Amherst Loaded with Exceptional Talent in 2008

E.J. Mills
E.J. Mills has posted a 61-27 mark in his 11 seasons with the Lord Jeffs.

2007 Season Recap
Amherst outscored Bates and Bowdoin by a combined 54-6 margin to kick off the 2007 season but hit its first road block in week three against eventual conference champion Middlebury. The Lord Jeffs held the Panthers scoreless in the second half and made a late push in the fourth quarter but could not complete the comeback, ultimately falling 19-16. Amherst rebounded by scoring 28 points in consecutive victories over Colby and Wesleyan to move to 4-1, but the season ended with a rare three-game skid. Sandwiched in between lopsided losses to Tufts and Williams on the road was a hard-fought game with NESCAC powerhouse Trinity. Amherst held the Bantams to three first-half points but could not muster up enough offense of its own, as the visitors held on for a 13-9 victory. Amherst was in line to earn the program’s first win over Trinity since 2001, but the Jeffs converted on only one of three appearances in the red zone, as one field goal was blocked by the Trinity defense and another was missed wide left.

A 4-4 record left Amherst tied for fifth in the final NESCAC standings. The Jeffs outscored opponents 126-47 in their first five games and finished the season with the conference’s second best scoring defense, allowing just 13.6 points per contest. Defense was once again Amherst’s strong suit, as the team boasted the NESCAC’s second best pass defense (169.5 ypg), overall defense (261.5 ypg) and kickoff return average (20.0), as well as the third best rush defense (92.0 ypg). On offense, the Jeffs led the conference in rushing through the first five weeks of the season (185.2 ypg) and finished the year averaging 143.2 yards on the ground.

Losses (Offense)
Amherst loses a pair of offensive linemen to graduation in Bobby DiGiovine and Dan Guariglia, both of whom were named to the 2008 National Football Foundation Hampshire Honor Society and NESCAC Fall All-Academic Team. In addition to earning an All-NESCAC Second Team selection as a senior, Guariglia earned the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston's Nils V. “Swede” Nelson Award, one of the organization’s oldest and most prestigious honors, which recognizes outstanding achievement in academics, athletics, sportsmanship and citizenship. The awards continued to pile on for Guariglia, as he claimed the DeOrmond "Tuss" McLaughry Scholor Athlete Award from the National Football Foundation and Hall Of Fame Western Mass. Chapter.

Rounding out Amherst’s losses on offense are tight end Matt Dunleavy, wide receiver Mike Myers and fullback Chris Gillyard. While Gillyard transformed from a running back to one of the conference’s best fullbacks, earning an All-NESCAC Second Team selection as a senior, Myers was a consistent weapon on offense throughout his four years. After catching a touchdown pass as a first-year, Myers burst onto the scene as a sophomore by catching 23 passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns. After another 228 receiving yards during his junior season, Myers battled injuries as a senior but still racked up 102 yards on nine receptions.

The Lord Jeffs will be without the services of standout defensive back Rob Grammer '08

Losses (Defense)
The Lord Jeffs lose a pair of standout defensive backs in Rob Grammer and Chris Mottau. In each of their final three years, the tandem combined for at least 70 total tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, three interceptions and nine pass breakups. Grammer’s best season came in 2006 when he recorded 47 total tackles (24 solo), intercepted two passes and broke up six others, and had a pair of tackles for loss. Mottau also shined most as a junior, finishing with 52 total tackles, a conference-best four interceptions and five pass breakups. While Grammer earned a spot on the NESCAC Fall All-Academic Team and NFF Hampshire Honor Society last year, Mottau was named to the All-NESCAC Second Team. 

Jon Attridge led Amherst’s defensive line last year and earned All-NESCAC First Team honors for the first time in his career. Attridge recorded nine solo tackles and 24 in total, adding 2.0 sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, leading a defensive line that allowed a mere 92.0 rushing yards per game, the third best average in the NESCAC. Attridge’s 24 tackles last year bested his previous season high of 23 that he recorded as a junior.

