Amherst Set to Defend Program's First NESCAC Title

For a look back at Amherst’s memorable 2009 season, read a feature story that appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Amherst’s alumni magazine.

With 16 starts and two outstanding seasons under his belt, Alex Vetras ’11 is primed to establish himself as an elite quarterback in the NESCAC. After completing 64.1 percent of his passes and throwing for 1,869 yards as a sophomore, Vetras added 1,613 yards through the air with a 55.4 completion percentage as a junior. While his touchdown passes increased from 13 in 2008 to 14 in 2009, his interceptions were cut from 10 to 7. Once again elected a captain by his teammates, Vetras will begin his senior season with 3,482 passing yards, only 1,355 shy of the school’s career record of 4,837.

Quarterback Alex Vetras '11

Once again providing Amherst with a unique quarterback option is Brian McMahon ’12, a southpaw scrambler with quick feet and a strong arm. His potential was demonstrated in last year’s Week 6 showdown at Tufts, where he accumulated 100 total yards of offense. Completing three passes for 66 yards and running nine times for another 34, McMahon was taking the snaps during each of Amherst’s first two scoring drives, helping the Jeffs come back to take a 6-3 lead in the fourth quarter. Also backing up Vetras will be Blake Grauer ’12 and Sean Berman ’13, with newcomer David Petropulos ’14 providing another arm off the bench.

Amherst’s quarterbacks will find comfort in the fact that four starters return from last year’s offensive line that led the NESCAC in fewest sacks allowed (8). After allowing a Division III-low five sacks in 2008, Amherst again boasted one of the best lines in the conference despite featuring an extremely young group. This year’s O-line will look to open up a more consistent ground attack, as Amherst averaged only 79.1 rushing yards per game last season. During the team’s most dominant stretch of rushing offense, the Jeffs piled on 158 yards in a Week 5 win over Wesleyan and 108 yards the following Saturday at Tufts. Amherst loses the services of left tackle Wyatt Moss ’10, who last year was named to the All-NESCAC First Team and ECAC Northeast All-Star Team.

Returning from last year’s starting lineup are guards Rick Morgan ’11 and Marcus Richtel ’11, center John Ceccio ’13 and right tackle Ian Mahoney ’12. Battling for the starting left tackle spot will be Pat Sugrue ’12 and Jack Reynolds ’13, with Rob Moran ’12 and Matt Reilly ’13 also fighting for time along with a promising group of five first-years. Returning as tight ends to help fill the void left by Dan Savage ’10 are Charlie Pratt ’11 and Tom Holahan ’13.

Wide Receiver Sean Legister '11

In addition to having an experienced offensive line for protection, Amherst’s quarterbacks will have an exceptional arsenal of receivers to throw to in 2010. Despite the loss of Brandon Bullock ’10, who caught 90 passes for 831 yards and eight touchdowns in his career, the Lord Jeffs welcome back five players who had at least 100 receiving yards and caught one touchdown a year ago.

Highlighting the group are Brian Murphy ’11 and Sean Legister ’11. A 2009 All-NESCAC selection, Murphy has already caught 71 passes for 692 yards and six touchdowns. Legister has been a prime target in big moments, averaging 11.4 yards per catch last year to bring his career totals to 43 receptions, 449 yards and three touchdowns.

Putting up similar numbers to Legister since his debut in 2007 has been Andre Gary ’11, a dynamic receiver capable of coming up with catches very few players could make in the NESCAC. Gary capped off his 2009 season with five catches for 64 yards at Williams, giving him 424 yards on 41 receptions for his career. Recording breakout sophomore seasons last year were twin brothers Andrew Reed ’12 and Will Reed ’12, who combined for five touchdowns and nearly 400 yards on only 26 catches in 2009. Notably, Andrew’s 37-yard grab against Trinity gave Amherst the lead for good in Week 7, while his 70-yard completion at Williams ignited a 23-0 scoring run. James Durham ’13 showed significant promise as a first-year and should become more of a prime target in 2010.

