With three straight winning seasons and four in a row at .500 or better, the Tufts University football team looks to continue its winning ways when the 2018 season opens at Hamilton College on Saturday.
The Jumbos bring back almost everyone on offense, led by versatile quarterback and senior tri-captain Ryan McDonald. He set a Tufts record for total offense last season and has a veteran cast of associates returning. The Jumbos will look to be even more explosive than the 26.1 points and 396 yards per game that they averaged last year.
The defense took a bigger hit to graduation, but some of the top players in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) will start for the Jumbos. Cornerback Tim Preston enters the senior season of a decorated career, while junior tri-captain Greg Holt has been one of the conference's best linebackers since he arrived at Tufts in 2016. However, some new faces will need to step up for the Jumbos to be successful defensively this fall.
|Linebacker Greg Holt has amassed 182 tackles in two seasons for the Jumbos|
Tufts had to go to overtime to defeat Hamilton, 35-28, last season. The improving Continentals (3-6 last year) will be a good test on the road in the Jumbo opener. Tufts then begins its home season against Wesleyan (6-3 in '17) in a night game at Ellis Oval / Zimman Field on September 22. The Jumbos will get a good early indication of where they stand in these opening games.
The Brown & Blue have one of the most exciting players in the nation at quarterback. McDonald passed for 1,879 yards and ran for 722 more last season, adding up to 2,601 total yards (289 per game) that was the most in Tufts history. Elusive as a runner averaging 5.1 yards per carry in his career, he also had the most efficient passing season in Jumbo history last fall with a 122.9 rating.
The skill players available to the offense are the deepest group in recent memory. At running back, Dom Borelli has battled injuries and will look to produce his best season as a senior. Mike Pedrini was Tufts' top back as a freshman last season, rushing for nearly 400 yards and eight touchdowns. Juniors Andrew Sanders (4.9 avg, 3 TDs) and Jay Tyler (4.3 avg, 2 TDs) also have plenty of experience. This group put the Jumbos fourth in the league at 177 rushing yards per game last fall and expects to be even more productive in 2018.
Likewise, the receivers are a veteran corp returning from a Tufts passing attack that gained nearly 220 yards per game last fall. Senior Jack Dolan is one of the top all-purpose players in the country, which includes his 44 catches for 566 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. Frank Roche and Dan de Leon will look to build off breakthrough junior seasons when they had 26 catches apiece and 336 and 381 yards, respectively. Senior Spenser Clouse has battled injuries and could be ready to make his biggest impact this fall.
In the tight end / fullback roles the Jumbos have Winton Blount – who caught 11 balls including a touchdown last season, and Jack Donohue - a promising 6'5" junior, adding to their arsenal.
Protecting for this potentially epic offense is a line with five seniors returning to starting roles. Tim Reitzenstein, a first-team All-NESCAC selection in 2017, leads the group. Josh Thibeault, a starter since sophomore year, mans the other tackle position. Nick Roy is healthy and will direct the group from the center position. Dan MacDonald and Jack Rhodes both stepped into starting spots last year due to injuries, performed admirably, and are now very reliable guards.
On defense, Micah Adickes, Doug Harrison and Zach Thomas – each an All-Conference player last season – have graduated. The Jumbos will look to improve upon their 20.9 points and 351.3 yards per game allowed last season with six new starters on the field overall.
However, returnees Preston and senior tri-captain Alex LaPiana in the defensive backfield, Holt and junior Tylor Scales at linebacker and senior Nmesoma Nwafor along the line give the Jumbos a solid base.
Preston, with 13 career interceptions including two that he has returned for touchdowns, is a two-time All-Conference pick. LaPiana has started since his freshman season. He will move to safety this fall with junior Miles Shipp earning a starting nod at the other cornerback spot opposite Preston. Sophomore Michael Mughetto is slated to start at the other safety spot.
Holt has been a tackling machine who is on pace to set a Jumbo career record in that category with 182 stops in two seasons thus far. He was the conference Rookie of the Year in 2016 and a first team selection for last fall. Scales returns in a starting role after finishing third on the team with 54 tackles last year, including three sacks and 7.5 tackles for losses. Sophomore Jack Walton and junior Stephen Timmins will get their chance to make a mark at the other linebacker spot.
The defensive line has more new faces than anywhere else on the field for the Jumbos. Tufts' 30 sacks were second-most in NESCAC last year, but the QB pressure will need to come from different sources this fall. Nwafor is the anchor, after emerging as a junior including 4.5 tackles for losses. Senior Jared Ahsler is healthy and will look to make an impact at defensive end, as will junior Kevin Quisumbing. Junior Tom Baker similarly will need to perform in his first year as a starter.
Dolan is the Jumbos' special teams leader after placing second in NESCAC for both kick return and punt return yards last season. LaPiana returns in the punting role where he averaged 36.0 yards last fall. As does sophomore kicker Matt Alswanger, who was good on more than 91 percent of his kicks (31/34 on field goals and PATs) for 2017.
After the first two weeks, Tufts plays its Homecoming game against Bates on September 29, hits the road to Bowdoin and Trinity, hosts Williams, and finishes up at Amherst, home versus Colby and at Middlebury.