Amherst will also need to replace Nick Boehm and Jack Ewen, who each played a vital role in 2007 as inside linebackers. While Ewen had 38 tackles (16 solo), five tackles for loss and two pass breakups, Boehm had a breakout season and led the Lord Jeffs with 65 total tackles. In addition to finishing with the NESCAC’s third highest tackles-per-game average (9.3), Boehm earned NESCAC Fall All-Academic Team honors for the second consecutive season and was named to the NFF Hampshire Honor Society. For his stellar season, Boehm was named the team’s Most Valuable Player.

Losses (Special Teams)
Rounding out last year’s senior class is Keith Erzinger, who for the past two seasons has been the backbone of the Lord Jeffs’ punting game. After splitting time with Mark Hannon ’07 and averaging 31.6 yards per punt as a junior, Erzinger handled 51 of the team’s 53 punts as a senior, averaging 34.5 yards per kick and pinning the opposition inside the 20-yard line on 17 occasions.

This Year’s Offense
Amherst has featured one of the NESCAC’s best running games in recent years, and this season should be no different thanks to senior Eric NeSmith and junior Aaron Rauh returning as a solid one-two punch. Despite each player fighting through injuries last year, NeSmith finished fifth in the conference in rushing yards per game (63.6) with NeSmith close behind at 62.6 yards per contest. Rauh got off to an impressive start in 2007, rushing for three short-yardage touchdowns in the season opener to lead Amherst to a 24-0 victory over Bates. NeSmith found the end zone three times on the year to go along with Rauh’s six touchdowns, with Rauh earning a NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week honor in October. Sophomores Mark Seager and Femi Oyalowo showed great promise as first-years and should be solid backups to the upperclassmen, while Charlie Pratt will look to replace Gillyard in the fullback position.

Senior Eric NeSmith will once again be an integral part of Amherst's running game.

For the second consecutive season, Amherst began preseason without an experienced quarterback and will be looking to fill the void. Despite the uncertainty, head coach E.J. Mills is excited about the competition at the position, noting sophomores Alex Vetras and Dan Pozner as the frontrunners. Of the two, only Pozner took snaps as a first-year, playing in seven games and completing 13 of 30 pass attempts for 100 yards, a touchdown and an interception. At Tufts, Pozner was 7-of-13 for 58 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Pat Harris and first-years Brian McMahon and Blake Grauer also show promise but may need time to adjust to the collegiate level.

Amherst’s quarterback will have plenty of talent to work with, as the team returns a slew of talented wide receivers. Leading the pack are senior Jim Eckenrode and junior Brandon Bullock, who combined for four touchdowns and more than 400 yards in 2007. After catching a pair of touchdown passes to go along with 148 yards as a junior, Eckenrode was the Jeffs’ second leading receiver last year, finishing with 15 catches for 214 yards and one score. Bullock led the team with 24 receptions for 240 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came against Middlebury. Sophomores Ben Kettering and Andre Gary should play a significant role this year – Kettering entered his rookie season as a promising 6’6 receiver but sat out the majority of the year due to injury, while Gary showed promise by winning a NESCAC Rookie of the Week honor in September. Mills hopes the sophomore tandem will have a breakout season, while classmates Brian Murphy and Sean Legister will also be in the mix.

Mills also likes what he sees at the tight end spot, with senior Jason Hebb and junior Dan Savage returning valuable experience. Sophomore Reggie Fugett came to Amherst as a promising tight end, but injuries have prevented him from getting his feet wet and a back surgery will likely keep him out for the entire year. Providing backup to Hebb and Savage are sophomore Bryce Einhorn and junior Peter Andruszkiewicz, with Einhorn also serving as a backup fullback.

