Amherst Reloaded for Another Explosive Season

Contact: Justin Long

Amherst broke a 53-year-old school record
by averaging 35.8 points per game in 2010.

Amherst’s program-record-tying 14-game win streak came to an end with last year’s 28-13 setback at Trinity College in Week 7, but the 2010 Lord Jeffs provided their fans with countless memorable moments en route to a 6-2 season. What stood out above all else was the team’s explosive offense, as last year’s squad became the first in program history to open a season with six consecutive 30-point games. Amherst would finish the season averaging 35.8 points per game, which broke a 53-year-old school record (1957, 34.8 ppg).

The Lord Jeffs garnered national attention with their “blur” offense, which helped them average more than 400 total yards per game. Amherst’s ability to score in bunches was nothing short of remarkable. To open the season the Jeffs scored on five of their first six drives during a 44-0 win over Bates, and the following week they scored on each of their first three drives in a 38-7 victory at Bowdoin. At Middlebury the Jeffs were shut out in the first half but scored on six consecutive possessions in the second, and against Colby they turned two turnovers into touchdowns in the final three minutes of the opening half to take a 20-3 lead.

Amherst’s relentless attack continued at Wesleyan in Week 5, as the Jeffs scored a touchdown on three consecutive first-half drives before opening the second half with three more consecutive scoring drives. The most remarkable performance came against Tufts in Week 6, as Amherst scored a touchdown on 10 of its final 12 possessions after being shut out in the first quarter of a 70-49 win. At Trinity the Jeffs completed a 47-yard touchdown pass on their first play from scrimmage and added a field goal in their second drive, and they closed their season by converting a field goal in their opening drive against Williams.

Brian McMahon '12 will keep opposing
defenses honest as a versatile quarterback.

Opening Day of the 2011 season will mark the first time since 2007 Amherst is starting someone other than Alex Vetras ’11 at quarterback. In three years Vetras was 526-of-894 (58.9 percent) for 5,367 yards and 43 touchdowns, graduating this past May as the school’s record holder in several statistical categories. Leading the charge this year will be southpaw Brian McMahon ’12, who head coach E.J. Mills believes will shine as a senior. “We’re very excited about what Brian can do. He has waited his time, and we think he has all of the tools to be a top flight quarterback in this league.”

Although McMahon sat out the majority of the 2010 season due to an injury, he showed incredible promise as a sophomore. His most effective performance came at Tufts, where he accumulated 100 total yards of offense off the bench. 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. “Brian is probably the quickest kid on our team,” Mills says. “His ability to run the ball will give us something we haven’t really had, which will keep opposing defenses honest.”

Mills notes that the 2011 season will be McMahon’s ship to steer, and that after him there is an open competition at the quarterback position. Blake Grauer ’12 has spent the past three years learning the system, while the coaching staff believes DJ Petropulos ’14 has a bright future ahead of him. Joining the Lord Jeffs at training camp are first-years Max Lippe ’15, Jake Shuman ’15, Chet Pajolek ’15 and Bryce Monroe ’15.

Andrew Reed '12 had three touchdowns and a team-leading 412 receiving yards in 2010.

Amherst lost significant production in Brian Murphy ’11, Andre Gary ’11 and Sean Legister ’11, who combined for 2,279 yards and 20 touchdowns in their four years, but the Lord Jeffs are once again extremely deep at the receiver position. Standing out in the exceptional senior class are twin brothers Andrew Reed ’12 and Will Reed ’12, who began to play a major role by combining for five touchdowns and nearly 400 yards in 2009. Last year Andrew caught 20 passes for three TDs and a team-leading 412 yards, notably recording 88 yards and a touchdown on only two receptions against Bates. Will, meanwhile, caught 14 balls for 190 yards, hauling in a touchdown at Bowdoin and another against Williams.

Also returning a wealth of experience as one of five captains is Ben Kettering ’12, who led the team in yards per catch (10.6) and touchdowns (3) as a sophomore. Last year the 6’6 receiver picked up 351 yards on 26 receptions, including a pivotal 30-yard touchdown at Middlebury. Rounding out the senior class are Mike Samela ’12 and Arlen Greenberg ’12, who Coach Mills believes are ready for breakout years. “Andrew is as fast as anybody, Will is a complete receiver, and Ben is a matchup nightmare,” Mills says. “They’ve all proven themselves. When you throw in Mike and Arlen, that’s one heck of a group.”

Amherst’s options extend beyond the senior class, however, as Mills is also excited about his younger receivers stepping into more prominent roles in 2011. Representing the junior class is James Durham ’13, who will be joined by sophomores Jimmy Clark ’14, Jake O’Malley ’14 and Wade McNamara ’14. “James has tremendous skills and has worked extremely hard these past two years,” Mills says. “Our sophomores are also very talented, and I think we’ll see them emerge this year.” The Lord Jeffs also welcome Gene Garay ’15 and Will Brewster ’15 to their preseason workouts.