Rejoining the team is Ben Kettering ’12, who caught 22 passes for 248 yards and four touchdowns in 2007 and 2008. Amherst’s leader in yards per catch (10.6) and touchdowns (3) as a sophomore, Kettering should prove to be a difficult matchup for opposing defenses at 6-foot-6. Making the switch from quarterback is Mike Samela ’12, who joins Dan Pozner ’11, Arlen Greenberg ’12, Tyler Fandl ’12, Justin Ramos ’13, Thomas Matthew ’13, Malcolm McClain ’13 and Robert Johnson ’13 to form an extremely deep wide receiver corps.

Running Back Femi Oyalowo '11

Amherst will be without 2008 All-NESCAC selection Aaron Rauh ’10, who contributed 1,593 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns as a four-year starter. Stepping into the leading role is Femi Oyalowo ’11, who ran for at least 200 yards in each of the past two seasons. A powerful, explosive back, Oyalowo averaged 5.3 yards per carry and 70.5 all-purpose yards per game as a sophomore, adding a pair of touchdowns and 232 yards on the ground. Oyalowo added 220 yards and a touchdown in 2009 thanks to an average of 3.2 yards per carry, finishing as Amherst’s leading rusher in three games.

Also bringing explosiveness to the ground game is Eric Bunker ’12, who last year made a name for himself on special teams. Bunker blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown against Colby, also returning a fumble for a key touchdown at Williams. Bunker carried the ball 18 times for 45 yards as a sophomore, but this year he should be more of a factor as a running back. Chris Toppin ’13 will also look to play more of a role in the running game this year, while Steve Jellison ’14, Ryan Silva ’14 and Josiah Williams ’14 join the group as promising backs.

Amherst’s kicking game takes a big hit with the loss of Matt Eberhart ’10, a four-year starter and 2007 All-Conference honoree. Eberhart handled the majority of the team’s field goals in his first three years before focusing on punting in 2009, accounting for 18 made field goals, 54 kickoffs and 94 punts in his time. Matt Rawson ’12 was the team’s go-to on kickoffs in 2008 and 2009, also taking over field goal duties last year. Rawson was 8-for-12 on field goal attempts as a sophomore, including 7-for-8 inside the 30-yard line and 3-for-3 in the fourth quarter. Rawson’s PAT percentage of 88.9 (16-for-18) was also fourth best in the NESCAC. He and newcomer Jake Schmidt ’14 are both well-rounded, and Coach Mills hopes that each can take on one aspect of the kicking game.

Defensive Lineman Tom Grossi '11

The Lord Jeffs allowed only three rushing touchdowns and led Division III in rush defense last year (50.9 ypg), but they will need to fill the void left by linemen Eric Pender ’10 and Edwin Urey ’10. The two standouts combined for 27.0 sacks in their four years, and each was a two-time All-NESCAC First Team selection. Stepping into a starting role this year will be Kevin Ferber ’12, whose breakout sophomore season included 41 tackles (10.0 for loss), two forced fumbles and 7.0 sacks for a combined loss of 52 yards.

Also highlighting the defensive line is nose guard Tom Grossi ’11, who started in all eight games last year and recorded 20 tackles (5.5 for loss) and a pair of sacks. Brady Benelli ’11, Chris Eaton ’11 and Isaac Rowner ’11 form a strong senior core, with Benelli returning the most experience of the group. The D-line also welcomes back Sam Perlow ’13 and Matt Sponheimer ’13, with Travis Dickenson ’13 making the switch from linebacker and Joe Moffitt ’13 coming over from the O-line.

Perhaps Amherst’s biggest single-player loss is that of inside linebacker Mike Taylor ’10, last year’s NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year and All-Region First Team selection. Taylor led the Jeffs in tackles in 2008 (59) and 2009 (89), also finishing last season among the conference leaders in forced fumbles (3), tackles for loss (11.0), sacks (4.0) and pass breakups (5). Starting alongside Taylor throughout the 2009 season was Brandon Quinn ’11, who returns after a breakout junior season. After picking up 28 tackles as a sophomore, Quinn finished second on the team with 70 (33 solo) to go along with seven breakups last year, recording a team-high 15 tackles against both Middlebury and Trinity.

Also returning to the starting lineup are outside linebackers Jeff Katz ’11 and Sam Clark ’13. Katz transferred to Amherst last year and made an immediate impact, finishing second in the NESCAC in sacks (8.0) and fourth in tackles for loss (12.5) en route to an All-Conference selection. Katz earned NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week honors when he recorded five solo tackles, 3.5 sacks and a safety against Colby, finishing the season with 38 tackles and four breakups.