Despite the losses of DiGiovine and Guariglia, Amherst’s offensive line will feature four returning starters and is once again looking strong. Senior Justin Wiley returns as the center after earning All-NESCAC Second Team honors a year ago, with senior Tim Rose and junior Wyatt Moss filling the two guard spots. Senior Sam Rudman returns as a reliable right tackle, but the left tackle position is up for grabs with junior Ryan Bone and sophomore Pat Sugrue beginning preseason as the leading candidates, and junior Nick Mancusi and sophomore Ricky Morgan also vying for time.

This Year’s Defense
Leading this year’s veteran outside linebackers is senior captain Guy Matisis, a 2007 All-NESCAC First Team selection. As a junior Matisis finished tied for seventh in the NESCAC in sacks (4.0) and tackles for loss (9.5), with his 32 solo tackles and 55 total tackles giving him the conference’s 23rd highest tackles-per-game average (6.9). Matisis will be joined by classmates Jake Spadafora, Pat Moriarty, Carson Reed and Alex Widen, as well as sophomores Brady Benelli and Isaac Rowner. Spadafora finished his junior season with Amherst’s fifth highest number of total tackles, compiling 45 tackles (27 solo), 4.0 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

A.J. Scola earned a spot on last year's All-NESCAC Second Team as a junior defensive back.

Seniors Preston Puryear and Travis Doering and junior Mike Taylor highlight the Jeffs’ inside linebackers. In addition to his 48 total tackles and 5.0 tackles for loss, Puryear recorded an interception and broke up five passes last year, while Taylor added a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss to his 33 total tackles. Senior Mike Flanagan is coming off ankle surgery but is expected to return to full strength and be a major piece of Amherst’s defense, with sophomore Brandon Quinn ready to see an increase in playing time and play a larger role after a promising rookie season. Sophomore Peter Krensky rounds out the returning inside linebackers.

Greg Smith is coming off a stellar junior season in which he earned All-NESCAC Second Team honors and this year will once again lead the defensive line. In addition to his 24 tackles in 2007, Smith recovered a pair of fumbles, one of which he returned 67 yards to set up a 34-yard field goal that tied the game at 3-3 before halftime. Juniors Eric Pender and Edwin Urey will also start up front after combining for 46 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks a year ago. Coach Mills also expects good things from sophomores Marcus Richtel and Chris Eaton, with senior M.J. Smith and sophomore Tom Grossi rounding out the group.

Amherst’s secondary unit has no reason to panic despite the loss of standouts Grammer and Mottau, as senior A.J. Scola and junior Chris Govey return as proven defensive backs. As a three-year starter, Scola was named to the 2007 All-NESCAC Second Team after finishing tied for second in the conference in interceptions (5) and passes defended (12), while Govey boasted the team’s third highest tackle total (49) and broke up four passes as a sophomore. Junior Fred Argir will also see playing time at strong safety, with senior Fran Florio, junior Vincent DiForte and sophomores Nick Edwards and John Howe in the mix. Sophomore Brian Merrigan will also look to play a larger role in the secondary this year.

This Year’s Special Teams
Junior Matt Eberhart is a proven place kicker and has been the Jeffs’ go-to guy for the past two years. After driving home seven of his 11 field goal attempts as a first-year, including a perfect 3-for-3 between 30-39 yards, Eberhart earned All-NESCAC Second Team honors last year for leading the conference in PAT percentage (93.8) and connecting on five of his seven field goal attempts with a long of 41 yards. Mills is hoping first-year Matt Rawson and John Howe will step into the punting role and share kicking duties with Eberhart.

Season Outlook
If they can fill the void at quarterback, the Lord Jeffs have the potential to be a dominant force in the NESCAC. With an outstanding rushing tandem, exceptional receiving core and experienced offensive line, Amherst’s offense may step out from the shadow that the team’s reputable defense tends to cast. The Jeffs won at least six games in four of head coach E.J. Mills’ first six years but are just 24-16 in the last five seasons and have won six games only once in that span.