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The URI defense tries to stop Delaware's Khory Spruill during a game in the spring season.

The abbreviated spring season gave the University of Rhode Island football team a lot to build on and made the rest of the Colonial Athletic Association take notice.

The Rams were picked sixth in the CAA’s preseason poll of coaches and sports information directors that was unveiled Tuesday. It’s their highest ranking in a number of years.

“We’ve got two wins in 2021 and we’re going to go ahead and build on that,” head coach Jim Fleming said. “Feel really good about our football team. I think there is momentum. We’ve got a great group of guys that have been busting tail. And the biggest benefit we’ve had out of COVID is the opportunity to get our guys back here this summer. They’ve been lifting, training and really getting after it.”

Perennial powerhouse James Madison tops the poll with 15 first-place votes. Delaware, a national semifinalist in the spring, got seven first-place votes and is second in the poll. Villanova, Richmond and New Hampshire check in ahead of URI.

Fullback Joey Kenny and wide receiver Ivory Frimpong landed on the preseason all-conference team, Kenny on the first team and Frimpong getting an honorable mention nod.

The projections come after a spring season that both built excitement and left the Rams wanting more. They opened with an overtime win over No. 6 Villanova, then won another overtime game over No. 18 Albany. Delaware had too much in a 35-21 win on March 27, but the Rams were ready for a late surge that might have given them a shot at an FCS playoff berth. Instead, positive COVID tests in the New Hampshire camp forced the cancellation of URI’s next game. The Rams encountered their own COVID issues before the next week’s game with Maine and canceled their final two games.

“We’re all pretty excited to get back,” said senior defensive lineman A.J. Bibeault. “It’s something we never experienced, having a season cut short like that. To have a season cut short when we were on a roll and kind of growing into our own, it was just unfortunate. We’re looking forward to getting back.”

The Rams flashed improved defense and got a big boost from some transfers on offense, with quarterback Kasim Hill and running back Kevin Brown, Jr., delivering big production. There have been some comings and goings in the offseason but plenty of talent remains.

“We’ve got a lot of depth and a lot of competitions going at many different positions,” Fleming said. “After watching their development through the summer, they’re as good looking a group as we’ve had here at the University of Rhode Island over the last seven years. I’m really looking forward to it.”

URI will begin preseason camp on Aug. 6. The season opener is set for Sept. 4 against Bryant. With URI requiring vaccinations for students, it should be a more normal season for the Rams, without the constant threat of cancellations.

The Rams will appreciate it all the same.

“The biggest value that we’ve all taken away from 2019, 2020 and into 2021 is embracing every opportunity to play the game,” Fleming said. “When we started training camp in January and practiced and played through a blizzard, was there great value and advantage there? Maybe, maybe not. But our kids understood to take care of every day and put the work in and play as well as we possibly can. It worked out very well for the spirit of this football team to win the two overtime games.”

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