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Unsung Heroes Abound for Amherst

November 9, 2001

Jerimy Hiltner '02
Senior wideout Jerimy Hiltner has been known to light defenses up like a Christmas tree when called upon
AMHERST, MA - Josh Ahearn, Colin Renz, Jay Garvey, Jerimy Hiltner, Matt Flavin, Brian Landolfi, Jay Hutchins, Gregg Stankewicz, Brad Hensley, Kevin Bush, Geoff Dewire and Gene Nogi - all seniors. Picture their names scrolling down a screen like the credits at the end of a great movie - the supporting cast members who don't always grab top billing but are vitally important. The production doesn't happen without them and the majority are tremendous performers in their own right.

"Football, to anyone who knows it, is the ultimate team game," says Amherst head coach E.J. Mills. "It takes all 75 players to execute a game plan. Every guy, from the smallest role player to an All-American is just as important as the next."

Take Garvey for instance. Primarily a practice player on the offensive line for the majority of four seasons, his contributions to the team are, by all accounts, immeasurable.

"Jay hasn't missed a practice in four years," raves senior captain Dan Lalli, an All-NESCAC and All-ECAC linebacker. "For a guy who doesn't always get the glory of playing on Saturday, he works his butt off. The team loves him as much as he loves the game. The guys wouldn't know what to do without him around."

"I have fun playing football," Garvey explained. "I love being around my teammates and the feeling of being on this team. It's as simple as that."

Offensive linemen, for that matter, are unsung by nature, appearing on the stat sheet only if they fall on a fumble or make a tackle after a turnover. Ahearn and Renz, for example, are two of the best - and most anonymous - players in the NESCAC.

Says offensive line coach Rob Schur, "Renz is one of the fiercest guys we have, physically and vocally. He's full speed all the time. Ahearn isn't as vocal but he's probably the toughest kid on offense. Guys don't always know what to make of him because he doesn't say much. When he does open his mouth, it's usually meaningful."

Like the "pluggers" on the O-line, Hiltner and Flavin are offensive players known for their blocking. But both are skilled receivers - Hiltner a wideout and Flavin a tight end - who, when given the opportunity, light defenses up like a Christmas tree.

With the Jeffs' "go-to guy", All-NESCAC senior wideout Derrell Wright nursing an injury, Hiltner caught a pair of passes for 61 yards and a touchdown in a 35-0 win over visiting Bowdoin College earlier this season. He also had four catches for 79 yards and a touchdowns in last Saturday's 28-10 win over Trinity College. Flavin hauled in a huge 18-yard touchdown catch against Wesleyan, materializing out of nowhere in the back of the end zone to bail out scrambling first-year quarterback Marsh Moseley.

"There was a stretch when Derrell was down and I caught a lot of passes, which was great," said Hiltner. "But my chief role is that of a blocker, which is 80 percent of being a wide receiver. A lot of what I do doesn't show up on the stat sheet, but my teammates see it and know I'm working hard for them."

Flavin added, "I like catching the ball once in a while, but I'm happier pounding away. I'd rather have eight pancake blocks than eight receptions any day."

Amherst boasts one of the top defenses in the nation, which means there is a wealth of talented players, but not always enough recognition to go around. While Lalli and senior defensive tackle Pat McGee are perennial All-NESCAC selections, it's guys like Landolfi, Hutchins and Stankewicz who sneak in the back door and do the most damage on Saturday.

A four-year starter, Landolfi is one of the best linebackers in school history, finishing as one of the team's top four tacklers every season including his freshman year, a feat which is almost unheard of. Hutchins has been similarly impressive at safety. At 5'9", 180 pounds, "Hutch" is like a pocket Hercules, throwing his small but thickly-muscled frame around the field for a team-high 76 tackles as a junior, and a team second-best 59 tackles this season.

Another linebacker, Stankewicz managed to grab Second-Team All-NESCAC honors last season but deserved more, tying the more celebrated McGee for the team lead with 12 tackles for a loss of 55 yards, before racking up another 12 tackles in the backfield through seven games this season.

Then there's Bush, a defensive tackle, and Nogi, a linebacker. Their leadership skills developed so much on the football field that they were each elected captains on the men's lacrosse team. Bush actually came to Amherst as a linebacker, but worked voraciously in the weight room, developing his body into that of a defensive tackle and coming through with a huge sack in last season's dramatic 20-12 win over archrival Williams College. Nogi is a study in perseverance, making the decision to become a front-line player on special teams before finally breaking through as a starting outside linebacker.

For Hensley, a pre-med student, and Dewire, who won the college's freshman economics award as a first-year, contributions come on the field and in the classroom as two of the brightest members of the class of 2002. As Mills noted, "Dewire worked to make himself a good player, moving from nickel defender to cornerback as a senior without missing a beat, while Hensley is always around the ball at nose guard with a combined 66 tackles over the last two seasons."

We know that they do it, but the obvious question is why? Why sacrifice your body for 11 weeks every fall and countless hours during the off-season when it may never show up in a box score or on a stat sheet? Why block all game long while a teammate pierces the end zone and finds his picture in the morning paper?

Satisfaction comes in different forms.

"I get it from looking across the ball and seeing the defense hanging its head," Flavin explained. "I find glory in getting the big block that makes a play pop. I'm satisfied when we're moving the ball, although I may not be running it myself."

Hutchins finds it within himself. "There's a lot of inner satisfaction, knowing that I made tackles and made plays. I'm not looking for pats on the back or press clippings. It's nice but it's not why I play."

Hiltner summed it up best. "I do it so I'll always remember singing the fight song and rushing into the locker room after a win. The hard work pays off when you look at your buddies and it all comes together. I think that's the reason I still play football. To be a member of the team and enjoy this with my friends is the best."

And what could be better than that?

Amherst closes the 2001 season with its 116th meeting with Williams on Saturday. The Jeffs' 7-0 record marks just the ninth time in school history they've been perfect through seven games, while Williams is also 7-0 after a 31-7 win over Wesleyan University. The two rivals are the lone remaining undefeated teams in the NESCAC, which means that, in addition to bragging rights, Saturday's season-finale will be for the outright NESCAC and Little Three titles.

Saturday's game will be the third time in school history that both teams entered the game undefeated, with the Jeffs taking both of the first two encounters, 12-6 in Amherst in 1942 and 20-7 on Pratt Field in 1964. The Ephs will be looking for revenge after Amherst's 20-12 victory in Amherst last year, a win which snapped Williams' 14-game unbeaten streak in the rivalry (13-0-1) that has always been one of the best in Division III.