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Derrell Wright '02
First-Team All-NESCAC WR Derrell Wright '02

2001 Football Season Preview

August 28, 2001

AMHERST, MA - 2000 was a breakthrough season on many levels for the Amherst College football program. In addition to a 7-1 record and a three-way tie with Middlebury and Colby Colleges for the unofficial NESCAC Championship, the Jeffs reeled in the big fish that had eluded them for 13 years: a win over archrival Williams College and their first outright Little Three Championship since 1986. Along the way, Amherst pitched a trio of shutouts (30-0 over Hamilton, 35-0 at Bowdoin and 8-0 against Tufts), led the NESCAC and finished fifth in the nation in scoring defense (8.8 pts./gm.) and finished fourth in the final ECAC New England Region Poll. If it weren't for a tough 17-0 loss at powerful Middlebury in the third week of the season, the 2000 Jeffs would have been the first undefeated Amherst team since 1984, when Ronald Reagan was putting the finishing touches on his first term in the White House.

In the end, the 2000 Jeffs will be remembered for their dramatic 20-12 Homecoming win over Williams, watched by thousands of alums regionally on NESN and across the country and abroad at special alumni gatherings. It was a game that had all the makings of another heartbreaking loss until, down 9-7 in the fourth quarter, junior tailback Okey Ugwonali found the end zone from four yards out and Amherst held on for victory.

"The goal has been to win the Little Three since I got here," said fifth-year Head Coach E.J. Mills. "It was a big barrier for our players to get over. We've been 7-1 before but to end the season like that, our confidence level reached new heights. It was a very gratifying year for that group."

This year's Amherst team will have a few obstacles to overcome if it hopes to repeat or improve on last season's success, including the loss of its three-year starting signal caller and the graduation of the bulk of its secondary. Peter Honig was a Second-Team All-NESCAC selection at quarterback as a senior, completing 52.3 percent of his passes for a whopping 1,251 yards and 10 touchdowns. Brian Daoust - a All-American and First-Team All-NESCAC, All-ECAC and All-Region cornerback - graduated as one of the best all-around players in school history, while fellow corner Steve Yung was a four-year starter and classmate Dave Frankel was a Second-Team All-NESCAC selection at free safety. The Jeffs will also miss two-year captain Matt Hall at wide receiver and Mike Somerville - last season's offensive lineman of the year and a Second-Team All-NESCAC selection - as well as defensive tackle Ken Barrington and special teamers Liam Fleming and Joe Larkin. Defensive lineman Ted Hollo also earned Second-Team All-NESCAC honors in his final campaign and will be difficult to replace.

The good news is the rest of the team returns virtually intact with four quality quarterbacks pining for a chance to crack the opening-day lineup. As a senior, Bob Loree could get the first shot, but junior Jeff Browne was the only quarterback besides Honig to throw a pass last season. Sophomores Jim Devine and Tom Sullivan are young and talented, and each could win a share of the starting job in training camp.

Kevin Kennard '03
Junior runningback Kevin Kennard
While the quarterback position is wide open, the Jeffs' backfield is overflowing with veteran talent. Ugwonali is a preseason All-American, rushing for 856 yards on 156 carries and earning First-Team All-NESCAC and Football Gazette Third-Team All-Region honors as a junior. Junior fullback Jeff Ryan is the perfect complement - a two-year starter and a devastating blocker - while classmate Kevin Kennard was Amherst's second leading rusher with 382 yards last season and can play either fullback or tailback. Sophomores Chris Conroy and Fletcher Ladd battled injuries as first-years but should also see time in the backfield.

At wide receiver, the Jeffs boast one of the most athletic and productive playmakers in the nation in senior quad-captain Derrell Wright, named First-Team All-NESCAC at wideout and punt returner as a junior. Wright led the NESCAC with seven receiving touchdowns as a junior and was the conference's third leading receiver with 39 catches for 640 yards. Mills also expects big things from junior receivers J.P. Zito, Brian Hart and Todd Gately.

Amherst will feature a pair of experienced tight ends in senior quad-captain Matt Flavin - a returning NESCAC All-Academic selection - and sophomore Alex Popp, both of whom saw considerable time last season. Sophomore Mike Hanlon was hampered by injuries as a first-year but could pierce the lineup at tight end or offensive tackle.

What was a young offensive line is now a year stronger and wiser under assistant coach Rob Schur '98. Second-Team All-NESCAC junior Rob Vernicek is the biggest of the bunch and a two-year starter. He'll lead a pack of returning big men up front, including junior Brendan Carolin, senior center Josh Ahearn and converted linebacker Colin Renz '02. Sophomore Shane Morrow and juniors Jesse Webber and John MacKinnon should also see action in the trenches, as should sophomore W. Gee Roe.

The defense begins with its emotional leader, senior quad-captain Pat McGee, anchoring the line at defensive tackle. Despite missing the last three games of his junior season due to injury, McGee was a First-Team All-NESCAC and Second-Team All-ECAC selection with eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Pat Hayes filled in admirably in McGee's absence and should see more time this season, while fellow juniors Jeff Bogino and Ryan Moriarty will add considerable depth up front. Seniors Brad Hensley and Kevin Bush will occupy the nose guard position with a little help from sophomores Mike Harrison and Mike Nerone.

Senior quad-captain Dan Lalli and classmate Brian Landolfi - both three-year starters - will once again anchor an experienced, hard-hitting linebacker crew from the inside slot. Lalli was voted First-Team All-NESCAC, Second-Team All-ECAC and the team's co-defensive lineman of the year as a junior with a team second-best 70 tackles. Landolfi was right behind him with 55 tackles, including 25 unassisted and a pair of sacks.

Senior Gregg Stankewicz returns at outside linebacker after racking up 38 tackles and Second-Team All-NESCAC honors in 2000. Junior Ian Ward has battled injuries but should be ready for training camp, while Gene Nogi - also an outstanding lacrosse player - is poised for a solid senior season.

Graduation left a slew of positions up for grabs in the Amherst secondary. Sophomore Paul Whiting is a three-sport athlete with a lot of potential at cornerback, while senior Geoff Dewire could man the other corner after considerable time at safety last season. Juniors Joe Rubbone and Fletcher Ladd will also be thrown into the mix. Mills has a lot of confidence in junior free safety Paul Miceli - a standout special teamer as a first-year who played increasingly in the secondary as a sophomore. At strong safety, veteran Jay Hutchins was the Jeffs' leading tackler with 76 takedowns last season and will provide much-needed senior leadership.

On special teams, junior punter Geoff Bough made a game-saving play with a 61-yard punt on a potentially disastrous errant snap in last season's dramatic win over Williams. He returns with a wealth of confidence after punting 48 times for a 33.2-yard average as a sophomore. Junior Mike Proman looks to replace the graduated Fleming as the team's place kicker. Fleming was successful on 19 of 20 extra point attempts in 2000.

On punt returns, Wright is one of the most exciting players in the nation, fielding 34 boots for 262 yards as a junior, including a game-breaking 68-yard touchdown run in a 9-7 win at Wesleyan. He may also return kickoffs as the Jeffs look to get the ball in his hands as often as possible.

The Jeffs will play a challenging eight-game NESCAC slate, highlighted by the season-opener at Hamilton on Saturday, September 22, with the home-opener set for the following Saturday, September 29, against Bowdoin. Additionally, Amherst Homecoming kicks off on Saturday, October 20, when the Jeffs host Wesleyan, with Family Weekend set for Saturday, November 3, against Trinity. This year's season finale features Amherst at archrival Williams on Saturday, November 10, at noon - the 116th meeting between the two teams.