Ask Jay Civetti about the current state of the Tufts football program, and he’ll tell you that 20-plus players made the dean’s list last semester and over 60 percent had at least a 3.0 GPA. He’ll tell you about their involvement in the community, from painting a local Jumpstart preschool to “drafting” 8-year-old cancer patient Riley Roman.
And, oh yeah, his team is improving on the football field every week.
In ten days, when Civetti marches onto Zimman Field to begin his second season as Tufts’ head coach with a game against Wesleyan, he will carry with him the burden of a program that is winless since Sept. 25, 2011. And yet, for Civetti, overcoming that obstacle is just the first step. Ultimately, the goal is not to win one game, or two, or three. The goal is to turn Tufts football into a winner – in the community and classroom as well as on the field.
“This is a full deal,” Civetti said. “To be able to get all three of those phases together takes time, and it takes the right people being in the right place. It takes a general understanding and a well-structured plan to get there.”
The ’85 Bears weren’t built overnight, and the 2012 Jumbos probably won’t go from 0-8 to 8-0. But with the right building blocks in place – dedicated players, smart coaches, a strong work ethic and first-rate facilities – victories should follow.
That’s the blueprint Civetti learned from coach Tom O’Brien at Boston College and at North Carolina State, and it’s what he believes will help Tufts football emerge from one of its darkest moments.
“I think when you look at the plan, we’re right where we should be, we’re headed in the right direction,” Civetti said. “Last year was disappointing, but it wasn’t discouraging. Guys that haven’t won a lot of games aren’t walking around with their heads down and feeling sorry for themselves. They want to be better, and they want to make this program better.”
To do that, the players are focused on the present.
“The last three seasons – we can’t change anything about that,” senior tri-captain offensive lineman Andrew Rayner said. “What we can do is learn from it, and our first goal this season is to beat Bowdoin [in a scrimmage] on Friday. The next goal will be to beat Wesleyan. But right now we’re taking it one game at a time, one goal at a time.”
The roster has not yet been finalized, but the team is currently carrying 26 freshmen and 20 sophomores – not to mention a new offensive coordinator, three new assistant coaches and three candidates to become the new starting quarterback. With so much to learn and so little time, the goal in the preseason has been to hammer home the basics and to ensure that as many players as possible are game-ready.
“Our goals for the preseason have been to be physically and mentally tough, to be as fundamentally sound as we can be and play smart football,” Civetti said. “I think where we will struggle is depth. At schools that have established themselves as successful programs, that depth is there. If someone goes down, you’ve got a guy behind him with enough snaps, or you’ve got someone that, skill-wise, can step in.”
A big part of the preseason process has been learning new offensive coordinator Frank Hauser’s system. At its core, Hauser’s offense will not be much different than last year’s, split fairly evenly between the pass and the run. Still, there is a learning curve.
“It’s not drastically different,” senior tri-captain wideout Dylan Haas said. “It’s just that calls are different, plays are different – from what positions are called to how the snap count works to how you call plays. Right away, everyone including all the upperclassmen are learning these things, and they’re going out on the field thinking, ‘What am I doing?’ It makes it a little bit harder to be in the mindset to fully execute your play.
“There was that period of time, but I think we definitely are coming out of that stage.”
The first true test of what the Jumbos have soaked up will come in Friday’s scrimmage at home against the Polar Bears, who trounced the Jumbos in Week 3 last year, 27-6. The game won’t count in the standings, but it will offer an opportunity for the Jumbos to prove they can go toe-to-toe with the rest of the NESCAC.
“We definitely want to make a statement to the rest of the league on both sides of the ball,” Haas said. “We want to beat them physically and make sure that they don’t want to play us in a few weeks.”