NbN 2015 End of Year Football Awards

Big plays, big hits, and jaw-dropping performances - We love NESCAC football. (Courtesy of Michael O'Hara/Middlebury Campus)
Big plays, big hits, and jaw-dropping performances – We love NESCAC football. (Courtesy of Michael O’Hara/Middlebury Campus)

We’re very sad to see football season go. Covering all of the drama, success and disappointment this season, it’s felt at times like we were on the field ourselves, living through the ups and downs. On a grand scale, Amherst took a lot of the drama out of the season by so consistently dispatching its opponents, but let’s not downgrade the exceptional performances of so many individuals on every team across the league. Even amongst so many standout showings, a few deserve recognition above all else.

Offensive Player of the Year: Tufts RB Chance Brady ’17

Chance Brady '17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Chance Brady ’17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Brady was on our radar coming into the year, but we had no idea he was this good. Not only did he split carries last season with Zack Trause ’15 practically 50-50, but Tufts has historically been one of the most pass-happy offenses in the NESCAC. That completely changed this season with Brady serving as a workhorse for the Jumbos. Brady had 187 carries (two behind Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17), and led all qualified running backs in yards, yards per game and yards per carry while also tallying 11 rushing scores, two shy of the Tufts single-season record.

Honorable Mention: Middlebury QB Matt Milano ’16, Middlebury WR Matt Minno ’16, Amherst QB Reece Foy ’18, Trinity QB Sonny Puzzo ’18, Colby RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17

Defensive Players of the Year: Wesleyan DE Jordan Stone ’17 and Bates LB Mark Upton ’17

Mark Upton '17 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)
Mark Upton ’17 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Adam – Sheer production is the best way to describe Mark Upton’s career at Bates, and he gets my vote for DPOY because of his leadership on a young defense to go along with those gaudy stats. Bates lost a lot from their 2014 defense, including the majority of the linebackers who played besides him. Teams game planned towards Upton unlike before, and while he couldn’t quite match the 84 tackles he had last year, he came close. Upton finished with 71 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception. He played best down the stretch averaging 9.8 tackles per game in his final five games.

Jordan Stone '17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan University Athletics)
Jordan Stone ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan University Athletics)

Joe – I went with Jordan Stone because he was a physical monster. Not only that, but Stone played alongside a bunch of freshmen on the D-line, and the Wesleyan defense as a whole was very green, so his numbers stand out that much more – and boy are they impressive. Thirty-five total tackles, 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Ten! When thinking about these kinds of awards, my biggest question is always, Which player would it hurt the most to lose? I think this season it was Stone.

Honorable Mention: Amherst LB Evan Boynton ’17 , Middlebury DL Gil Araujo ’16, Bowdoin LB Branden Morin ’16, Middlebury CB Nate Leedy ’17, Trinity S Paul McCarthy ’16, Tufts LB Zach Thomas ’18

Kicker/Punter of the Year: Trinity K/P Kyle Pulek ’16

K/P Kyle Pulek '16 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
K/P Kyle Pulek ’16 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Pulek was consistently great punting the football (15 inside the 20, including six against Middlebury alone, which was a huge difference in the Bantams winning that contest), but it was his proficiency once thrust into the kicking role that gives him the edge over Amherst’s Jackson McGonagle ’16. Last season, Trinity’s kicking faults more or less directly led to a pair of Trinity losses. This season, kicker Eric Sachse ’19 was doing a fine job before he went down with an injury. Pulek came on and looked like a seasoned vet, making 10-10 extra points and 5-8 field goals – two of those misses were blocks, and the other was from 39 yards out.

Honorable Mention: Amherst P Jackson McGonagle, Tufts K/P Willie Holmquist ’17, Hamilton P Pat Donahoe ’16

Return Man of the Year: Trinity KR/PR Darrien Myers ’17

KR/PR Darrien Myers '17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
KR/PR/WR Darrien Myers ’17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Not a ton of options on this one, and Myers is a more than deserving candidate, mostly because of his work on punt returns. He averaged 13.5 yards per return, a pretty sick number. Two of his returns went for touchdowns, and his 74-yard punt return for a touchdown against Middlebury was a huge lift in their eventual win. Myers was not as dynamic on kickoffs as he has been in the past averaging 22.3 yards per return, but he still was a clear choice for us.

