L.J. Spinnato '06
Photo by Charlie Quigg '09

Spinnato was a First-Team All-NESCAC selection in his junior campaign, rolling up 31 tackles and 4.5 sacks on the year.

Amherst's Spinnato Larger Than Life

November 1, 2005

AMHERST, MA - Lots of kids get cut from their junior high school football team, but how many get left off the roster because they're too big? Amherst College senior tri-captain nose guard L.J. Spinnato (Madison, CT/Daniel Hand) was cut from his eighth-grade football team because he was over the maximum weight of 165 lbs., but his size, which once kept him on the outside looking in, now places him as the centerpiece of one of the top defenses in the nation.

The Amherst defense has held opponents to an incredibly low 167.3 yards per game, and Spinnato's play has been a big part of that. The nose guard, Spinnato's position, is placed directly over the ball and is served with the challenge of plugging up the center of the line, disallowing opposing ball carries to advance through that space. He's done an amazing job this year, amassing 32 tackles (the seventh most of any defensive lineman in the conference and fourth highest on the Jeff defense), 4.5 tackles-for-loss, a sack, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick, while helping to hold opposing rushers to a paltry 2.0 yards per carry. "It's a fun position in the respect that you're right over the ball and in the middle of everything, but it definitely means you're getting double-teamed on every play, and that can be very frustrating," said Spinnato. "However, if I'm taking up blockers and freeing up the linebackers to run all over the field and make plays I'm happy because I'm doing my job. When Jake (Spadafora '08) got three sacks in the Wesleyan game this year it was great. I love seeing my teammates succeed."

Spinnato's humility doesn't stop there. He credits a lot of his success and the accolades of the entire defense to a variety of people and reasons. "Coach Ballard (Amherst's defensive line coach) does an amazing job and is a great fit with our group," said Spinnato. "He treats us with respect and does great work, helping us with our athleticism, coaching us through our strengths and helping us with our weaknesses." Spinnato also cites the play of his flanking teammates, defensive tackles Dan Kovoliksy '06 and Brendan McKee '07. "Getting to play with Dan and Brendan is a privilege. They're both great people and great football players. I trust them to do their jobs on each and every play, and I'm very blessed to be able to play with them."

"Athletically, our defense is very blessed - well, besides me," Spinnato joked, but he credits the close-knit friendships within the defensive unit as a big part of their overall success. Not just teammates on the field, he may enjoy a round of golf with junior safety Mike Salerno or have lunch with senior linebacker Justin Roemer, only to return to his dorm room, where he lives with yet another collective of Jeffs. "We all do stuff together everyday, which is why when it comes time for practice and games we have a special dynamic and have a good time," Spinnato added. "We know that we can challenge and get on each other and no one will respond badly. It allows us to push each other further and harder."
Ballard, however, says Spinnato is responsible for a good portion of the defense's success. "He's just a dominant force in the middle of our 3-4 defense," Ballard said. "He doesn't do a lot of things that people would notice, but he just controls the middle of the field, and other teams can't stop him. Every play he's taking up two or three blockers, freeing up his teammates to make plays. That being said, L.J. has been able to take on these blocks and make a lot of plays himself."

A two-time Connecticut state wrestling champion and current member of the Amherst track-and-field team, Spinnato's athletic prowess extends beyond the gridiron. However, lately it has chased him into sand, deep patches of grass and behind the occasional tree. Fellow tri-captains Gavin Weeks '06 and Nick Zieler '06 introduced Spinnato to the game of golf last spring and he has started to really enjoy it. "It's just being out there and having fun with my friends," he said, "but I did break 50 for the first time ever this fall."

A law, jurisprudence and social thought major, Spinnato also carries a passion for live music, often venturing into the Amherst community to see acts such as Pete and J (Amherst alumni Peter Harper '05 and Jason Blynn '04), and frequenting New Haven, Conn. venue Toad's Place for a variety of musical tastes. "It's great to go to local places and see some great careers take off," he commented, having seen artists such as Gavin DeGraw perform before their introduction to stardom. He continued, "There's just so much energy and excitement when you're there watching them play and put everything into their music." Among his favorite acts live is the Dave Matthews Band, who he tries to see perform at every opportunity.
The oldest son of parents Larry and Liz, Spinnato is filled with pride for his three younger brothers, Tony, Nicholas and Steven. All blessed with similar athletic talents, Spinnato cannot help but brag about all of their accomplishments and potential. "When I go to any of their wresting matches or football games I just go crazy!" he said. "I take an enormous amount of pride in their victories, and an equal amount of frustration in their defeats. I just want them to be as successful as possible in everything they do."

With just two games left in his college career, Spinnato still carries a pair of goals that have yet to be accomplished. "Beating Trinity and breaking their win streak, and taking down Williams on their field for the first time in 20 years would be a legacy that I really want to leave behind," he said. Spinnato has never beaten Trinity as the Bantams come to Pratt Field with Division III's longest active winning streak (28 straight victories) in tow. The Jeffs have also not topped Williams at Weston Field since 1985. "I think that our senior class and team can win these games, and we deserve to win because we've worked hard and made this one of our goals since the summer," he added.

With Amherst's outstanding defense surrounding him and his destructive presence in the middle, Spinnato may just achieve his goals and complete his career with the elusive NESCAC title that he and the Jeffs seek.