A Big Brother to Some, A Role Model to All
Issue   |   Fri, 05/22/2015 - 11:03
Photo courtesy of Chris Tamasi '15

Within the Amherst community, Chris Tamasi has become something of a household name. Although his role as captain of the football team is more than enough to make him stand out, Tamasi’s genuine and caring personality has left an even larger impression on the Amherst community than his athletic endeavors. Tamasi’s friendly, outgoing nature has brought him success in everything from theater to the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, touching the lives of many individuals on campus.

Coming to Amherst

Tamasi grew up in Canton, Massachusetts, a suburb south of Boston. He attended a Catholic all-boys school, where he participated in a myriad of sports, including football, baseball and track and field. Tamasi has been playing football since he was six years old.

Tamasi said that when he started looking at colleges and embarked on the recruiting process for football, he became interested in Amherst both because of its location and because he had friends attending UMass. It was luck more than anything, however, that would bring him here.

“I think we were driving to Colgate or Cornell, and my dad was like, ‘Hey, let’s stop at Amherst on the way,’” Tamasi said. “I stopped here and ended up taking an overnight. I loved it. I loved the people, the people I met on the [football] team, the people who I met while hanging around campus, and I could really see myself fitting in here.”

Although football has been an integral part of Tamasi’s life, he said that coming to Amherst was an academic choice as well.

“As an academic institution, I knew I was going to receive one of the best educations,” Tamasi said. “That was foremost what I was interested in and the open curriculum was intriguing to me as well.”

Tamasi ended up being accepted early decision to Amherst.

Balancing Academics and Athletics

Academics and football have always played central roles in Tamasi’s life, but juggling the two commitments at Amherst was initially a tough challenge.

Tamasi recounted that when he first arrived at Amherst, he felt that he wasn’t academically up to par with the rest of his peers.

“I went to class and felt a sense of intellectual inferiority to my peers,” Tamasi said. “Every time someone raised their hand and spoke with eloquent ease, my hand slowly went down and I wasn’t as comfortable.”

Tamasi’s initial academic frustration also stemmed from the classes he was taking.

“I was under the impression I had to major in economics in order to be a businessman and wear a tie someday,” Tamasi said. “I quickly realized that was not the case, and I finally found my passion studying English.”

Tamasi’s schedule during football season comprised of class, practice and homework with meals squeezed in between, but he found that the strict schedule actually improved his academic performance.

“I often found that I did better academically when I was in season because my schedule was so regimented,” Tamasi said.

Despite the initial fear of maintaining a healthy balance between sports and education, Tamasi was able to successfully manage his time, and this past fall his GPA qualified him to be on the NESCAC All-Academic team.

Poetry and his Book

Deciding to pursue the subject that was both his strength in high school and his long-time love, Tamasi declared the English major. He said his greatest passions in English are reading and writing poetry. His love of language and poetry began with his experience playing piano as a child.

“I always dabbled on the piano and I wrote songs, and I think that was the beginning of when I started to explore rhyme and meter and it always came naturally for me,” Tamasi said.

Tamasi’s favorite poet is Shel Silverstein, particularly when he is “feeling childish,” but he also enjoys reading Philip Larkin, James Merrill and Robert Lowell.

Last summer, Tamasi stayed in the valley as a Mellon student research fellow and worked with the Nelson Brothers juvenilia collection. The Nelson Brothers are known for having created more than 50 illustrated children’s books.

“They had a little library,” Tamasi said. “It was periodicals, newsletters, stories, mostly dealing with themes that were relevant to their times.”

Tamasi and his co-workers created an online exhibit for this collection, and Tamasi wrote much of the content about the collection and the imaginary world the brothers created.

That research combined with his love for English and poetry to culminate in his senior project. Tamasi decided to create a manuscript for a children’s book in poetic verse titled “Offline.”

“Offline” recounts the story of a young child named Kyle (named after Tamasi’s “little brother” in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program) who grows up in a 21st-century apartment complex with few opportunities to play outside. As a result, Kyle relies on video games and electronics to entertain him. When Kyle and his mother move to a residential neighborhood, however, his neighbor, Brendan, asks him, “Do you want to come outside and play?” Although Kyle is reluctant at first, he eventually joins Brendan outside and by exploring his backyard and playing games, Kyle is able to unleash his imagination.

“The book’s message is for younger generations to restore balance between imaginative and technological forms of entertainment in a society that is so heavily influenced by the devices we’re surrounded by,” Tamasi said.

Tamasi worked closely with Writer-In-Residence Daniel Hall, who said that his time with Tamasi has been, “a great pleasure, especially since we share an obsession with revision and fine-tuning.”

“My first strong impression of him came during office hours, when I realized just how much energy he was willing to devote to the problem at hand, how determined he was to get things right,” Hall said. “That impression has since been confirmed, many times over.”

Tamasi is currently looking to explore the children’s literature market and hopes that his manuscript will be published and illustrated soon.

How He Left His Mark

Tamasi’s involvement with all aspects of campus life has granted him the opportunity to interact with seemingly everyone on campus. He has been involved in a wide range of activities since his first year at Amherst. He has been a tour guide for Admissions, worked as the athletic liaison for two years and acted as president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Another of Tamasi’s cherished memories at Amherst was acting in a play called “Probably,” written by Owen Davis ’14. The play was about sexual violence and respect.

Theater “is an art form that is so flexible,” Tamasi said. “It’s a way of expressing one’s self in a controlled environment ... I think it’s so cool to step onto a stage and take on a new character that’s different than who you are.”

Tamasi has also started his own charity. Last year, he created a program called ’CAC Giving Back. The charity collects leftover, non-perishable foods from sporting events and donates them to the Amherst survival center.

“They started bringing 20, 30, 50 pounds of food to my dorm room in Waldorf and I would run it over to the survival center myself,” Tamasi said. “Once the program legitimized, more teams got involved. During the fall we were reaching 100 or 200 pounds consistently during peak competition each week.”

Of course, Tamasi’s largest commitment during his Amherst career has been football. Tamasi is an outside linebacker and one of the captains for the team this year. Over his four years at Amherst, the team’s record has been 29-3, with undefeated seasons his first and senior year.

“Football, I think, is a game that teaches a lot about life in general.” Tamasi said. “It’s a team-oriented sport and you can’t possibly succeed by being one star player.”

Tamasi has also had a large impact on the program. Luke Bussard, the team’s defensive coordinator and linebacker, has closely worked with Tamasi over the past four years.

“Chris, in his four years, as a person, as a student and as an athlete, has done so much for this school, our program as a whole and me,” Bussard said. “He has made our team, this community a better place with all the things he has done and is leaving this place in a much better place than he found it.”

Perhaps the most important part of Tamasi’s legacy at Amherst will be the connections he has established with so many people on campus.

“Chris is incredibly genuine, and I think that is why he has been able to have such an impact on so many people in the Amherst community,” Tamasi’s friend Jacob Shuman ‘15 said. “Just through daily conversations, people trust him and want to get to know him better, which I would attribute to the way he carries himself and pursues the things he is interested in.”

Perhaps Tamasi’s impact on Amherst can be summed up best by Daniel Hall.

“We love students who defy expectations, who play against type, and Chris exemplifies these qualities,” Hall said. “He leaves the football field littered with the bodies of his enemies, then goes off to meet with his ‘little brother’ or to write another stanza or two of his children’s story in verse. What’s not to like about this guy?”