Honorable Mention: Tufts KR/PR Mike Rando ’17 and Williams KR/PR Mark Pomella ’16

Rookie of the Year: Hamilton DE Tyler Hudson ’19

DE Tyler Hudson '19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)
DE Tyler Hudson ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Hudson exploded out of the gates with as good a debut in the NESCAC as anyone has had in awhile. Against Tufts he had 15 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss. Keep in mind that he plays defensive end! He wasn’t that productive the rest of the year, but the final stats of 47 tackles, four sacks, and 12.5 TFL (second in the NESCAC) are pretty nifty. Hudson is so good that he even was on the field for the Continentals goal line package, though he never was able to bring in a reception. Hudson will be fun to watch for the next three years.

Honorable Mention: Tufts DB Tim Preston ’19, Trinity LB Shane Libby ’19, Trinity RB Max Chipouras ’19, Bowdoin DB Cam Rondeau ’19

Coach of the Year: Tufts’ Jay Civetti

Tufts Head Coach Jay Civetti (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Tufts Head Coach Jay Civetti (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

With apologies to EJ Mills who cranks out 8-0 seasons like they can be made on an assembly line, Coach Jay Civetti deserves this one. The Jumbos went 6-2 and took another big step forward as a program. This season Tufts turned into a team that ran the ball first and forced big plays on defense. That is the EXACT opposite of what this team was just two years ago. It took Civetti a little time to have the results show up on the field, but what he is building at Tufts both on and off the field is impressive, and we were impressed with how he fit his game plan to his players’ talents.

Honorable Mention: Amherst’s EJ Mills, Wesleyan’s Dan DiCenzo

Breakout Player of the Year: Amherst QB Reece Foy ’18

QB Reece Foy '18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
QB Reece Foy ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Our biggest worry for Amherst coming into the year was that they would be plagued by subpar QB play. Foy was not perfect this year, but he was the catalyst for the Amherst offense. He played his best football in the first half putting up more than 250 yards of total offense between running and passing in each of his first three games. He didn’t surpass that mark again the rest of the way, but he still made enough plays down the stretch of games. He ranked in the top five amongst starters for passing yards, yards per attempt, completion percentage, and touchdowns, so calling him above average is a pretty easy call.

Honorable Mention: Hamilton WR Charles Ensley ’17, Tufts LB Zach Thomas ’18, Bowdoin WR Nick Vailas ’18, Trinity LB Liam Kenneally ’18, Bates CB Trevor Lyons ’17

Most Surprising Team: Tufts

Tufts took the lead by storm this season. They are for real. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Tufts took the lead by storm this season. They are for real. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Well this couldn’t have been easier. Tufts was the most surprising team a year ago, and they still managed to up their play this season. By beating one of the big dogs in Week 8, Tufts really made a statement about their ability to compete in the future. Two years removed from a 31-game losing streak, Tufts might be a title contender in 2016.

Honorable Mention: Hamilton

Best Single Unit: Amherst LBs

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Thomas Kleyn ’16 (#52) and Evan Boynton ’17 (#40) led Amherst’s dominant linebacking corps. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

Given that Amherst graduated two VERY good linebackers from the 2014 team, not many would have thought this unit would end up here. But Evan Boynton ’17, Tom Kleyn ’16, Parker Chapman ’17 and Jack Drew ’16 were phenomenal. Their individual statistics are all great of course, and you can look at them here. As a group they were great tacklers, never allowing for big plays. Unlike many linebackers in the NESCAC, this group was equally good against the run and pass, making the Amherst defense able to adjust to anything.

Honorable Mention: Trinity OL, Middlebury DBs, Wesleyan RBs, Amherst K/P

Consistency Award: Middlebury LB Tim Patricia ’16

LB Tim Patricia '16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
LB Tim Patricia ’16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Patricia gets this award not just for his performance in 2015, but for the entire body of work that is his stellar career. The California native came all the way to Vermont to play ball and made an impact right away. Patricia started 32 games in his career and amassed 289 tackles – the third-most in Middlebury history since 1994 when they started recording individual defensive statistics. It’s rare to see a player lead an entire defense from Day One and never miss a beat.

