Inside the NESCAC | When it comes to winning, Trinity never settles
Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013 01:10
Trinity football has been better. Sure, the Bantams are 4-0. Sure, they have won 13 straight games. And sure, their 51-game home winning streak is the longest in the nation.
But these Bantams couldn’t hold a candle to the Bantams of 2002 to 2006, who won 36 games in a row. To compare them to the 2003 team, which finished 8-0 and allowed 30 points all season, would be crazy.
Certainly, these Bantams can’t claim to be better than the mid-50s Bantams, who went 7-0 in both 1954 and 1955 and surrendered fewer than 10 points eight times. And don’t even think about mentioning this year’s team in the same sentence as the 1934 squad, which won by an average margin of 25 points and earned five of its seven victories via shutout.
Such is the world of Trinity football, where anything less than perfection is questioned.
The boys from Hartford keep on winning. Shouldn’t that be enough?
“There’s such high expectations, so when we don’t have the number one defense, or when we don’t have the number one offense, people start asking questions,” senior running back Evan Bunker, Trinity’s all-time leading rusher, said. “We’re not thinking about the past or whether we’re the number one offense or defense. As long as we’re winning, it’s all that really matters.”
Halfway through the season, the Bantams have had to battle for their victories. They trailed Bates through three quarters before pulling away late. They beat winless Williams by a mere seven points. Against Tufts this past Saturday, the Jumbos struck first before the Bantams woke up and won big.
Winning, of course, is the ultimate goal. But when expectations are astronomical, simply winning is not always enough.
Head coach Jeff Devanney, whose career record at Trinity is 53-7, stood on Zimman Field after Saturday’s 43-7 triumph and counted the ways in which his team must improve.
“If we’re gonna beat Middlebury, Amherst and Wesleyan, we need to be better than we are right now,” he said. “We need to better execute on offense. We need to be better on defense. Our special teams are improving; they weren’t good at the beginning of the year.”
So far, Trinity’s archrival Wesleyan has been the best team in the NESCAC, ranking first in points per game (40.8) and points allowed per game (5.5). The Connecticut foes will meet in Middletown on the final day of the season, Nov. 9, in a contest that could be destined to serve as the unofficial conference title game.
“Our main focus is just gonna be to get better this week, so that if we do have the opportunity to be in a championship finish, we’re good enough to compete,” Devanney said. “Right now, I don’t think we’re good enough to compete in those games.”
One reason for concern is the Bantams’ unprecedented youth. Their roster features just 13 seniors and 43 of their 75 players are freshmen or sophomores. Trinity’s quarterback duties have been shared by a pair of underclassmen, sophomore Henry Foye and freshman Sonny Puzzo.
The Bantams know that, to outsiders, their youth doesn’t appear to bode well for their chances at 8-0. But that only makes them more determined.
“At times, we feel like even the coaches doubt us because we have a younger team,” senior wideout A.J. Jones, who set a school record for yards per reception in 2012, said. “We have a little chip on our shoulder.”
Trinity’s outlook is certainly bolstered by one of the top running back duos in the league — currently second to Wesleyan’s — of Bunker and senior Ben Crick. Still, the ball-carriers have had their hiccups early on. Bunker, a downhill bruiser, was limited to 44 yards on 22 carries against Williams. And Crick, the speedier of the two, sat out against Tufts due to what Devanney characterized as a minor injury.
The question is, how does a program continue to win — and never lose — in the face of injuries, dropouts and increased talent among conference rivals?
For one, the coaches and players can never be satisfied.
“We’ve got to clean up a little stuff on offense in the red zone,” Jones said after Saturday’s game. “On defense, we can’t let up a 99-yard first-drive touchdown.”
“I think we had five or six [penalties], which kill drives,” Bunker added.
For Devanney, maintaining a successful program is also about smart recruiting. Forty-seven of his players are from one of three states: Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. It’s the coaches’ job to pick out the gems.
“Especially if you recruit New England, it’s so over-recruited with Ivy League, Patriot League and NESCAC schools,” he said. “There’s probably 50 kids on this Tufts team that we recruited at some point.”
So how does he lure the best fits to Trinity?
“Toughness and speed I’d say are the two things that we look for most,” Devanney said. “Everybody always bashes us for being in Hartford, but I think we get tough kids that don’t mind being in the city. Everybody looks for speed, but I think we’ve tended to have more speed than most of the other teams on both sides of the ball.”
Strong academics, vibrant campus life and long-term career opportunities certainly don’t hurt the Bantams’ recruiting efforts, but every NESCAC school offers those things to varying degrees. Trinity offers those, plus a deep-seated winning tradition.
“[Devanney] came in and demanded winning,” Bunker said. “That feeds down through the coaching staff and into us.”
Winning was the sole motivation Bunker cited when asked why he chose Trinity four years ago. In a four-minute interview Saturday, he used some form of the word “win” 13 times — one for each victory of the Bantams’ current streak.
“I wanted to go somewhere where you were playing every game with the expectation of winning, and with the ability to win a NESCAC championship,” he said. “I found that at Trinity.”