finished 6-5 last year and spent much of the season ranked in the Top 25. News of improvements to Meade Stadium accompanied the success. Field turf and lights are expected to be completed by this year’s home opener in September, adding an extra dose of excitement to a highly anticipated campaign.

“Our kids have been told, work hard, compete, win and good things will come. We had some significant contributions by some very generous people that got the ball rolling on this because they said they want to develop Rhode Island football to a higher level,” Fleming said. “Our kids are excited to go on out there and perform in front of what we anticipate to be a wild crowd on that first night versus Delaware. But it’s another game. What’s important to them is going out and playing at a high level, not so much where they’re playing. This group will go out and play in a parking lot if they’re asked to.

“We can’t be happier, but we’ve got to understand – we’ve made some significant strides as a football program, on the field, with the support, academics, the whole nine is in good position. But we’re just getting up closer to even by doing what we’re doing with the stadium. Now let’s go find a way to win a championship and let’s get an opportunity to build it even further.”

The poll position reflects that combination of satisfaction and hunger. Eighth is better – the Rams had been picked last for three consecutive years – but it’s still in the bottom half of the 12-team circuit.

“Our goals are very simple - to win a conference championship and attain a grade point average of 3.0. We haven’t done either one,” Fleming said. “This is my sixth opportunity to be able to chase that. We’ve been able to get to the winning point and get the highest GPA in the history of Rhode Island football, but we’re still not where we want to be. How do we get there? Continue to work hard and put our kids in the right position to develop a mentality that’s going to take us through those tough games.”

A host of returning starters on both sides of the ball will lead URI’s quest for the next step, including five players who earned preseason accolades Tuesday. Wide receiver Aaron Parker and offensive lineman Kyle Murphy were named all-conference, while kick returner Ahmere Dorsey, defensive lineman Brandon Ginnetti and tight end Joey Kenney earned honorable mention spots.

Some newcomers may have an impact, too. Fleming revealed at Media Day that the Rams are bringing in graduate transfer quarterback Alin Edoaurd, a former Syracuse commit who played in junior college before attending Texas-San Antonio.

James Madison was picked as the preseason favorite, followed by Towson, defending champion Maine, Elon and Delaware in the top five. Stony Brook and New Hampshire are also ahead of URI, with Villanova, Richmond, William & Mary and Albany checking in behind the Rams.

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