Honorable Mention: Amhest WR Devin Boehm ’17, Amherst DB Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16, Bowdoin TE Bryan Porter ’18, Chance Brady, Jabari Hurdle-Price

Road Teams Rule Week One: Football Stock Report 9/28

After what seemed like an eternity, NESCAC football returned in triumphant glory on Saturday, and a lot of what we anticipated came to fruition, but there were many surprises, as well.

Today we give you the risers and fallers in our estimation, as well as a few game notes from each contest.

Stock Up:

Hamilton Offense

Tufts isn’t the most stout defense in the NESCAC, but you still have to be impressed with how the Continentals moved the ball and the play of QB Chase Rosenberg ’17 and WR Charles Ensley ’17. After starter Brandon Tobin ’18 succumbed to an injury early in the first half, Rosenberg (the starter for the past two seasons) came on and proceeded to go 14-23 (69.9%) for 301 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. Ensley was on the opposite end of 107 of those yards, and displayed some top-notch athleticism with some of his grabs. His teammate, Pat Donahoe ’16, actually tallied even more yards – 174, to lead the NESCAC – so there may yet be some life in this Continental offense. We’ll wait and see whether or not Tobin returns, and how that might shake up the QB situation.

Connecticut Schools

Despite the loss, the Cardinals proved on Saturday that they still belong to the league’s upper echelon. The Cards ran all over Middlebury, and newly-minted QB Gernald Hawkins ’18 flashed potential throwing the ball, though the results were subpar on Saturday. The defense looks like it barely dropped off, and when you can control the clock and move the ball on the ground as effectively as Wesleyan, you always have a chance to win. Panthers players returned from this one bearing rave reviews of the Wesleyan team as a whole.

Meanwhile, the Bantams looked like they were playing a Pop Warner team on Saturday. A 34-0 win on the road, 439 yards of total offense and only 159 yards allowed. Enough said.

Williams QB Austin Lommen ’16

Expectations are great for former D-I players that transfer down to D-III, and that was true for Lommen last year. The BC transfer was about average last year, completing 60.1 percent of his passes and racking up seven touchdowns against nine picks, but it might be time to buy in on the righty. Lommen went 20-30 (66.7%) for 288 yards, two touchdowns and one pick. Lommen managed the offense well, and the Ephs went 6-8 on third downs in the first half, most of them courtesy of throws by Lommen.

Stock Down:

Bates O-line

Yes, the Bobcats were matched up against an elite D-line from Amherst, but still, their performance in the trenches does not bode well for the rest of the season. Bates needs to churn up yards on the ground in order to win (with the occasional shot downfield to Mark Riley ’16). The Bobcats’ backs gathered 199 yards on the ground on Saturday, but 80 of those came on one Shaun Carroll ’16 scamper. Take that out, and the Bobcats rushed for 119 yards on 45 attempts – a 2.6 YPC average.

Colby Backs

Along the same lines as the above, the Mules were unable to consistently move the ball on the ground. QB Christian Sparacio ’18 had the most success of any ball carrier, racking up 30 yards on seven carries. We are still expecting big things from classmates Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 and Carl Lipani ’17, but it looked like Colby just ran headfirst into a brick wall against Trinity.

Bowdoin

Just to complete the Maine college trifecta, Bowdoin has to go in this spot. The offense was stagnant, and Tyler Grant ’16 didn’t get many opportunities with the Polar Bears trailing for much of their game against Williams. The loss of RB Trey Brown ’16 to injury will prove to be costly, as the Bowdoin coaches were hoping to be able to spell Grant far more this year than last – but alas, it was not to be. It was not a good opener for anyone in the black and white.

Game Notes:

Middlebury 28 at Wesleyan 25

Well, it wasn’t easy, but the Panthers hung on to go 1-0. Matt Milano ’16 wasn’t at his best early on, but was still very, very good. It was interesting that Jared Lebowitz ’18 got just one series. His entry into the game was pre-determined, but we don’t know what went into the decision to not use him for the rest of the game. Regardless, the passing game wasn’t the issue for Middlebury. The running game, however, was not effective. Somehow, the Panthers need to figure out a way to become a multi-dimensional team. They like to use screens to substitute for old-fashioned hand offs, but you still have to be able to give it to your back and let him work once in awhile.

