Football Hopes to Repeat Perfection Following Undefeated 2014 Campaign
Issue   |   Thu, 09/03/2015 - 22:43
Mark Box
The Amherst football team graduated one of the winningest classes in school history, but the new seniors are poised to make a run of their own.

After an undefeated season last year, the Amherst football team certainly has high expectations for 2015.

In their 2014 campaign, the Jeffs secured the NESCAC championship in a decisive 17-9 victory over Williams on Pratt Field, the first of the “Biggest Little Game in America” series to be played under the lights.

In addition to the victory over Williams, Amherst had a tough mid-season faceoff against Little Three rival Wesleyan. The Jeffs edged past the Cardinals in a 33-30 overtime win, thanks to game-tying and game-winning field goals by Phillip Nwosu ’15. Two weeks later, Amherst beat Trinity in a nail-biting 7-6 win, when quarterback Max Lippe ’15 found wide receiver Jackson McGonagle ’16 for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The team was awarded the Eastern College Athletic Conference Team of Distinction Award for its perfect 8-0 run. Coach E.J. Mills was named the NESCAC Football Coach of the Year and now boasts a 109-35 career record, heading into his 19th year at the helm of the program. He’ll return the majority of his staff.

The Jeffs graduated one of the all-time winningest classes in Amherst program history: The now-graduated seniors finished with a 29-3 record.

But 2015 is a new year.

“It will be a challenge not to rest on our successes. We need to acknowledge the past is the past and stay focused on the season at hand,” senior captain Tom Kleyn said.

The Jeffs enter the season with a large senior class, totaling 16 players, eager to capture another championship. The team will be led by senior captains Jim Daniels, Jackson McGonagle, Christopher Gow and Kleyn.

“We are fortunate to have a lot of returning players with experience on the field. Also, having tasted success, we have a very clear idea of what it takes to win a championship and the team is committed to working toward that goal,” Gow said.

The offense will return big-time contributors McGonagle, Daniels, Samuel Hart ’16, Adam Wallace ’16, Brian Ragone ’16 and star running back Nick Kelly ’17. Kelly carried the ball 121 times for a total of 585 yards, scoring five rushing touchdowns while also adding another score through the air. He was awarded a 2015 USA College Football All-America Preseason Honorable Mention selection.

Returning to the starting defense alongside captains Gow and Kleyn are Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16, Jaymie Spears ’16, Sam Caldwell ’16, Jack Drew ’16 and Paul Johnson ’17. Parker Chapman ’17 also returns after making a big contribution to the team’s defensive success last year.

The defense allowed only 71 points last season in additiong to leading the NESCAC in interceptions (17) and ranking second in the league in total sacks (21).

Spears, a defensive back for the Jeffs, was named a 2015 USA College Football Preseason All-America Second Team selection. He was also awarded All-NESCAC First Team Defense honors following the close of the 2014 season. Spears tallied six interceptions, 39 tackles and one sack last year en route to the honors.

In addition to the talented upperclassmen, the Jeffs will also look for their younger classes of players to make important contributions this season. With a group of 25 incoming first-years and a strong core of sophomores and juniors returning, the senior leadership will surely be supported by their younger teammates. Faces to watch this year on the offensive side of the ball include Raheem Jackson ’17, a running back who averaged 29.4 yards per game in 2014 as well as junior quarterback Alex Berluti. As for defense, expect juniors Niyi Odewade and Christopher Gow to have breakout years.

Although the purple and white go into the preseason with an impressive legacy to uphold, they know that each day and each game will be a challenge. The NESCAC has remained competitve in recent years. Amherst has placed consistently atop the NESCAC standings alongside Middlebury, Wesleyan, Williams and Trinity.

“Last year, Trinity and Wesleyan were our closest games, so we are looking forward to the opportunity to compete against them again. And of course, the Williams game is always a special one that we have marked on the calendar,” Kleyn said.

Wesleyan will travel to Pratt Field for the Jeffs’ homecoming game on Saturday, Oct. 24. Trinity travels to Amherst the first weekend of November, which will be Amherst’s family weekend game. Finally, the Jeffs conclude their season once again with the televised and highly anticipated game against the rival Ephs. That game will be on Saturday, Nov. 14 and will be the first game the Jeffs play on the newly renovated Weston Field.

Before facing these perennial powerhouses, Amherst will have to get through a strong Bates team. They’ll open their season by traveling to play the Bobcats on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 1 p.m. Amherst won the matchup last year by a closely contested 14-6 score. Amherst’s home opener is set for Saturday, Oct. 3, when they’ll welcome Bowdoin for a 1 p.m. kickoff.

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