The Jeffs stand ready for upcoming football season

Defending Co-NESCAC Champions Williams and Trinity College both return several key players from their respective teams last year and are currently considered the frontrunners to win the 2003 NESCAC crown. Little III rival Wesleyan University, who defeated Amherst in a 14-13 heartbreaker last year, should also prove to be a formidable force in the NESCAC.

During recent seasons, the Jeffs have relied mostly on their defense to win ball games. Last year, the Jeff offense struggled mightily at times, but pulled themselves together at the end of the year when they were needed most-in the annual showdown with Williams. Amherst dazzled the Homecoming crowd with a balanced attack that garnered 401 yards of total offense and 45 points.

Fortunately for the Jeffs, most of the essential cogs of last year’s offense return this season, starting at quarterback with Marsh Moseley ’05. Moseley, who took over the reigns of the Amherst offense midway through his freshman year, is now an experienced signal-caller who is entering his second full season as the starting quarterback coming off his best game as a Jeff. Moseley completed 13 of 20 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns against Williams. The Jeffs did lose dependable backup Jeff Browne ’03 to graduation this spring and a clear replacement has yet to emerge.

Running back could well be the deepest position on the team. The group is headlined by quad-captain Fletcher Ladd ’04 who was named First-Team All-NESCAC last season after finishing the year as the conference’s second leading rusher. Ladd is a workhorse; he carried the ball 236 times last year, but Mills will be looking to ease the load on his star running back early in the year to increase his productivity down the stretch. “We probably have to do a better job of keeping [Ladd] fresh,” said Mills. There are plenty of talented running backs on the roster who can bolster Amherst’s run-oriented offense. Ngai Otieno ’06 earned the respect and admiration of Amherst fans across the country with his breakout game against Williams last year. Otieno ran wild against the Ephs, rushing for 97 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries. Matt Montieth ’05 and Dom Cama ’06 should also get some carries over the course of the season.

The situation at fullback is more unsettled as the team must now fill the shoes of Jeff Ryan ’03. Juniors Chris Riordan and Brad Backus and sophomore Zach Bucuvalas will all compete for the position.

Despite their abundance at halfback, the Jeffs will look to throw the ball more this year. “You have to throw the football to beat good football teams,” said Mills. The task of building a prolific passing attack became much more difficult with the graduation of star receiver J.P. Zito ’03. Zito had a phenomenal year last year, highlighted by his 179 yard, three touchdown performance against the Ephs and his playmaking ability will be sorely missed. The Jeffs do return starter Jay Wagstaff ’05, a dependable receiver and a dynamic special teams player. Wagstaff is a preseason All-America selection as a special teams returner. Jim Devine ’04 should start the season opposite Wagstaff. Juniors Russell Lee and Taharqa Patterson and sophomores Rob Brown and Mark Krafft will compete for time behind Wagstaff and Devine.

The tight end spot will be manned by Alex Popp ’04 and Ryan Sykes ’05. Traditionally, the tight end has been used mostly as a blocker in the Jeff offense.

On the offensive line, the Jeffs must replace both starting tackles from last season. Brendan Carolan ’03 and Rob Vernicek ’03 were two of Amherst’s best lineman last year, earning Second and First-Team All-NESCAC selections, respectively. Quad-captain Matt Fitzgerald ’04 is moving from right guard to man Vernicek’s left tackle position while seniors W. Gee Roe and Chris Dobbins will compete to fill Carolan’s shoes at right tackle. Emmanuel Ashamu ’04 will take over for Fitzgerald at right guard while Shane Morrow ’04 and Sean Carroll ’05 return to their starting positions at left guard and center respectively.

The defense is led by a very formidable linebacking corps, the focal point of Mills’ 3-4 defensive scheme. All of Amherst’s top linebackers from last season are back for another tour of duty. Quad-captain Ed Sylvester ’04 and David Borgonzi ’05 return as the team’s starting inside linebackers. Borgonzi lead the team last year with 73 tackles while Sylvester finished with 60. Mike Salvatore ’05 is the team’s top reserve at the position.

Dan McNamara ’04 is the incumbent starter at one outside linebacker position while Jordan Konicek ’04 and Gavin Weeks ’06 will once again share the responsibilities at the other outside linebacker spot.

Coach Mills will have to rebuild his defensive line once again after losing stalwart tackles Pat Hayes ’03 and Ryan Moriarty ’03. Mike Harrison ’04, B.J. Gaddour ’05 and Ryan McMullen ’06 should all see plenty of action up front this season. Harrison and Gaddour saw a fair amount of minutes last year while McMullen spent the past season away from football. Mike Hanlon ’04 and L.J. Spinnato ’06 return as Mills’s chosen nose guard tandem.

Amherst’s secondary will also have a new look this year as last year’s starting safeties Paul Miceli ’03 and Jeremy Carroll ’03 and starting cornerback Joe Rubbone ’03 have all moved on. Junior Bob Sargent saw plenty of action as Carroll’s backup at free safety last year and now appears poised to assume the starting role. Rob Walsh ’05 should team with returning starter and quad-captain Paul Whiting ’04 to fill the cornerback spots. Juniors Chris Scarpelli and Bryan Dolan will both compete for time at the strong safety and nickel back positions. Sophomores James and Julian Seltzer will play in the secondary this year after working as running backs last season. Grier Jones ’04 and Nick Zieler ’06 are also likely to see action in the secondary this season.

The Jeffs may well have an up-and-down year on special teams this season. For the third straight year, David Bodner ’05 will handle the majority of the team’s kicking duties. Bodner has emerged as one of the leading kickers in the NESCAC. The punting position is up for grabs now that ace punter Geoff Bough ’03 has graduated. Bough was a consistent punter whose directional kicks were a great weapon for Coach Mills. Ladd and Zieler are the leading candidates to handle the punting chores this year, but that position is certainly wide open at this point.

“The biggest concerns going into the season are the offensive line gelling and punting in general,” said Mills.

The Jeffs will scrimmage against Hamilton College on Sept. 13 before travelling up to Bates College for the season opener the following week. Both teams that defeated Amherst last year will come up to Pratt Field this season. Wesleyan travels to Amherst on Oct. 18 for the Homecoming game while Trinity comes to town two weeks later for the family weekend game. As is custom, Amherst closes its season with a showdown against Williams.

Mills thinks his team has great potential, but cautions that there is still much work to be done. “We’ve got like 1000 pieces we have to put together and we aren’t even past piece two yet,” he said.