On the other side of the field, Wesleyan competed until the very last. Hawkins has loads of potential at QB, despite his struggles throwing. He’s a fantastic athlete, and when he took off for one 17-yard dash up the gut my jaw physically dropped. Obviously, he’ll need to work on throwing the ball – sort of important for a quarterback. As for the running game, I was really shocked that Jaylen Berry ’18 was used as the feature back, carrying the ball 21 times to LaDarius Drew’s ’15 six carries and Lou Stevens’ ’17 two – not because I doubt the youngster’s ability, but because he supplanted two former All-NESCAC First Teamers as the go-to guy on Saturday. That being said, I would not be surprised if next week Drew ran the ball 25 times for 150 yards, and the same can be said about Stevens. Furthermore, Devon Carrillo ’16 continues to be a threat with his legs in many ways – out of the Wildcat, multiple back sets and on sweeps. Defensively, I have to give a shout out to DE Jordan Stone ’16. He’s a physical beast and had a great game and it showed on the stat sheet as Stone gathered 2.5 sacks.

Amherst 37 at Bates 14

Amherst WR Nick Widen '17 and the LJs took care of Bates with ease. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics/Phyllis Graber Jensen)
Amherst WR Nick Widen ’17 and the LJs took care of Bates with ease. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics/Phyllis Graber Jensen)

I didn’t watch any game as closely as I did Middlebury-Wesleyan, but nonetheless there was much to be learned from every contest. Reece Foy ’18 got the start for Amherst, and – this is the surprising part – played every snap at QB. Last season Foy and Alex Berluti ’17 opened the season in a time-share until Max Lippe ’15 came back from an injury. That Foy was able to do enough in camp to completely takeover the gig says something in and of itself. Also of note, Kenny Adinkra ’16 got the lion’s share of the carries and was more productive than Nick Kelly ’17. Will that last, or will Kelly return to 2014 form and takeover the feature role as he was expected to do. OR, will the super-talented Jack Hickey ’19 start stealing away more carries?

For Bates, I know that the triple-option is the staple of their offense, but Mark Riley is just incredible. The Bobcats completed 11 passes for 117 yards, and seven of those catches went to Riley for 87 yards. I don’t think that if you put a prime-age Randy Moss on any team in the NESCAC he would take as large of a proportion of the catches as Riley does.

Williams 27 at Bowdoin 7

For the second straight year the Ephs stomped on the Polar Bears. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics/CIPhotography.com)
For the second straight year the Ephs stomped on the Polar Bears. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics/CIPhotography.com)

Not much went right for the Polar Bears in Week 1. I don’t know whether to credit Lommen or crucify the Bowdoin secondary for the Ephs’ success through the air. Overall, I’m reserving judgement on the Polar Bears.

For Williams, though, you have to feel good about this start. Maybe they’ve put something together in Williamstown right under our noses. Although, I vaguely remember writing something to the same effect one year ago after Williams’ 36-0 beatdown of Bowdoin in Week 1. Maybe Coach Aaron Kelton just has the Polar Bears’ numbers. Maybe he’s taping opposing coaches’ signals with a cell phone camera, and 15 years from now, when Coach is getting fitted for his fourth NESCAC Championship ring, and the twilight is setting on a decorated career, NESCAC officials will bust down the door and point a finger at him and call him a cheater for doing exactly what every other team in the league was doing…

I’m sorry, I wasn’t planning that. (And there’s definitely no illegal filming going on anywhere in the NESCAC.)

