Football | For Tufts, the spotlight is on winning
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 10:09
The official Twitter account of ESPN’s College Gameday published the following tweet on July 24 at 10:12 a.m.: “The longest current losing streak in college football belongs to DIII Tufts University. The Jumbos enter ’13 on a 23 game skid.”
While College Gameday was tweeting, it’s safe to assume the Jumbos were working. They were probably lifting, or attending speed school, or splitting into small groups and competing at game speed or organizing their weekly 7-on-7s at Bello Field.
One thing is for sure: the Jumbos were looking forward, not back. On the field and in the locker room, the losing streak is not discussed. With the season opener at Wesleyan — the NESCAC’s first night game, a 6 p.m. kickoff — now 18 days away, there’s no use thinking about anything but that first game.
“September 21st, we’re playing under the lights [for the] first time in NESCAC history,” junior tri-captain linebacker Tommy Meade said. “We’ve got that one goal, September 21st, keeping everyone focused on that.”
The streak, which dates back to Sept. 25, 2010, is the elephant in the room. But ending it is not what’s motivating the team or its head coach.
“There isn’t a person on our team or in our program that doesn’t know that we haven’t won in 23 straight games,” Jay Civetti, who is entering his third season leading the program, said. “[But] I don’t think you want to practice hard or play hard because you don’t want to add to the streak. You should want to practice hard and play hard to win.”
To that end, there are some positive signs. Physically, the team looks more formidable than it did a year ago, with most players having added five to 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason. The offensive line gained the most bulk: Senior tri-captain Connor Glazier put on 20 pounds — “all good weight,” he says — and sophomore Akene Farmer-Michos, listed at 290 pounds last year, is noticeably bigger and has been flat-out bullying his teammates in practice.
“I’d say across the board, size-wise, we’ve put ourselves in a position where a college football program should be,” Civetti said.
The linebacking corps has the fewest question marks of any unit, with all three starters returning. Meade will man the middle again after leading the team with 68 tackles, while senior tri-captain Sean Harrington and sophomore Matt McCormack (56 and 44 tackles, respectively) will play outside.
“A little more complex this year,” Harrington said of the Jumbos’ defense, which is directed for the first time by former defensive backs coach Kevin Farr. “A lot of new stuff, which will be good for us.”
Six practices into the preseason, the biggest remaining question mark is at quarterback. Tufts started with six QBs last Wednesday, including three freshmen recruits. Junior Jack Doll, who was hurt in Week 1 last season and has since recovered from shoulder surgery, has been taking snaps with the first team and appears to be the frontrunner to start his second straight opener. Also returning are sophomore Drew Burnett, who attempted six passes last year, and redshirt freshman Matt Cahill, who sat out the 2012 season due to injury. Civetti said Sunday that the competition is still wide open, but he expects a starter to emerge within the next week.
The Jumbos are also missing some players who were key throughout last season. Quarterback John Dodds (LA ’13) graduated after taking over for Doll and throwing for 1,522 yards. Running back Justin Weaver was second on the team with 435 all-purpose yards as a freshman but is now in Bangkok, Thailand serving a Mormon mission. Senior Pat Nee is not currently with the team at wide receiver, nor is junior Connor McDavitt at kicker.
Still, there are plenty of players competing to fill the voids. Junior Zack Trause emerged as a dual-threat back last season and even took some snaps in the Wildcat formation. Tight end Nick Kenyon is returning for a fifth year and, as long as his cranky knees stay healthy, will provide a tough-to-miss, 6-foot-6-inch target in the middle of the field. Four of the top five receivers are gone, meaning sophomore Jack Cooleen and juniors Greg Lanzillo and Harrison Kidd have a chance to step up.
Meade, for one, is confident in the guys currently on the roster, many of whom saw significant playing time in 2012.
“The whole junior class is coming back, and a lot of freshmen last year got some time,” he said. “We’ve just got a lot of guys that kind of know the drill this year.”
While the team is young — there are 37 freshmen and only nine seniors — the captains noted that the pace at which the team is moving is as fast as they have seen it.
“[It’s] the most energy we’ve ever had,” Harrington said. “The most reps we’ve ever had in a short period of time.”
For a Tufts team that ranked second to last in the NESCAC in points per game (11.9) and last in yards allowed (427.4), the true test will come under the makeshift lights at Wesleyan against a unit that, one year ago in Somerville, built a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back.
The Jumbos know they are better off not looking back, either. They are focused on the task at hand — not on the elephant in the room.
“Rather than focusing on the elephant, let’s focus in on everything else,” Civetti said. “The elephant doesn’t fill the whole room. There’s still a lot more seats left.”