Thomas Dell'Erario (top) and Miles Harleston might not be the most recognizable names among the senior class, but they've contributed as much as anyone else
Not many Jumbos have won as many football games as the 26 seniors who will be saluted on Saturday in a ceremony prior to Tufts' game versus Colby. With two games remaining in their careers, this senior class has been a part of 23 victories at Tufts.
Several of the seniors have seen a lot of playing time during their careers. Though their names are lesser known, seniors Thomas Dell'Erario and Miles Harleston and others like them have made equally important contributions to the team's success.
Due to the 75-man NESCAC roster limit, Dell'Erario was cut from the Tufts roster twice. He stuck around and kept working at it though, then earned a spot on the team as a junior. Harleston joined the Jumbos as a manager and has evolved into an essential part of the team's operation as a student assistant coach. Both of these guys represent the heart and soul of the senior class.
"The culture on our team this year has been incredible," head coach Jay Civetti said. "We have such a large senior class and they have set the tone. They may have a variety of different roles, but those guys are one and it's an incredible example for the rest of the program."
Dell'Erario didn't know he wanted to play football in college until his high school Thanksgiving game was over. A safety and wide receiver at Weston High School outside of Boston, he quickly realized that he would miss it.
"Football has always been something that is super important to me," he said. "Something that was really close to my heart. Being on a team like that, I needed to keep it going."
Tufts was the only NESCAC school that got back to him about playing. He was offered a walk-on spot by the Jumbos. During the summer before he came to Tufts, Dell'Erario worked hard on his game to improve his chances of making the roster as a safety. It didn't happen, and he was devastated.
However, more than 100 players had tried out for the team that year. Many others were cut and they formed their own group that continued to work on their skills and strength. They were still a part of the team, going to meetings and helping out on the sidelines during games. They looked forward to trying out again the next season.
When Dell'Erario was cut again as a sophomore, he was not deterred. Though he did not suit up on game days, he was already deeply committed to the Jumbo program.
"The only thing that was so horrible about getting cut those two years was watching all the other guys strap up and go to battle knowing that I couldn't be out there contributing on the field," he said. "I already knew that the guys on the team were part of my family. Trying out again as a junior, there was no other option in my mind."
When cut-down day arrived the next year, Dell'Erario received a text from Coach Civetti. He figured he was getting cut again. However, when he arrived at Coach's office, it was filled with several coaches and teammates. He was handed a jersey and told that he made the team. The moment was so meaningful that he broke down and cried. Dell'Erario now starts for all of the Jumbos' special teams.
"Dell is the epitome of what it means to be a Tufts football player," senior tri-captain Alexander LaPiana said. "Seeing his determination to make the active roster after being cut twice was inspiring to everyone. His determination and effort on a daily basis is unparalleled. He would do anything, and I mean anything, to help out this team or one of his teammates."
The Harleston name was already well established at Tufts before Miles arrived. His grandfather Bernard was a professor of psychology, Dean of Arts and Sciences, and has a dorm on campus named in his honor. In addition to being proud of his family roots here, Miles was excited about the opportunity to work as a manager for the football team.
"I've always been drawn to the game since I was really young," he said. "A lot of my friends make fun of me because I don't understand a lot of cartoon references because when I was younger I was watching more ESPN, NFL Network, NFL Films type of stuff."
However, his involvement with the Jumbos did not get off to a good start. He slept through his alarm and was late to the first team practice that he was supposed to be at. That has never happened again though, and now it's not a stretch to say that the Jumbos can't get started without him.
He has evolved from a team manager who set up equipment and played music at practices and games into a vital part of the offensive coaching staff. Last off-season, his work breaking down film helped him gain the trust of the staff. Now he's Coach Civetti's right-hand man. The Jumbos don't snap the ball on offense until Harleston has signaled the play to the offensive line from the sideline.
Two weeks ago when senior Dom Borelli played quarterback out of a Wildcat formation and contributed mightily to the Jumbos' win over Williams, Harleston had worked closely with him during the week perfecting the reads and progressions.
"A lot of the work I've been able to do in terms of helping our guys get prepared, I do take a lot of pride in that," he said. "I hope that what I do, and what the other student coaches and managers do, is an advantage for our team. It allows us to get a lot of things done more quickly on and off the field."
Freshman year he was the only true team manager. His enthusiasm for it got some former players and other students interested. Now he's the leader of a group of seven – including seniors Markus Edmunds and Luke Martin - who make the Jumbos go behind the scenes.
"It's rare that someone who is not a player can have such a profound impact on a program," LaPiana said. "His knowledge of the game and commitment to this program is truly special. Miles makes the team run without too many people knowing. He doesn't get any recognition, but his role within the team is irreplaceable."
Harleston wants to share his experience at Tufts by continuing to coach underprivileged students back home in Los Angeles.
"The culture on the west coast is more geared towards big Power 5 conference scholarships and schools getting big time endorsement deals and having their games on ESPN," he said. "I want to take what I've learned here and bring it back and teach a lot of those guys that there's so many different ways in which football can help you beyond just going to the NFL or a Division I school."
From its star players to its role players to its student coaches, this senior class has put together an era of Jumbo football that won't soon be forgotten.
Written by Paul Sweeney, Director of Athletic Communications