Trinity 34 at Colby 0

With Joe Moreno ’19, sadly, out yet again with a torn ACL, Nick Gaynor ’17 has become the team’s top back. From a fantasy perspective though, this is a tricky situation, as Gaynor, Ethan Suraci ’18 or QB Sonny Puzzo ’18 could be the team’s leading rusher any given week. I particularly don’t think Gaynor will see many goal line touches. Gaynor is a converted wideout, and Suraci is a much bigger body. Max Chipouras ’19 – who had just two touches – got a goal line TD on Saturday instead of Gaynor. No matter who’s behind him, the return of Puzzo under center is going to be huge for Trinity. Henry Foye ’16 did a great job when healthy last year, but I think that Puzzo brings elite talent to the QB position.

Tufts 24 at Hamilton 21

The best game of the day came between two perennial doormats that look to be rising from the ashes. Tufts already took the first step a year ago by going 4-4, but with the Jumbos still 0-infinity in their last infinity chances on the road, the Continentals were feeling really good about their chances. And with newly-transferred QB Tobin at the helm, it appeared that Chapter 1 of the fairytale was under way.

Then Tobin left the game with an ankle injury, and everything fell into the hands of Rosenberg, the beleaguered vet. And boy, did he respond.

Rosenberg matched a career-high with his 301 passing yards, the program’s fifth-highest single-game mark. His 21.5 yards per completion and 13.1 yards per attempt were Hamilton records. He threw three TD passes, all in the span of 12 plays in the second half. His receivers, namely Donahoe and Ensley, made some spectacular plays, but let’s give all the credit in the world to Rosenberg for his stellar performance.

Alas, the Hamilton offense could not punch it in with the first possession of overtime. K Zach Altneu ’18 boomed his field goal attempt through the uprights, but Tufts Head Coach Jay Civetti was able to call a timeout just in time, forcing Altneu to kick again, and this time he pushed it wide left.

The Jumbos were conservative on their possession, moving the ball to the six-yard line before Snyder took a five-yard loss to position the football right in the middle of the field. K Willie Holmquist ’17 came up clutch for the Jumbos, who celebrated their first road victory since Oct. 3, 2009.

Aside from Rosenberg, CB Jimmy Giattino ’17 was a beast defensively for Hamilton and DL Tyler Hudson ’19 had an impressive debut. Last year’s tackle-leader John Phelan ’16 saw limited action, rotating with Mickey Keating ’17 at linebacker. We believe Head Coach Dave Murray is trying to protect Phelan who was banged up considerably during camp, but only time will tell if this timeshare continues. And lastly, Tobin’s ankle injury appears to be minor, which keeps the QB conversation in Clinton very intriguing. However, after a performance like that, how Rosenberg could not get the keys to the car for at least one more week is a mystery to me.

And in case you missed it, every road team won! Can you believe it? I don’t know how long it’s been since that happened in the NESCAC. Maybe between the 47 assignments I have this week and the job search I’ll try to procure that information.

It’s good to be back.

Mid-Season Awards – The Definitive Edition

Four weeks gone, four to go, and a whole lot of fun still to be had. The time has come to recognize a few of the players, coaches, and even teams  that have been living it up in the first half. And by living it up we mean making the NESCAC their own personal fiefdoms. Little fiefdoms where they carve up the opposition with the help of their teammates

Alright we’ll stop with the fiefdoms thing and get onto the awards.

Offensive Player of the Year: Running Back Chudi Iregbulem ’15 (Trinity)

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Courtesy of Trinity Athletics

Our preseason pick Wesleyan’s LaDarius Drew ’15 might be out for the entire season because of a foot injury, and Iregbulem has emerged from obscurity to be the clear winner at the halfway point. Well, not completely from obscurity, considering we did tab him as our dark horse contender before the year started. He ran for 137 yards in 2013, and came within three yards of that in his first game alone. He averaged “only” 84 yards the next two weeks before busting out for 184 yards and four touchdowns against Tufts on Saturday. The senior from Torrance, California waited his turn behind Evan Bunker ’14 and Ben Crick ’14 until this year. That is the way that Trinity works. They lose somebody, it’s next guy up every time. If Iregbulem keeps up his play, he will do something Bunker never did, win Offensive Player of the Year.

Consider this award also recognition for the Trinity offensive line that is the best in the league.

