Raising the Bar
By Alex Kantor, Co-Director of Sports Information
The month before his senior year of high school, Sean Legister ’11 came to Amherst’s campus for a summer football camp as a quarterback. Head coach E.J. Mills knew at that time that Legister had the physical skills to be a talented player someday for the Lord Jeffs, but as a wide receiver. Legister took the move from under center to wideout with grace, and never looked back.
Andre Gary’s career at Amherst started on Sept. 22, 2007 against Bates College. The Lord Jeffs won that game 24-0, and Gary had four catches for 58 yards to earn the season’s first NESCAC Rookie of the Week honor.
You could say Brian Murphy’s career at Amherst started before a preseason practice in 2007 when the high-energy player was seen throwing a ball up in the air and running to catch his own passes. He was like a little kid, having the time of his life. Now in his fourth year on the team, Murphy has never missed a single practice.
Legister, Gary and Murphy are three players who came to Amherst and left completely different first impressions on those around the Lord Jeff football family. But as they suit up for the season opener of their senior years against Bates on Saturday, the three have more in common than anyone ever knew.
Known around campus as “two dudes in a bromance,” Gary and Legister are best friends and roommates. As rookies on the football team, Gary played immediately as a wideout and a kick returner. There was a buzz around the field when he got the ball in his hands, because everyone knew he had the kind of explosive speed that could change the game.
Legister went immediately to the scout team, but never complained once. Injuries limited Gary to just a combined nine games during his first two seasons, while Legister improved so much that he went from not appearing in a single game as a rookie to a starter by his sophomore season.
Murphy did not become a fixture in the lineup until his sophomore year either, but over the last two years he has become Amherst’s most productive receiver. With 71 catches and six touchdowns in the last 16 games he has played, Murphy has earned the right to be a go-to guy for the Jeffs.
Each player brings something completely different to the field when Amherst snaps the ball. Gary is a homerun threat on every play. Legister is the best blocking wideout on the team, and perhaps in the conference. Murphy has the best hands, and catches everything thrown at him. What they have in common is that all three are great football players leading the NESCAC’s deepest group of receivers. But all three are even better people.
Wide receivers coach Nick LaFontaine describes Legister as the kind of man you want your daughter to bring home as her boyfriend. “He is an absolute 10 as a kid,” said LaFontaine. What has earned Legister the respect of the coaching staff and his entire team is his work ethic, strong character and tremendous attitude.
“Sean is a major presence on campus,” explains Mills. “When you talk about someone who brings together academics, athletics and community service, it’s Sean. He is the absolute snapshot of what a liberal arts education can, and should, be.”
As a three-season athlete alongside Gary on the indoor and outdoor track teams in the winter and spring, Legister is always on the go. The summer between his sophomore and junior years at Amherst, the English and black studies double major lived in Washington, D.C., working for the renowned sports agency Octagon. Last summer he interned at Goldman Sachs in Manhattan, and he already has a job offer to return and work fulltime for the firm after graduation.
While Legister’s transformation happened early in his career at Amherst, those closest to the team have seen something different from Gary since his return to campus this fall. For the second consecutive year, the Amherst athletic department invited the captains of all 27 intercollegiate teams to return before the start of preseason for a weekend of leadership development training. As a captain of the track and field team, Gary returned to campus the weekend before football preseason began.
This year’s program featured a pair of high intensity, boot-camp style sessions with former Marine captain Eric Kapitulik and his trainers from The Program. The two-day on-campus event, dubbed “Judgment Day” is designed to help athletes experience growth in the areas of personal development, leadership and team building through a shared facing of adversity. The program’s staff is there to be that adversity.
In the second session of Judgment Day, the group of captains was put into Pratt Pool where they went through two grueling hours of swimming workouts, including numerous water-treading exercises in full sweat suits. Gary volunteered as the group leader for a portion of that day’s session, which Kapitulik then explained was the toughest session of the weekend.
Kapitulik takes athletes into the pool, because for most people it brings in an element of fear to the workout. He knows that if you can perform and be a good teammate and leader in the face of that fear, you can be that same teammate and leader on the field.
During the session, Gary was having a difficult time with the tasks he and his fellow captains were being asked to complete. Kapitulik explains that “a lot of guys would just try to get through it or even quit when they are struggling as much as Andre did that day. He just stayed with it, kept attacking and stayed in the fight.”
For the captains to have success on that day in the pool, Gary needed to help set high standards for the group and communicate well throughout the process to help those around him meet those high standards. The skill set he learned that day has already been carried over into the football season.
Mills and the coaching staff have seen the transformation happen in front of their eyes. “Andre is just a different human being now,” said Mills. Two weeks ago, the football team went through a Sunday workout that included sprints up Memorial Hill for mistakes made on the practice field. After nearly a dozen of the muscle-straining runs, some of the guys on the team were starting to complain. Gary was the first to speak up, reminding his teammates that “this is on us.” His teammates responded to his words, and finished grinding out the remaining sprints.
And then there is “Murf,” as his teammates know Murphy. “Brian is a flat-out classic. He is a break-the-mold kind of kid,” explains Mills. Legister and Gary describe their running mate as a one-of-a-kind. Murphy is the player on the Amherst team that never seems to get tired in practice and in between plays is always making jokes or running around like a little kid.
LaFontaine calls Murphy the highest-energy player he has ever been around. “People love being around him and our entire team feeds off of his energy.” Everyone associated with the team has their own story about Murphy’s antics. Mills’ favorite recollection is seeing Murphy sprinting down the sideline behind a play and diving full extension into unmanned tackling dummies. Others recall the senior sprinting ahead of first-years to shag balls after field goal practice – a task really reserved for rookies – only to pretend he tripped jogging back down the hill with the ball.
When they look back at the last three years, and ahead to their senior seasons, all three players have a different perspective. Legister thinks about the bond between he and his teammates, and how he knows the team can do more. Gary is reminded of all the games injuries have cost him and knows he has unfinished business on the field. Murphy thinks about the end result and knows the only thing that will make him happy is another 8-0 season.
Legister is the organization leader of the wideouts when anything has to be done off the field. Gary has become the vocal leader of the group on the field, and Murphy brings the energy level of the entire team up a notch. All three players have taken different paths to the top, but together they are making the Amherst football team better, on and off the field.