Coming off its finest season in over a decade, Lord Jeff football looks to reach its full potential and post Amherst's first undefeated season since 1984. While the Jeffs lose 16 veteran players to graduation, those gaps will be filled by talented athletes that have already played critical roles in the Jeffs' 7-1 1996 season.
"Every year we go into a season wanting to win all our games," observed Head Coach E.J. Mills. "Until last year, that goal was not a realistic one. This year, if we perform up to the level we are capable of and continue to get better with each and every game, we will live up to those expectations."
The 1997 Amherst defense returns seven starters along with several experienced tacklers, led by senior Co-Captain Seth Zimmerman (Lewistown, PA). The inside linebacker registered 74 hits (17 solo) as the team's leading tackler for the second straight year. While the D line loses All-American NFL-prospect Alex Bernstein (Aspen, CO) to graduation, Devin Moriarty (Monson, MA) and David Cippoletti (Seaford, NY) return for their senior campaign at tackle and noseguard, respectively. In 1996, the two combined for 96 tackles, 9 for loss, and 6.5 sacks for 30 yards.
All-NESCAC selection Todd Nichols (Skaneateles, NY) will anchor the secondary which intercepted 13 passes in 1996. Along with Chris Donegan (Reading, MA), Peter McConville (Buffalo Grove, IL) and James Deluca (Rochester, NY), the defensive backs will pose a lethal threat to opponent's passing game. Last year, the Amherst defense led all of Division III by allowing only 8.4 ppg.
The offensive line returns three starters, including All-ECAC selection David Heaton (Milford, MA), who moves to center with the loss of Regional Academic All-American and fellow ECAC All-Star David Shapiro (Baltimore, MD). While four players will battle for the left guard position, David Nardolillo (Albany, NY), Rob Schur (West Milford, NJ) and Andy Neviaser (Germantown, MD) all made significant contributions to Amherst's league-leading 3,364 offensive yards in 1996.
The Jeffs will present a balanced attack with Rich Willard (Johnstown, NY) returning to run the offense. The quarterback threw 107 completions in 1996 for 1,673 yards and 11 touchdowns, in addition to carrying four into the endzone himself. Willard's passing game will again aim for Shaun Quigley (Chicopee, MA) and Todd Haggerty (Albany, NY), a pair that combined for 28 catches for 496 yards last year.
The Amherst ground game will lose career rushing leader Josh Mason (Greenfield, MA) to graduation, but it will return a core of experienced running backs who successfully compensated for the injury-induced absense of the All-American in his junior and senior seasons. Bob DiSabato (Westwood, MA) ran 105 carries for 435 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns in his sophomore campaign. Junior Angus Leary (Carver, MA) will return to join DiSabato at fullback, while Josh Carroll (Winchester, MA), Darin Byrne (ester, MA), Jeff Coviello (Harrison, NY) and Harold Henderson (Oakton, VA) will share time at tailback.
Adopting the motto "preparation equals success," the Jeffs will train in the off-season to fulfill the goals they have set at the end of the 1996 season. "I'm not so concerned about the opponents," remarked Mills, "but about reaching the very high potential of the group. With an excellent staff and great kids, I plan on being successful in 1997 -- and I won't accept anything less."
Mills enters his first year as the head of Amherst football after four years as the Jeffs' defensive coordinator and outside linebacker coach. Don Faulstick joins the staff to coordinate the offense with special attention for the quarterbacks and wide receivers. Tracy Mehr (running backs), Jim McKeon (defensive line), Billy McBride (defensive backs) and Brad Goddes (inside linebackers) all return for another campaign. They will be joined by recent Amherst graduates Greg Schneider '96 and Ray Byrnes '97 who will coach the offensive line and special teams, respectively. Tom Cullan, former head coach of the Amherst Regional High School Football Team, will volunteer his time with the tight ends while Jim Learned joins the staff to work with the receivers after graduating from RPI this past spring.