Also Considered: Jack Doll ’15 (Tufts), Jesse Warren ’15 (Wesleyan), Mark Riley ’16 (Bates), Alex Scyocurka ’14 (Williams), and Tyler Grant ’17 (Bowdoin)

Defensive Player of the Year: Safety Ryan Newson ’15 (Bates)

Courtesy of Bates Athletics
Courtesy of Bates Athletics

Newson is another player who has stepped into big shoes and in some ways out performed his predecessor. Andrew Kukesh ’14 was an All-NESCAC player multiple times for Bates, and the Bobcats have found a replacement just as good. Newson is one of three players to have four interceptions already, and he is also making a lot of tackles from his safety position. His 37 total tackles (24 solo) place him ninth in the league. The Bates staff knew what they had last year when they decided to move Kukesh to linebacker for  some games and get Newson on the field as much as possible. The Bates defense has played very well keeping the Bobcats in games despite their 1-3 record.

Also Considered: Jake Bussani ’14 (Wesleyan), Jaymie Spears ’16 (Amherst), Mike Stearns ’17 (Tufts), Addison Pierce ’17 (Middlebury), and Paul Johnson ’17 (Amherst)

NESCAC Rookie of the Year: Running Back Drew Jacobs ’18 (Middlebury)

Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics
Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics

Every year this is the most wide-open race, and we don’t even try to predict it before the season begins because coaches are loathe to reveal which freshmen will be big time performers before the season begins. Jacobs has lapped every other freshman in terms of production in the first half. He is seventh in the NESCAC in total rushing yards, but he really makes his mark in the receiving game as a running back. Jacobs has the fourth most yards from scrimmage in the NESCAC. He has brought some shiftiness to the Middlebury running game that has helped the offense become more balanced. This is the race most likely to change given that freshman usually see increased playing time in the second half as they gain more practice reps.

Also Considered: Reece Foy ’18 (Amherst), Drew Korn ’18 (Bates), Zach Altneu ’18 (Hamilton), Mbasa Mayikana ’18 (Colby), Bryan Vieira ’18 (Trinity), and Andrew Sisti ’18 (Bowdoin)

Special Teams Player of the Year : Kick Returner Zack Trause ’15 (Tufts)

Courtesy of Tufts Athletics
Courtesy of Tufts Athletics

Nobody else has been as dynamic as Trause in the open field through one half of the year. He ranks second in the nation in kickoff return average at 39.6 yards per return and third in the nation in punt return average at 22.4 yards per return.. His game of the year came against Bates when he returned both a kickoff and punt for a touchdown to propel Tufts to their exciting victory. He has come close to two other touchdowns as well with the kicker bringing him down once both against Bowdoin and then last week against Trinity. Teams might start to kick away from him given his proficiency and tendency to make teams pay every time they do.

Also Considered: Joe Mallock ’15 (Williams), Michael Dola ’15 (Middlebury), David Kurey ’15 (Bates), and Devon Carillo ’17 (Wesleyan)

Coach of the Year: Jay Civetti (Tufts)

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Courtesy of Tufts Athletics

No story has been better than Tufts in the first half of the NESCAC season. The Jumbos broke out from their 31-game losing streak with two straight wins to begin the season. Both games at home saw capacity crowds in Medford. The first win was a great moment for Tufts, but Civetti deserves more credit for turning his team around and getting them ready for their Week 2 game against Bates. That win to bring the Jumbos to 2-0 signaled that real change is afoot at Tufts. Civetti has seen a lot of losing at Tufts, and he is likely to still see a good deal more, but right now the program looks pointed in the right direction with him at the helm.

Also Considered: Mike Whalen (Wesleyan) and EJ Mills (Amherst)

Tufts Team Preview – The Jumbo Herd is Ready to Rumble

Editors Note: Today we start our team previews. We are releasing them in order of expected finish and will do two every day of this week.

2013 Record: 0-8

Returning Starters: 21 (10 Offense, 10 Defense, 1 specialist)

Offensive Overview:

A unit that at times looked very good returns practically everyone who made an impact last season. Tufts will again be running the spread offense that relies on a lot of West Coast passing concepts of short to intermediate throws. The QB position is a question mark as Jack Doll ’15 and Alex Snyder ’17 are in an open competition. Doll was the starter to begin the 2013 season before he was injured. Snyder struggled with accuracy but had some good moments as well. When Doll returned from injury against Middlebury in the final game of the year he saw the majority of the snaps. The running back tandem of Zach Trause ’15 and Chance Brady ’15 was actually pretty effective averaging a combined 4.6 yards per carry last year.

