Football: Jeffs look to tackle the opposition

To be sure, while Coach Mills has lost some excellent players with the graduation of the class of 2004, including four All-NESCAC athletes, much of the talent on last year’s squad returns for another tour of duty this season.

On offense, the Jeffs will be led by senior quarterback Marsh Moseley. It seems only a short time ago, in October of 2001, that Moseley was called upon to start at quarterback as a freshman, but now Moseley is a battle-tested signal-caller with 16 career starts under his belt. Backing up Moseley will be sophomores Nick Kehoe and John Polignone, both of whom received valuable minutes on the field last year while Moseley was injured.

Senior quad-captain Fletcher Ladd returns to headline Amherst’s contingent of running backs, a group that may well be the most talented in the entire NESCAC. Ladd, a First-Team All-NESCAC selection a year ago, needs only 236 yards to become Amherst’s career leader in rushing yards. With a workhorse like Ladd in the backfield, it may sometimes be difficult to give the other Jeff running backs the carries that they would otherwise deserve. Ladd’s primary backups should be Matt Monteith ’05 and Ngai Otieno ’06. Monteith distinguished himself last year by rushing for seven touchdowns, three of which came in a dominating performance on Homecoming Weekend against Wesleyan. Otieno made his mark in Amherst’s 45-35 win over Williams in 2002 and was off to another strong effort in 2003 before he was injured. Dom Cama ’06 and Will Beeson ’07 will also look to get some minutes at the tailback position, while Chris Conroy ’05 and Chris Hoffman ’07 should man the fullback position.

Senior quad-captain Jay Wagstaff will lead the Jeff receiving corps. In his second year as a starter, Wagstaff had a breakout season in 2003, culminating with his selection as a First-Team All-NESCAC performer. Senior Taharqa Patterson and sophomores Mark Hannon, Justin Macione and Idris McClain should compete to fill the void left by the graduation of Jim Devine ’04. Devine’s presence will be particularly missed in the end zone, as he led the NESCAC in touchdown receptions a year ago. Ryan Sykes ’05 will start another year at the tight end position.

While Coach Mills is fortunate to have many familiar faces returning to skill positions, the offensive line will be a big question mark for the Jeffs heading into the season. Center Sean Carroll ’05 is the only returning starter for this key unit. Gavin Weeks ’06 will move from his linebacker position to play tackle, where he will be joined by Ryan Smith ’07. The guard duties should be handled by Matt Mascioli ’06 and converted fullback Chris Riordan ’05. While the rest of the conference may look to attack this inexperienced line, the Jeffs expect to see solid play out of their lineman. “I have a lot of confidence in the big guys,” said Ladd.

Defense has been the cornerstone of Amherst football for several years, and while there will be many new faces on the field this season-Coach Mills must replace five starters in the front seven alone-defense once again figures to be a strength for the Jeffs.

On the defensive line, L.J. Spinnato ’06 will start at nose guard while quad-captain B.J. Gaddour ’05, Brendan McKee ’06 and Dan Kovolisky ’06 will play defensive tackle. Gaddour led the team with 5.5 sacks last year.

At linebacker, a critical position in Coach Mills’ 3-4 scheme, the Jeffs will rely heavily on three-year starter and quad-captain Dave Borgonzi ’05. Although Borgonzi is the only returning starter among the linebacker group, he is not the only one with significant playing experience. Joining Borgonzi on the inside will be classmate Michael Salvatore. Salvatore recorded 27 tackles last year and two starts. Sophomores Greg Muecke and Kipp Weiskopf should also see some playing time at inside linebacker. Justin Roemer ’06 should start at one outside linebacker position while juniors Joe Bickerstaffe and Kelvin Coker and Dakota Jones ’07 see the rest of the minutes available at outside linebacker.

Three of four starters return for the Amherst secondary, but the one starter lost was a good one. Paul Whiting ’04 was a three-year starter at corner and a First-Team All-NESCAC selection as a senior. His slot will likely be filled by Nick Zieler ’06, who fared well in a reserve role in 2003. Rob Walsh ’05 will resume his starting duties at the other corner position while classmates Bob Sargent and Chris Scarpelli will once again start at free and strong safety, respectively. Bryan Dolan ’05, Pat Sandor ’07 and Mike Salerno ’07 will provide depth in the defensive backfield for Coach Mills.

For the fourth-straight year, David Bodner will handle the kicking duties for the Lord Jeffs. Coach Mills will also likely start the season with the two-headed punting tandem of Polignone and Hannon that he used in 2003.

The NESCAC will be a tough conference to play in again. Trinity College is the consensus favorite after completing an undefeated season. Williams, despite losing a host of talented players, and, most importantly, their venerable head coach, Dick Farley, should also be a tough hurdle. Tufts University and Middlebury College are two other teams to watch. Nevertheless, perfection continues to be the goal of this proud Amherst football program. Said Ladd: “Our goal is to go 8-0. I want to have the number-one offense in the league, and anything beyond that is gravy.”