Eric Bunker '12 ranked second in the
NESCAC in yards per carry in 2010 (5.2).

Serving as one of this year’s captains is Eric Bunker ’12, who established himself as one of the NESCAC’s top running backs in 2010 by earning a spot on the All-Conference Second Team. He rushed for 647 yards and had another 110 as a receiver, as he was among the conference’s leaders in rushing yards per game (80.9, 4th), yards per carry (5.2, 2nd) and total touchdowns (10, T2nd). Bunker ran for a career-high 193 yards on 23 carries (8.4 ypc) against Tufts, adding his first-ever three-touchdown game and a TD reception.

The Lord Jeffs averaged 173.6 yards per game on the ground in 2010, but they will need to replace the production of Femi Oyalowo ’11, who wrapped up his career with six touchdowns and 760 yards on 172 carries (4.4 ypc). Looking to become a more prominent player is Ryan Silva ’14, who showed significant promise by running for 187 yards on 42 attempts (4.5 ypc) while handling the majority of the team’s kick returns. Steve Jellison ’14 will also be in the mix after learning the ropes in 2010, while Tyler Jacobs ’15 is trying out for a spot this preseason. “Our running game has a dynamic presence,” Coach Mills says, “but we’ll need our younger guys to step up this year.”

Amherst’s offensive line has surrendered the fewest sacks in the NESCAC in each of the past three years, allowing a combined 20 since 2008. The Lord Jeffs averaged only 79.1 rushing yards per game in 2009, but that mark skyrocketed to 173.6 in 2010 thanks in part to an impressive year by the line. John Ceccio ’13 stood out by earning a spot on the All-NESCAC Team as one of only two sophomores to earn First Team status on offense, as he will return for a third year as the starting center.

John Ceccio '13 was named to the
All-NESCAC First Team last year.

The Lord Jeffs return Ian Mahoney ’12, Rob Wasielewski ’14 and Jack MacLennan ’14 to the offensive tackle position. Mahoney has been a regular in the starting lineup since 2009 and should resume his role as the team’s right tackle, while MacLennan and Wasielewski will play more prominent roles as sophomores. Jack Reynolds ’13 started at left tackle in 2010 but will likely start at left guard, which Coach Mills believes will be a more comfortable role for the junior.

With the loss of starting linemen Rick Morgan ’11 and Marcus Richtel ’11 to graduation, the battle for the second guard position will be up for grabs among Kody Weaver ’14, Andy Dirks ’14 and Max Silver ’14. Beginning preseason with hopes of adding depth to the offensive line are Colman Duggan ’15, Scott Mergner ’15, Pete Alsharif ’15, Kyle Rudolph ’15 and Jonathon Woodrow ’15.

The Jeffs’ starting lineup will be without tight end Charlie Pratt ’11, but they return Tom Holahan ’13, Stephen Koenig ’14 and Will Tenneson ’14 in addition to welcoming Henry Falter ’15 and D’Andre Mason-Hemns ’15 to preseason. Coach Mills notes that he is looking for someone to step up and provide the whole package as a receiving threat who can effectively block, but he is optimistic about the tools this group brings to the table. Holahan was injured for much of the 2010 season but could be a major factor this year as a phenomenal athlete with the potential to be a passing threat.

Amherst’s secondary loses the services of Brian Merrigan ’11 and two-year starter Nick Edwards ’11, but Coach Mills is excited about the talent level that returns for the 2011 season. Looking to reclaim his starting role at free safety is Kevin Heller ’12, who excelled in his first season on the defensive side of the ball. Heller recorded 47 tackles (29 solo) in 2010 and broke up four passes, also picking up a timely interception to stop a Williams drive in the final minute of the season finale’s first half. Backing up Heller at free safety will be Max Dietz ’14, who showed promise as a first-year by recording five tackles against Tufts and forcing a fumble at Bowdoin.

Landrus Lewis '13 led Amherst
with three interceptions in 2010.

The Lord Jeffs have a pair of exceptional seniors leading the way at strong safety, as Coach Mills is expecting big things out of Doug Gebhardt ’12 and Evan Rosenstein ’12. Gebhardt was the leader of the group last year but had to miss the entire season with a broken thumb, and he could be a major contributor as one of the team’s captains in 2011. Rosenstein filled in brilliantly for his classmate last season, as he ranked ninth in the NESCAC with a team-high 67 tackles. He notably recorded 11 tackles against Williams, 12 at Middlebury and a team-best 13 at Trinity, adding two interceptions, five pass breakups and a pair of forced fumbles on the year.

