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In the FCS Huddle: For Rhode Island, summer means so much more

By Sean Shapiro, FCS Assistant

Baltimore, MD (The Sports Network) - Willie McGinnis would work out 24 hours a day if his body allowed it.

But, that isn't physically possible and the Rhode Island defensive lineman has to find other activities to fill the rest of his summer schedule.

Luckily for McGinnis, that isn't difficult with the camaraderie he shares with his teammates.

Often times you'll find the Rams gathered around the charcoal grill, which they pooled their money to purchase, waiting for offensive guard Kyle Bogumil or defensive tackle Matt Rae to serve up steaks.

"They cook for us and make it up big," McGinnis said. "They also got a little singing talent. They play guitars, both of them, so it's a pretty nice time."

If they're not grilling, the Rams are likely to be crowded around the television playing video games - NBA 2K11 is the favorite, where wide receiver Anthony Baskerville often is crowned king of the virtual court.

Summers in Rhode Island have been more fun for McGinnis the past two years, as more players have spent the optional time in Kingston and the Rams' record has reflected that.

"I feel like the biggest thing for our team is the summer workouts, people being invested not just during the school year," McGinnis said. "The year before we went 1-10, not a lot of guys were up here. Next year we had a ton more guys and the result was better. This year we've got even more guys."

After finishing the 2009 season at 1-10, and winless in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Rams improved to 5-6 and 4-4 in the conference last season - a more impressive feat considering Rhode Island has posted only three winning seasons since making the FCS playoffs in 1985.

However, 5-6 won't be acceptable this season, as Rhode Island has raised both their own and some others' expectations of the Rams. Even though they were picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll - a fact head coach Joe Trainer called a, "slap in the face" - they did garner a first-place vote.

"That's pretty cool that we got a first-place vote," starting quarterback Steve Probst said. "I don't know how much validity there is in preseason polls and votes, I know we're ranked eighth, but we're not too hung up on it. That's why they play the games."

While other CAA teams won't care where the Rams are ranked or how many first- place votes they received, Trainer thinks it could be the motivation to push his team even harder in preseason workouts.

Leading the way in the preseason workouts and on the field come September is Probst, who was named to the CAA preseason all-conference team. Probst, a former transfer from Hofstra, is the top retuning passer in the CAA this season after throwing for 1,876 yards and nine touchdowns in 2010.

"He's one of the few very good quarterbacks in this conference who hasn't redshirted," Trainer said. "Most of the good quarterbacks in this conference have redshirted, so he knows that his learning curve is accelerated.

"He's got more than enough arm strength, I think he's a better runner than he looks. He's such a long strider, he's not a change-of-direction scat guy, he's more like that Pterodactyl, long-strider covering ground and running away from people."

Last season Probst used his "Pterodactyl strides" to rush for 600 yards and seven touchdowns.

For the Rams' defense this preseason, and the ensuing season, have been all about putting more "swagger" into their game.

"The defense is supposed to be the group out there celebrating, making sacks, getting interceptions and shoving it back in the offense's face," McGinnis said. "So look for a little bit of that this year, and making our mark in the CAA."

Not the biggest talker on the team, McGinnis plans to ad his own brand of swagger, by setting an example of the right work ethic for the younger players.

Defensive swagger and strong quarterback play by Probst can go only so far, as the Rams have to prove that they can win away from Meade Stadium.

Last season the Rams went 4-1 on their home turf, but struggled to a 1-5 mark on the road. Until Rhode Island is a constant road winner, it won't be making the jump from competitor to contender in the CAA.

"If you're playing Rhode Island, we've yet to show we can win on the road," Trainer said. "Are we going to be the team that takes the next step? Are we going to be a team that can win on the road?"

If the answer to that question is "yes," and the Rams can overcome adversity on the road - which includes trips to Syracuse, UMass, Brown, Maine, New Hampshire and James Madison - they will likely have something to do with the bond the team developed over steaks and video games.

07/28 09:23:19 ET