Whoever wins out at QB will have plenty of returners at his disposal. At receiver, Greg Lanzillo ’15 is the number one guy on the outside with Jack Cooleen ’16 on the other side. In the slot Ben Berey ’17 and Mike Rando ’17 are the starters. An offensive line that was pretty inexperienced entering last season now features two seniors in center  Landon Davis ’15 and captain guard Kyle Duke ’15. Tackles Akene Farmer-Mikos ’16 and Justin Roberts ’16 were both starters as well. The final spot is up for grabs in a unit that has to do a better job in pass protection after letting up 26 sacks.

Defensive Overview:

Again, much like the offense, a young unit from last season has to make major strides. The secondary welcomes back safety Mike Defeo ’15 to pair with Pat Glose ’15. Junior Arroyo ’16 mans one corner position while Mike Stearns ’17 enjoyed a great freshman year at the other corner finishing third on the team in tackles. His hard nosed style is what Tufts is looking to do at every position in order to match up with the run heavy offenses in the NESCAC. Linebackers Matt McCormack ’16 and Tommy Mead ’15 are now in their third year starting with each other.

A wealth of returners on the defensive line headlined by James Brao ’15 and Corey Burns ’16 return. The line is undersized with no player over 250 pounds listed on the roster from 2013. They try to make up for that by rotating players in to keep everyone fresh, and the defensive staff also has to get a little inventive in terms of stunts and blitzes. Whether it was through the air or on the ground, Tufts struggled to stop teams last season, but the athletes they return should help.

Courtesy of Tufts athletics
Courtesy of Tufts athletics

Three Big Questions

1. Can Tufts score in the red zone?  Tufts had the lowest rate (42%) of touchdowns after reaching the red zone last year in the NESCAC. While they were able to move the ball OK, the spread offense got bogged down in the most important part of the field. A common complaint of the spread is that it doesn’t work as well in the red zone. To combat that an offense has to either run the ball very well or have receivers who can win 1-on-1 battles.

2. Can the defense improve?

The Jumbos allowed a shocking 99 more yards per game than any other team. They simply struggled to get off the field as Tufts held the ball for only 25:29 per game. While they played well in certain games (against Bowdoin and Amherst, for example), games were often over by halftime as the Jumbos allowed an average of 24.5 points in the first half of games. Another year of getting stronger and faster should yield better results for what was a very young group. It is hard to pinpoint what needs to improve the most, but garnering more than the seven sacks they had all of 2013 is a good place to start.

3. Is this a make or break year for Jay Civetti?

Head Coach Jay Civetti is now entering his fourth season, and his record at Tufts is 0-24. Judging him by that record is a mistake given how little he inherited when taking over and how young a team Tufts was. Civetti brings great energy and has worked hard to position the team for improvement, but now some results have to follow given all the players returning for this season. Even though Civetti’s job is not in trouble, a breakthrough win or two would prove the progress the Tufts program has been making.

Team MVP: The two linebackers McCormack and Meade get the nod because of their work in the middle of the defense. Though their numbers are inflated somewhat because of how many plays the Jumbo defense is on the field for, these two represent the best hope for improvement on that side of the ball. Unlike the NFL where corner and defensive end are now the most important positions on defense, good NESCAC teams build from the middle out. Having those two to anchor the defense is a huge advantage.

Biggest Game of the Year: Sept. 20 against Hamilton

Consider this for a second; no current player on the Tufts roster has won a football game as a Jumbo. Their best chance for a victory in 2014 comes in the very first game of the year against a Hamilton team that was also winless last season. One worry for Tufts is that they come out too excited and try to do too much. Penalties or a costly turnover at the wrong time are a big reason why Tufts has endured such a long losing streak that looks like it should end this season.

Best Tweet of the Offseason:

The Jumbos have the experience and desire to turn their losing streak around this year. Is this the season they break through?