Highlighting the cornerback position is Landrus Lewis ’13, a dynamic athlete who will once again be a regular in Amherst’s starting lineup. As a sophomore he recorded 36 tackles and broke up five passes, adding interceptions against Colby, Trinity and Williams to finish among the league leaders in passes defended. “Landrus had a breakout year,” Mills says. “He’s a shutdown corner who brings tremendous skills to the table.”

Battling for that second starting spot at cornerback will be Gordie Lockbaum ’12 and Robbie Heflin ’13, who posted nearly identical statistics in 2010. Lockbaum recorded 14 tackles and broke up a pass, notably recovering a fumble and returning it 38 yards for a touchdown against Bates. Heflin was close behind with 13 tackles and a breakup, adding a 16-yard return on a fumble recovery at Bowdoin. “Gordie has seen a lot of playing time, and we feel like this is his time to shine,” Mills says. “Robbie brings a great skill set and should excel at the corner. We feel good about this group.”

Joining the veteran group of defensive backs are Jules Dandridge ’14, Emmett Wynter ’14 and Kevin Callahan ’14. Mills sees a lot of potential in the sophomore class, and he hopes they benefited from a season of learning the ropes as first-years. Looking to add depth to the secondary will be Sean Gildea ’15, Jon Kelleher ’15 and Ryan Duzyk ’15.

Kevin Ferber '12 was named to the Preseason All-America Team.

Amherst returns its top two performers from a defensive line that helped the team record 17 sacks while surrendering 119.2 rushing yards per game in 2010. Leading the charge is Kevin Ferber ’12, who will serve as one of this year’s captains as a member of the 2011 Preseason All-America Team.

In his first three seasons Ferber has totaled 100 tackles (18.5 TFL) and 12.5 sacks, also forcing three fumbles and recovering two. In 2010 he finished 14th in the NESCAC in tackles per game (7.4) and was among the top 10 in sacks (5.5, T-2nd), tackles for loss (8.5, T-6th) and fumble recoveries (2, T-4th). For his efforts he was named to the All-NESCAC First Team and was the NESCAC’s lone defensive player to earn All-America honors.

Also returning to the starting line is Matt Sponheimer ’13, whose sophomore season included 27 tackles and a pair of sacks for a total loss of 22 yards. Mills is looking forward to what could be a breakout year for Sponheimer, who notably recorded 12 tackles at Trinity. “Matt is a dominant player—it’s very tough to stop him. He’s capable of really doing some damage up there with Ferber.”

Looking to crack the starting lineup as defensive tackles this year will be Lou Jacoubs ’13 and Trevor Rappa ’12, two players who have shown tremendous promise these past two years. Jacoubs began his collegiate career as a linebacker but was able to make a smooth transition as a sophomore, recording eight tackles against Tufts in 2010.

Travis Dickenson ’13 had 23 tackles a year ago and will provide a tremendous option at nose guard, while Owen Davis ’14 could play a bigger role after a promising rookie season. Making the switch to defense after spending his first three seasons on the offensive line is Rob Moran ’12, who Mills believes could be particularly effective on short-yardage plays as another reliable option at nose guard.

The Lord Jeffs lose the services of Tom Grossi ’11, Brady Benelli ’11 and Isaac Rowner ’11 to graduation, while Max Lehrman ’15, Ianni Drivas ’15, Jarron Bolingbroke ’15 and Jamal Mtshali ’15 will compete for time at the tackle position.

Sam Clark '13 finished with 56 tackles in 2010.

Leading the returning linebackers is Sam Clark ’13, who was voted one of this year’s captains by his teammates. Clark burst onto the scene as a first-year when he recorded a pair of game-changing interceptions against Middlebury and led the team in tackles at Williams. Last year he recorded 56 tackles—including a team-high 13 against the Ephs—as an outside linebacker, but this year he will make the switch to the inside. “Sam just gets it,” Mills says. “Moving him inside could be a really good thing. He might be in store for a phenomenal year.”

Returning to the inside with Clark is Matt Pieterse ’13, who transferred to Amherst after leading Springfield College in tackles (84) as a first-year in 2009. Pieterse didn’t disappoint in his debut season with the Lord Jeffs, notably matching Clark’s 11 tackles against Bates en route to 55 takedowns on the year. Chris Toppin ’13 and Eric Telles ’14 combined for 18 tackles in 2010 and should see more action with the loss of Jeff Katz ’11 and Brandon Quinn ’11, who were two of the team’s most talented and important defensive players these past two years.  