Inside Linebacker Brandon Quinn '11

Clark broke into the starting lineup when he picked up a pair of game-changing interceptions against Middlebury, with one coming in the endzone and the other being returned 64 yards. Clark finished the season with 38 tackles and 2.5 sacks, leading Amherst with nine takedowns at Williams. Backing up Clark and Katz on the outside will be Mark Petros ’12 and Read Servis ’12.

Joining Quinn on the inside is Trevor Rappa ’12, who recorded 21 tackles and earned valuable experience last season. Also expected to contribute on the inside are Greg Kutzin ’12, Lou Jacoubs ’13 and Rob Kuehne ’13. Coach Mills is also excited about his first-year linebackers, as well as Matt Pieterse ’13, who joins the team after spending one year at Springfield College. As a first-year, Pieterse led the Pride in tackles (84) and had five pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, helping his team post an 8-2 record and win the ECAC Northeast Championship Bowl.

No group takes a bigger hit than the defensive backs. Chris Govey ’10, Fred Argir ’10, Fran Florio ’10 and Vinny DiForte ’10 helped make up arguably the best secondary unit in the NESCAC last year, combining for 17 interceptions, 41 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in their careers. Argir’s 2009 performance stood out among any other, finishing the season with a conference-high six interceptions, eight breakups and 57 tackles en route to All-NESCAC First Team and All-America Second Team honors.

The group’s lone returning starter is cornerback Nick Edwards ’11, whose outstanding junior season was capped off with a pair of interceptions at Williams. Edwards, who saved his four interceptions for three of the biggest games (Bowdoin, Middlebury and Williams), finished the year with 24 tackles and three breakups. Joining Edwards with experience at the corners will be Gordie Lockbaum ’12, who had eight tackles in seven appearances last year. Rounding out the group is Brian Merrigan ’11, who sat out last season with an injury but could be a major factor in 2010, as well as Landrus Lewis ’13, a dynamic athlete who was one of the team’s primary kick returners in 2009.

Cornerback Nick Edwards '11

Highlighting the safeties are Doug Gebhardt ’12, who earned significant playing time last year, and former wide receiver Kevin Heller ’12. Although he is unproven on the defensive side of the ball, Heller displayed incredible athleticism last year with nine catches for 109 yards, including two big receptions for 51 yards during a pivotal third-quarter drive at Williams. Also working with Mills this season will be safeties Evan Rosenstein ’12, Jordan Leites ’13, Robbie Heflin ’13 and Mike Aldo ’13.

Amherst’s defense has maintained a stellar reputation under the tutelage of 2009 NESCAC Coach of the Year E.J. Mills, but the Lord Jeffs could turn more heads this year with their offense thanks to an abundance of talent and experience at the skill positions. A veteran quarterback is on pace to surpass school records in his third year in the starting role, and he will be protected by an offensive line that is young but quite proven. With explosive running backs and countless wide receivers capable of making big plays, Amherst could be in store for its most dominant offensive season in recent history.

Question marks arise when it comes to the defense because of the incredible impact the Class of 2010 had on the program, but Amherst returns five key starters and welcomes an exceptional combination of first-years and transfer students. In addition to leading the NESCAC in scoring defense, turnover margin and pass efficiency defense, last year’s team led all of Division III in rush defense (50.9 ypg) and sacks per game (4.75). Replacing a pair of All-NESCAC First Team linemen and the conference’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year won’t be easy, but there is still a large amount of talent remaining at each position. The biggest challenge comes with replacing three starters in the secondary. If Amherst’s defensive backs can gel during preseason, this could be yet another standout year for the defense.

This year’s schedule proposes several challenges. Notably, the Jeffs have not won at Middlebury since 2004, which is also the last time they defeated Williams at home. In Week 2 Bowdoin will be looking to avenge last year’s 13-12 result, while Trinity will hope to rebound after having its seven-game winning streak against Amherst snapped. The 2010 season opens Saturday, Sept. 25, with a 1 p.m. home game against Bates College, a team Amherst has not played since 2007. Each of Amherst’s first two 8-0 seasons (1964, 1984) was followed by a 7-1 mark, as the Jeffs have the opportunity to post back-to-back undefeated campaigns for the first time in school history.