Revamped Jeffs Poised to Defend New Turf
Issue   |   Wed, 09/04/2013 - 10:39
Megan Robertson ’15 Public Affairs Office

After 121 years on the old Pratt Field, the Amherst football team enters its 122nd season with a remodeled home venue and championship aspirations. Thirteen starters return along with a number of other key contributors to anchor a squad that went 6-2 last season.

With seven starters returning on offense, the unit is looking to build off of last year’s success. The offensive line will be without the duo of John Ceccio ’13 and Jack Reynolds ’13 for the first time in four years, but team captain and All-NESCAC left tackle Rob Wasielewski ’14, along with Scott Mergner ’15 and Jack MacLennan ’14, will form the foundations of a physical and talented offensive line.

It remains to be seen whom the Jeffs offensive line will be protecting at quarterback, but Amherst has a strong crop of running backs led by Tyler Jacobs ’15 who returns from injury after missing the end of last season. Sophomores Kenny Adinkra ’16 and Sean Wilson ’16 will be expected to build off successful freshman campaigns that saw Wilson breakout for 127 yards in the season finale against archrival Williams College.

Junior Max Lippe ’15 and sophomore Jonathan Pieterse ’16 will battle for the starting quarterback position after splitting time last fall and will have no shortage of talent at the wide receiver position to throw to. All-NESCAC performer Jake O’Malley ’14 and Wade McNamara ’14 will provide the Jeffs with big play capability on the outside, while Gene Garay ’15 will vie for the starting slot receiver role after seeing significant action last fall. When healthy, Garay provides the Lord Jeffs with a big play threat who is incredibly shifty and difficult to tackle in open space.

Additionally, Brian Ragone ’16 will look to expand his role in the Amherst offense after producing some big plays in the passing game a year ago.

Although the Amherst defense loses five starters from a year ago, including four in the front seven, the unit looks to regain form as one of the best in Division III. Senior captain Danny Chun ’14, the team’s leading returning tackler, and junior Chris Tamasi ’15 will lead the defense from their linebacker spots and help junior Ned Deane ’15 and Thomas Kleyn ’15 take over for multi-year starters Sam Clark ’13 and Matt Pieterse ’13.

The defense will also break in new starters along the defensive front after the graduation of team MVP Travis Dickenson ’13 and Matt Spohneimer ’13. Key to the Jeffs success is the ability to stop the run as they did last season when they held opponents to 3.4 yards a carry, and force them to throw into the teeth of one of the most talented secondaries in the NESCAC. In the offseason, the Jeffs learned that Landrus Lewis ’14E, who tore his ACL early last fall and missed virtually the entire season, would receive an extra year of eligibility. Now, the two-time captain brings back a wealth of experience; he is the complete package, a proven ball hawk at the corner position and a scintillating kick returner.

In the meantime, senior Kevin Callahan and sophomore Jamie Spears will compete for the starting corner position opposite Lewis. Max Dietz ’14 brings back a team high five pass breakups to the back end of the defense from the free safety position, while Jake Schuman ’15 and Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16 are vying for the strong safety position.

As it was at times last year, special teams is an area of uncertainty for the Jeffs. Jake Schmidt ’14, who converted nine of 11 field goals last year, is no longer with the team, nor is punt/kick returner James Durham ’13. Junior Will Brewster and sophomore Jackson MaGonagle will continue to compete for the starting job at punter after splitting time a year ago, but it remains to be seen who will handle placekicking duties. Lewis and Jamie Spears ’16 are expected to handle the return duties, and gives Amherst the potential to score every time they touch the ball.

After games against Hamilton and Bowdoin, the Jeffs will face a test early at home against Middlebury on Oct. 5 when they face off against the defending Div. III East Region Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback McCallum Foote, who threw for almost 2,900 yards in eight games. Middlebury’s passing attack is difficult to defend, but Foote will be without his top two targets from last season. Amherst’s next tough test will come two weeks later against a much improved and highly motivated Wesleyan squad that will be intent on ruining the Jeffs’ Homecoming weekend.

In one of the most pivotal games of the season, Amherst will welcome defending NESCAC champion Trinity College on Nov. 2. Trinity brings back All-Everything running back Evan Bunker to lead a potent rushing attack, and pre-season All-American LB Tom Szmanski will lead a defense that was ranked in the top ten nationally a year ago. After losing a tight game to the Bantams last season, 32-20, Amherst will look to beat Trinity for the second time in three years. In 2011, the Trinity game was the key to the Jeffs’ title march; the Amherst squad amassed a big lead early and held on for an agonizing but crucial 35-28 victory.

To end the season, Amherst will travel to Williamstown, Mass. on Nov. 9 for the 128th edition of the “Biggest Little Game in America.” Williams comes off a disappointing 4-4 season that saw the Ephs drop three games in a row for the first time in recent memory. Williams will look to bounce back this season, and would love to beat the Jeffs for the last time before Weston Field is remodeled and avenge last year’s loss.

The Class of 2014 knows what it takes to win a NESCAC championship, and they will look to lead the team to the always-sought-after 8-0 campaign in their last season. They will look to kick things off right on Sept. 22 when they travel to Hamilton College for their 1 p.m. season opener.