Highlighting the outside linebackers are Greg Kutzin ’12 and Danny Chun ’14, who could step into starting roles this year. Kutzin stepped up to the challenge last season when Quinn was forced to sit out with an injury, recording 13 tackles at Middlebury and nine against Tufts before finishing the year with 37. Coach Mills is hoping Chun can build on the success he had as a first-year, as he recorded four solo tackles on three occasions as a reliable linebacker. The Lord Jeffs welcome back Jordan Phillips ’12 and Mike Aldo ’13E to the team, while Benji Sklar ’14 will look to play a more prominent role in 2011. Fighting for a spot on this year’s team are newcomers Ned Deane ’15, Greg Lewis ’15, Chris Tamasi ’15, Lars Larsen ’15 and Jordan Pinsky ’15.

Amherst boasted arguably the best special teams unit in the NESCAC last year, and it should be much of the same in 2011. Leading the charge is Matt Rawson ’12, who begins his senior season on the Watch List for the Fred Mitchell Award as one of the nation’s top collegiate placekickers. Rawson was an All-Conference and All-Region selection in 2010, as he led the NESCAC in field goal percentage (.900, 9-of-10) and PAT conversion rate (.944, 34-of-36).

Matt Rawson '12 was the NESCAC's best
placekicker throughout the 2010 season.

Rawson’s nine field goals in 2010 broke the previous single-season program record of eight, which had been held by David Bodner ’05. Rawson has accounted for 101 points on 50-of-54 PATs and 17-of-22 field goals, putting him on pace to challenge Bodner’s career records for points (148), field goals (22) and PATs (82). Against Tufts last year he was a perfect 10-for-10 on PAT attempts, also sparking a 35-0 run by taking a fake field goal in for a three-yard touchdown run.

In addition to establishing himself as the conference’s best placekicker, Rawson helped Amherst rank second in the NESCAC in net yards per punt (34.0) in 2010. He pinned the opposition inside the 20 on 19 of his 40 punts last year, notably sticking Tufts on the 1-yard line twice in Week 6 en route to his second NESCAC Player of the Week honor. Despite Rawson’s success, Coach Mills is hoping Jake Schmidt ’14 will challenge for a role as a reliable option. In his only field goal attempt last year, Schmidt connected on a 24-yarder against Bates for Amherst’s lone points of the fourth quarter.

Amherst also led the NESCAC in kickoff coverage in 2010, thanks in large part to Phillip Nwosu ’14, who wasted no time establishing himself as the conference’s best at his position. His eight touchbacks matched the total number by the rest of the NESCAC, giving the Lord Jeffs a significant advantage each Saturday. “Matt and Phillip were such big weapons for us last year,” Mills says, “and we don’t expect that to change.”

Amherst returns its top three kick returners from 2010, with Ryan Silva ’14 averaging 21.5 yards in his team-leading 15 returns. Andrew Reed ’12 averaged 20.5 yards in his eight attempts, while Landrus Lewis ’13 ran back three kickoffs for a total of 69 yards. The Jeffs will need to find a replacement for Andre Gary ’11, who handled 18 of 20 punt returns a year ago, running one back for a touchdown at Middlebury.

Amherst outscored opponents by a 230-81
margin in the first three quarters in 2010.

Losing a three-year starting quarterback, three starting wide receivers and two starting offensive linemen might make it sound like the Jeffs won’t come close to matching last year’s gaudy statistics, but Amherst has replaced its toolkit with outstanding players who are ready to take charge. With McMahon providing the team with a fresh look at quarterback, Bunker headlining the running game, and an explosive receiving core ready to go, opposing teams are once again going to have trouble slowing Amherst down.

Amherst’s offense will keep its foot on the gas pedal in 2011, but the defense will need to find consistency. The Lord Jeffs allowed 10 points or fewer in four of their wins in 2010, but they surrendered an average of 34.8 in their other four games. Amherst outscored opponents by a 230-81 margin in the first three quarters last year but was out-scored by Trinity and Williams by a combined 42-6 in the fourth quarter. The average number of passing yards the Jeffs have allowed per game has increased every year from 129.6 in 2005 to a NESCAC-high 256.6 in 2010, but Amherst should put a stop to that streak in 2011 thanks to one of the conference’s best shutdown secondary units.

While the offense should be firing on all cylinders and the defense should be much improved from a year ago, Amherst’s special teams units are expected to once again stand out in the NESCAC. The Jeffs are typically a disciplined team, and last year was no exception as they led the league in turnover margin and committed the fewest number of penalties. They also led the conference last year in 4th-down conversion rate (.588, 10-of-17) and red zone offense (.875, 35-of-40), as Amherst will look to continue its aggressive style of play. The big plays will come for the Lord Jeffs, and if they continue to do the little things right, there is no reason this won’t be another phenomenal year for Coach Mills and his staff.