Football | Program building: Young players continue to find their place
Published: Friday, October 26, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 26, 2012 01:10
After an undefeated 2011 season, Amherst graduated its starting quarterback, its top five receivers, and the NESCAC Offensive Player of the Year, running back Eric Bunker. It’s no surprise, then, that the Lord Jeffs aren’t tearing through the conference quite like they did last year.
And yet, for the Jeffs, it’s hardly been a rebuilding year. Amherst is 4-1, averaging over 200 rushing yards and allowing a league-low 12 points per game.
That’s the mark of a great program: the ability to lose top players one year and not miss a beat the next.
“There’s a commitment on all phases, from the administration down, and there’s a passion at [Amherst] to be good at football,” Tufts head coach Jay Civetti said. “That’s why they are successful, and [head coach] E.J. Mills has done a great job.”
Someday, the Jumbos hope to reach that point. But tomorrow at Amherst, the matchup will feature two teams at very different points in their development.
For a Tufts squad still seeking its first win, this season has offered experience to young players who hope to become the backbone of the program in the coming years.
Nowhere is that more apparent than at tailback. In the past several weeks, sophomore Zack Trause and freshman Justin Weaver have emerged as Tufts’ top two backs, each showing dual abilities in the running and passing games.
The Jumbos have struggled mightily to establish the run — their 49.4 rushing yards per game ranks dead last in the NESCAC. But instead of abandoning the ground game altogether, Civetti continues to seek ways to improve it. Last week against Williams, the team debuted a Wildcat formation, with Trause taking shotgun snaps and Weaver lined up alongside him.
Trause was recruited to Tufts as a quarterback, and in high school ran a spread offense that mostly consisted of him running the ball. Though he didn’t run an option, he had the right preparation and skills to run the Wildcat.
“He’s a great athlete,” Civetti said. “He’s very versatile. Because he’s played quarterback before, it’s helpful. Going forward, I don’t know — right now I’m just worried about Amherst. Let him carry the rock a little bit at Amherst as a tailback and as a quarterback, and see how it goes.”
Though the Wildcat brought limited success last week, the Jumbos continue to refine it in practice. Trause, who pitched the ball to Weaver just once against Williams, is gradually becoming more comfortable running the option.
“I think we’re a lot better on it now after two solid weeks of running it,” Trause said. “Me and Justin Weaver are on the same page, we know what the reads are. It’s definitely going to be a good part of our offense if we can execute it.”
To have success running the Wildcat, some inexperienced players will also need to step up on the offensive line. Freshman Akene Farmer-Michos has started the last two games at right tackle, with sophomore Kyle Duke sliding over to right guard.
While Farmer-Michos has taken his lumps against league powerhouses Trinity and Williams — as any first-year would — he’s also helped create a comfortable pocket for senior quarterback John Dodds. And, most importantly, he continues to get better, as does the entire offensive line.
“Akene is a freshman who played his second game ever against a pretty good defensive line at Williams College,” Civetti said. “We’ve had to move guys around, and it’s been cool to see those guys improve as a group.”
On the defensive line, the situation is similar. While there are three senior starters — tri-captain Chris Toole, Curtis Yancy and Zak Kline — the group also features sophomore James Brao as well as several freshmen. Last week against Williams, freshman linemen Corey Burns, Ife Adebayo and Evan Anthony all recorded tackles.
Like the running game, the run defense has been a point of weakness for the Jumbos. But the underclassmen are making strides each week.
“They’re definitely playing a lot faster than they were at the beginning of the year, and they’re getting a lot better with their assignments,” Kline said. “It’s a very fast position, and you have to get used to that speed, which they’ve done very well in the last couple of weeks.”