Athletics

Pigs in the Mud

O-Line
From left to right: seniors Jay Hebb, Sam Rudman, Tim Rose and Justin Wiley (Photo by Sam Masinter '04)
by Justin Long

Seniors Tim Rose, Sam Rudman, Justin Wiley and Jay Hebb are exactly what you’d expect from 260-pound offensive linemen when they’re on a football field. Off the field? You can leave the stereotypes and expectations at the door.

Offensive linemen might have the least glamorous position in sports. At any given time during a game, they tend to be the biggest, slowest, least athletic players on the field. As Amherst head coach E.J. Mills puts it: what other sport could they play?

Sounds mean, right? But don’t worry—these Lord Jeffs embrace the role. “We know it’s not glamorous,” says Rudman, “but after high school we had the choice of being miserable for four years or being pigs and rolling around in the mud. We gladly chose the latter.”

But they aren’t just four of the biggest, baddest juggernauts in the NESCAC; they’re four of the most unconventional. Rudman, for example, nearly took this semester off to work for Republican presidential candidate John McCain. During an internship this past summer, Rudman worked for Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Ore., helping with legal research and summarizing and analyzing Supreme Court holdings.

Professor of Political Science Hadley Arkes notes that Rudman has been one of his brightest students for the past four years. “Sam always comes to class ready to respond to the text and engage in arguments. He is a good-natured, confident, spirited man of sound opinion. Judge O’Scannlain could not believe Sam was an undergrad student with no law school experience.”

Rose, who also majors in political science, has made a similar impression on Arkes. “Tim is a very thoughtful, proactive student. Both he and Sam are capable of finding their way when the landmarks are down.”

Rose’s passion for politics is matched by a similar passion for religion. He joined the Amherst Christian Fellowship during his sophomore year in order to tone down. “I’m a crazy guy,” says Rose. “I needed to keep my head on straight, so I started going to church and Bible studies. The Amherst Christian Fellowship made me less crazy, and it’s been great for me and for a lot of my friends and fellow athletes.”

Wiley, meanwhile, has firsthand knowledge of such issues as the high AIDS rate in South Africa. During the second semester of his sophomore year, Wiley took Introduction to South African History and became infatuated with the subject matter. As a history major with a concentration in Africa and the disapora, Wiley spent a semester in Cape Town this past spring and, in his opinion, returned as a better person. “Going to a country with such a high AIDS rate and tremendous poverty made me appreciate what I have here. I’m very lucky to be healthy and playing football.”

Hilary Moss, Assistant Professor of History and Black Studies, admires Wiley’s willingness to expand his academic and intellectual horizons. “Justin is an engaged, gracious, and serious student,” she says. “I have always appreciated his extraordinary work ethic, open mind, and willingness to take seriously the ideas of others around him. His confidence and flexibility, I suspect, will ensure that he continues to excel long after he leaves Amherst.”

Disproving Mills’ claim that offensive linemen can’t play other sports, Hebb was a member of the Amherst baseball team before his shoulder surgery and hopes to return to the diamond this spring. He stands out on the offensive line as what Coach Mills describes as a “dancing bear.” Mills says, “Jay has great hands and mobility. Shoulder surgery has prevented him from reaching his full potential, but he has as much raw ability as anyone on the team.”

Majoring in economics and political science, Hebb’s accepting personality and ability to work well with the younger players are as valuable as his football skills. “I have four younger siblings,” says Hebb, “so I’ve always looked out for the younger guys. We had a good group of senior leaders when we were freshmen; they were very welcoming, and I wanted to emulate them by showing new players the ropes. I wanted to take over that role.”

O-Line_crop
Amherst's veteran offensive line allowed only one sack through the first three weeks of the 2008 season.
The four offensive linemen will be the first to note how different their personalities are from one another. With a Grizzly Adams beard accompanying his 6’2, 280-pound stature, Rose is a classic case of more than meets the eye. “Tim is a big goofball,” says Wiley. “He’s always good for a stupid joke that he’ll laugh at before anyone else does. He has brute strength and will bash anybody on the field, but he’s a very lighthearted, thoughtful kid.”

Rudman, who Mills describes as a “ball of energy,” is known for his on-field intensity. “Sam is in a league of his own,” says Hebb. “He’s very outspoken and he knows when to be serious. He’s pretty much crazy all the time.”

Known as the focused and serious one of the group, Wiley has battled back problems for the past two years but receives no sympathy from his teammates and coaches, who compare his schedule to that of a firefighter (one day on, two days off). “Justin is a terrific kid and a great game-day guy, but he takes so much time off that sometimes I’m convinced he hates football,” jokes Mills.

If one of these players were to be selected as the group’s spokesperson, it would be Hebb. “Jay brings a cockiness and a swagger to the field, and it makes him a great player,” says Wiley. “He carries himself as if he were Amherst’s number-one celebrity.”

Each of Amherst’s offensive linemen might have his own unique personality, but they manage to gel on the field. Through the first three games of 2008, the Lord Jeffs have allowed a NESCAC-low one sack, while other teams have allowed at least three and as many as 12. In the past four years, Amherst has consistently boasted one of the conference’s best running games thanks to a dominant offensive line that Mills and o-line coach Matt Ballard claim is the best to come along in a while.

 “I’ve really noticed these past two years how well the four of us have come together and gotten along,” says Hebb. “We’re all different, but we’ve put those differences aside and become great friends.”

“We may not be the best looking group on the team,” jokes Rose, “but we’re definitely the tightest. We’ve played together for four years now, sharing the same experiences and going through everything together.”

“It makes no sense for the four of us to be friends,” says Wiley. “We couldn’t be much more different, but somehow it works.”

This past Monday, as I opened the door to leave Professor Arkes’ office, who was standing there but Rudman, patiently waiting for another session with his mentor of four years. That’s how it is for these guys—in street clothes they can talk about politics, history and religion with the best of them. But once they put on those pads, they go back to being pigs in the mud. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.