Jeffs Eye Return to Prominence After Season of Near Misses
September 7, 2004
In the backfield, the Jeffs boast one of the strongest corps of running backs in the nation, including five stellar tailbacks. The best of the bunch - and one of the best ever at Amherst - is senior quad-captain Fletcher Ladd, a Second-Team CoSIDA Academic All-America and three-time All-NESCAC selection. Ladd had quite a season in 2003, earning NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week honors with 166 rushing yards, highlighted by a school-record 90-yard touchdown run, in Amherst’s season-opening 34-0 win at Bates. He then pierced the career 2,000-yard rushing plateau with a 21-yard jaunt against Bowdoin and finished the season second in the NESCAC in rushing (111.8 ypg), third in rushing touchdowns (7), fourth in overall scoring (5.2 ppg), fifth in all-purpose yards (120.9 ypg) and ninth in total offense (114.1 ypg). With 2,680 career rushing yards, Ladd is just 236 yards shy of the college’s all-time record of 2,916, held by Josh Mason ’97. As if Ladd weren’t enough, fellow senior Matt Monteith emerged as a similarly devastating force in 2003, matching Ladd’s seven rushing touchdowns and earning NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week honors with 157 yards and a trio of touchdown runs in a lopsided 41-0 Homecoming win over Wesleyan. While Ladd and Monteith are physical, punishing ball-carriers, fleet-footed junior Ngai Otieno adds a healthy dose of speed to the mix. Somewhat limited by injuries last season, Otieno turned heads as a rookie, torching archrival Williams for 97 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a memorable 45-35 Amherst win. Junior Dom Cama and sophomore Will Beeson also saw action last season and are more than capable of stepping to the forefront. At fullback, senior Chris Conroy returns after a year away from the gridiron. He’ll compete for the starting nod with sophomore Chris Hoffman, a standout attackman on the Amherst lacrosse team, and senior T. Bennett, who sat out last season.
The Jeffs’ main receiving threat is senior quad-captain Jay Wagstaff, a two-time All-NESCAC speed-burner who finished fourth in the NESCAC in receptions per game (5.50), sixth in receiving yards per game (56.6) and seventh in all-purpose yards (113.1 ypg) as a junior. He’s joined by classmate Taharqa Patterson, who caught just three passes in 2003, and sophomores Mark Hannon, Justin Macione and Idris McClain, who also saw limited action.
The lone returning starter on the offensive line is senior center Sean Carroll, and his experience will be counted on heavily with a host of new faces joining him up front. Junior Gavin Weeks and sophomore Ryan Smith are a good bet to man the tackle slots, while senior Chris Riordan and sophomores Matt Masciloi and Nate Riccardi are poised to step in at the guard positions.
At tight end, senior Ryan Sykes is a returning starter, hauling in 15 catches for 188 yards as a junior. The coaching staff is also keen on big-bodied, athletic sophomore Parnell Adam.
At outside linebacker, junior Justin Roemer is the best bet to fill the graduated McNamara’s shoes after an 18-tackle sophomore campaign. Junior Joe Bickerstaffe, a converted quarterback, will vie for time as well. Sophomore Dakota Jones and junior Kelvin Coker also look to step to the forefront after combining for 14 tackles in 2003.
On the defensive line, the Jeffs have more than enough firepower to reload in Hanlon and Harrison’s absence. Senior quad-captain B.J. Gaddour returns as a starter at tackle, having led the team with 5.5 sacks as a junior. Junior Dan Kovolisky and sophomore Brendan McKee will battle it out for the other tackle slot. Kovolisky is the more seasoned of the two, coming off a 15-tackle campaign. Junior nose tackle L.J. Spinnato rounds out the defensive line after two seasons as a competent reserve.
The secondary graduated its premier corner (Whiting), but the rest of the unit remains virtually intact with senior Rob Walsh returning as a starting corner and fellow seniors Chris Scarpelli and Bob Sargent back as the starting strong and free safeties, respectively. Scarpelli paced the secondary with 36 tackles, to go along with an interception and four pass breakups, in 2003, while Walsh and Sargent registered 33 tackles each and combined for 10 pass breakups. Junior Nick Zieler saw a ton of action last season (22 tackles, three pass breakups) and could step in as a starting corner. Senior Bryan Dolan is another veteran safety with 15 tackles as a junior, while sophomores Mike Salerno and Pat Sandor should see increased playing time. Fellow sophomore Marcus Meikle, a converted running back, will add depth to an already potent unit.
Amherst’s kicking game is one again strong with senior David Bodner back for his fourth season as one of the premier place-kickers in the region. Bodner earned his stripes as a sophomore, leading the conference and smashing a school and league record with eight field goals, gaining First-Team All-NESCAC and Second-Team ECAC Division III Northeast All-Star honors. As a junior, Bodner paced the NESCAC in PAT kicking percentage (87.0%) and finished second among place-kickers in scoring (4.8 ppg). Sophomores Mark Hannon and John Polignone split the punting chores in 2003 to the tune of a 30.5-yard average, including 11 boots inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. The return game is also a major strength behind senior quad-captain Jay Wagstaff, a two-time all-conference pick who topped the conference in punt return average (14.1 yards per return) in 2002 and finished third (10.0 yards per return) in 2003.
The Jeffs will play a challenging eight-game NESCAC slate, highlighted by the season opener against visiting Hamilton on September 25th, followed by a regionally televised clash at Little Three rival Wesleyan on October 23rd and a Family Weekend matchup with visiting Tufts on October 30. Amherst closes its season with a November 13th Homecoming clash against visiting Archrival Williams in the 119th meeting of the “Biggest Little Game in America”, which will air live on the New England Sports Network (NESN) and via tape delay on College Sports Television (CSTV).