Opening Day. The first night football game in NESCAC history. A chance to avenge a bad loss from last season. An opportunity to get a win for the first time in a long time.
With so many storylines heading into the opening game of the season against Wesleyan on Saturday, one could understand if the football team’s focus were drawn in many different directions. But for a Jumbos squad simply looking for a strong start to the year, concentration won’t be an issue when the team heads to Middletown, Conn. for Saturday’s game.
“This is the 2013 Tufts Jumbos, and we don’t have an identity yet,” head coach Jay Civetti said. “It’s a chance for us to set forth this year’s program. We’re not bound by the past, nor can we control the future. All we can do is focus on the now, and that’s Wesleyan.”
The mantra for the Jumbos all preseason has been to focus on Sept. 21 and the game against the Cardinals. For Tufts, the game represents a chance to establish a winning culture in the football program and get some payback for last year’s 35-14 loss.
“Our message has been to trust your training,” Civetti said. “We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on fundamentals….Character, fundamentals and taking care of the football is essential. That’s the best chance we have.”
Civetti also expressed confidence in junior quarterback Jack Doll, who was recently named the starter.
“I trust Jack,” he said. “I trust his decisions, I trust his motivation, I trust him as a person. I think he possesses great leadership qualities, and he has command, which is essential at that position.”
It’s tough to delve into player predictions this early, with rosters at the Div. III level changing drastically from season to season. But beating a strong opponent on the road will not be easy, particularly when it’s a Wesleyan team with a high-octane offense and a potent rushing attack.
“They have tremendous talent in the backfield,” defensive coordinator Kevin Farr said, referring to Wesleyan juniors LaDarius Drew and Kyle Gibson. “They have two guys who put up a lot of yards last year on a lot of carries. But they also have balance and run play action passes, trying to get you to step up. But they have [great] talent on the perimeter, so we have to defend the whole field.”
Tufts has lost some key players from last season on both sides of the ball, mostly due to graduation, but the Jumbos also have a few key factors working in their favor. First off, the members of the team have come back bigger and stronger this season, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. In addition, Tufts’ first-year players have impressed in the preseason and in recent intrasquad scrimmages, both from a physical standpoint and in learning the team’s systems.
In last year’s matchup between Tufts and Wesleyan, then-junior defensive back Jake Bussani intercepted a Tufts pass on the first play of the game and set up the Cardinals’ offense for a quick touchdown. From that point, Wesleyan built a 21-0 lead and never looked back.
“They have the best cornerback in the league,” Civetti said, referring to Bussani. “They have the best team in the league on paper.”
This time around, a fast start will be crucial for the Jumbos, though they shouldn’t have trouble getting excited for the game under the lights. Although the effects of holding a NESCAC football game at night (kickoff is at 6 p.m.) are tough to anticipate, Civetti expects it to have a limited impact on the field.
Still, the matchup represents a new beginning – for the NESCAC and for the Jumbos – and a chance for every player to show what he can do. With the night kickoff on the iconic Andrus Field in the middle of the Wesleyan campus, there’s no question what getting a win would mean for the entire Tufts program.
“The results are what they are, [and] we’re not hiding from it,” Farr said. “But it’s about moving forward now. We’ve done a great job through the preseason focusing on the moment – win this play, win this drill, win this practice. We’re going to tackle well, play hard, take the ball away and see what happens.”