Photo by Charlie Quigg '09

Head Coach E.J. Mills, sophomore Guy Matisis and Pat Hayes help finish work on a
Habitat for Humanity site on Stanley Street in Amherst.

Lord Jeff Football Helps Habitat for Humanity Level the Playing Field

By Alex Kantor

January 25, 2006

AMHERST, MA – More than half of the Amherst College football team returned to campus last weekend over a week before their second semester classes begin. The Lord Jeffs have come together in the town they will call home for four years, in order to help build a Habitat for Humanity house just off the campus.

Amherst College donated three acres of campus land, the necessary space to build four new homes over a two year period. Construction of the first home began in the Fall of 2006 and will be completed solely by the Amherst College community of students and employees.

Head coach E.J. Mills expressed the importance of this project to the football program. “Anyone associated with the College, and our students specifically, has had plenty of people help them out, from parents and coaches, to teachers and administrators,” explains Mills. “This is their chance to start giving back to the community that has given them the amazing opportunities that Amherst has.”

Mills adds, “there isn’t a single guy that will leave this job site without feeling a little bit better about himself, and hold his head a little bit higher. It really is a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

Director of Football Operations and Specials Teams coach Luke Bussard spent Tuesday morning nailing baseboards into the second floor of the new home. When questioned about the response his players had to giving up a week of their vacation time, he explained that “everyone back for the project loves the experience. A tradition is really being started here, and hopefully we can do this every year.”

About a dozen players were working at the new home on Stanley Street with Bussard and assistant coaches, while teammates showed up later to work through daylight. Altogether, about 40 members of the football team have returned to lend a hand in the project this week.

Sophomore tight end Jay Hebb (Amherst, MA) says that this week is even more special for him because, “growing up in Amherst, its great to give back to the community that has given me so much my entire life.”

First-year assistant coach Brendan O’Brien eludes that “while we all care about giving back, it’s also really nice to have a chance to work towards a common goal off the field. It’s bringing us closer and closer together.” Junior linebacker Jack Ewen (Massapequa, NY) agrees, noting “this is really going to help our team unity for the future.”

This project seems to be extra special for first-year defensive line coach Pat Hayes ’03, who returned to Amherst this fall after spending the last three years in the Peace Corps working in Zambia. “This week has further strengthened my resolve to be a lifelong volunteer, and I am grateful that this job has allowed me to share my passion with the players,” explained Hayes.

As a graduate from Amherst and the Lord Jeff football program, Hayes has a great window into the lives of his players. “We’re all pretty lucky to be at a place like Amherst, and giving back is a responsibility we share. I hope this week has helped the guys understand that what you take away from volunteer
work will always outweigh what you’re capable of giving.”

Amherst Athletic Director Suzanne Coffey recently attended the NCAA national convention and tells that the NCAA and Habitat have announced a recent partnership. “This is a great way for our teams to be involved in service consistent with College initiatives on volunteering,” explains Coffey. “Many of our teams do lots of different things around the community, and we are proud of all of them.”

The football team’s work this week is only a start to its yearly service efforts, which include participation in the Five College Relay for Life event each April. Proceeds from Relay for Life benefit the American Cancer Society.

The Lord Jeffs wrap their work on the Habitat project this weekend as they prepare to head back into the classroom on Monday, but the lessons learned and friendships made on the site will last them forever.