Plenty of last year’s stars are back and ready to repeat their performances last season, but there will without a doubt be a number of a breakout players in 2016, just like there are every year. For some guys, it takes a little extra time to adjust to the college game. For others, it is a matter of waiting for an older player to graduate. Whatever the reason, it is always a certainty that a handful of players will splash onto the scene each year, just one of the many facets of college athletics that makes them so fun to watch. Below is a list of some guys to look out for as breakout players in 2016, compiled through talking to coaches, word of mouth and far too much time looking at the NESCAC.com website.
Running Back Jack Hickey ‘19, Amherst
Hickey was part of a three-back r
ushing committee in 2015, and he still managed to run 319 yards. However, that’s not the most impressive part: Hickey averaged a savage 6.8 yards per carry as a freshman last year. That’s absolute craziness. The 6’1”, 218 lb. tailback is a force,and with leading rusher Kenny Adinkra ‘16 gone this year, Hickey should blow up. Expect Coach Mills to pound the ball on the ground with Hickey early one while quarterback Alex Berluti ‘17 gets his feet wet.
Outside Linebacker Dago Picon-Roura ‘19, Trinity
Pulling down interceptions from the linebacker position is not the most common thing in the world, but in just 7 games last year Dago Picon-Roura grabbed two of them. Now a sophomore, Picon-Roura is a big, physical, hard-hitting player. Expect a big boost in tackle numbers now that he has gotten his feet wet in the collegiate style of play. Trinity lost a key piece in linebacker Frank Leyva ‘16, opening the door for Picon-Roura to become an integral part of what is shaping up to be one of the toughest defenses in the NESCAC.
Quarterback Jared Lebowitz ’18, Middlebury
Last year Lebowitz sat behind 2014 Co-Offensive Player of the Year and 2015 First Teamer Matt Milano after transferring from D-1 UNLV. Lebowitz was named the No. 40 pro style QB in the 2012 high school class, and redshirted in his first year for the Rebels before playing in a limited capacity in 2014. Middlebury is likely to stick to their style of play and rely
heavily on the pass, although Lebowitz is an athletic signal caller who even lined up at receiver last year for the Panthers. He is a good runner—representing Middlebury’s first dual threat QB since Donnie McKillop ’11.
Quarterback Alex Berluti ‘17, Amherst
With last year’s starter Reece Foy ‘18 succumbing to a season-ending knee injury in August, Berluti steps in with the pressure of extending a 19-game win streak. While his predecessor certainly set the bar high for Berluti, the senior has the advantage of an extra few inches over Foy, which will certainly help him read the defense. Amherst plays best when they can mix between run and pass plays pretty evenly, so Coach Mills will certainly be relying on Berluti to help this offense maintain the fluidity that has won it three straight NESCAC titles.
Wide Receiver Ben Berey ‘17, Tufts:
My confidence isn’t medium low in Berey because of anything he does, but rather because of Tufts’ system. Relying heavily on the combination of Chance Brady ‘17’s rushing attack and screen passes to wideout Mike Rando ‘17, Berey hasn’t been the primary option throughout his college career. However, with the loss of Jack Cooleen ‘16, it may just be time for Berey to step into a huge role for the Jumbos. On a team where the leading receiver (Cooleen) had three touchdowns, Berey had two, and I think that quarterback Alex Snyder ‘17 and Berey will hit their stride this season as opposing defenses focus most of their efforts on shutting down the Tufts ground game.
Running Back Peter Boyer ‘19, Bates
In a very run-heavy offense, Peter Boyer looks like he is going to get the nod as the starting tailback on opening day. While Boyer has limited in-game experience during his collegiate career, he did average 4.3 yards per carry last season. However, the lack of confidence stems from Boyer’s small sample size: he had just 10 rushing attempts in 2015. The nature of an offense that utilizes the option is that lots of different guys get touches, but if Boyer can keep up the efficiency he showed a spark of last season, he could emerge as Bates’ number one option.