Students in the Class of 2021 may find it hard to believe it’s been four years since they arrived in Medford, anxious and exhilarated for what life would look like at Tufts. For graduating senior tennis player Niko Hereford, mentorship on and off the court helped him come into his own as a leader.
As the son of John Hereford, a former baseball pitcher and football player at Amherst, the recruiting process was not the first time the senior was introduced to NESCAC athletics. During his college search, Hereford was attracted to Tufts’ academic offerings and intended to continue his athletic career in Medford.
“I was being recruited for tennis and I wanted to go somewhere I could play,” he said.
As many first-years learn, the opportunities to showcase their skills in competition can be sparse at first. A two-time individual state champion at Kent Denver School in Colorado, the lack of regular opportunities in collegiate matches early in his career at Tufts was disheartening at times.
“When I didn’t start it was a tough thing for me to accept … Everyone on our team had played junior tennis and high school tennis, where they were obvious starters,” he said.
Hereford recognized this lack of playing time as a growth opportunity and matured to understand his value in the squad.
“It was the realization that every guy on the team plays an important role in what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.
Hereford has been a leader on the Tufts men’s tennis team and offered guidance to younger players on how to maximize their time in the program, and contribution to the team’s potential.
“If everyone can collectively work together, starters and non-starters alike, that’s my biggest piece of advice — to have everyone bought in,” he said.
With a strong regular season in 2021 now behind them, Hereford and his teammates certainly bought into coach Karl Gregor’s philosophy and formed a winning culture.
“The best part about [Gregor] is how competitive he is,” Hereford said. “It’s refreshing to have a coach who wants to win as badly as all the players.”
A former member of the Air Force, Gregor’s focus on hard work and accountability have paid off, with this year’s roster’s having some of the most talent he has seen during his six-year tenure. Hereford’s classmate and teammate Boris Sorkin, for example, is one of the highest-ranked players in all of Div. III tennis.
Even with the recent surge of talent, Hereford credits Gregor for not losing sight of what got his squad to this point.
“His mindset has been to keep your head down and keep working … that’s the way you build yourself up the NESCAC rankings,”Hereford said.
Hereford views Gregor, who is known to have his players prepared for competition, not just as a skilled coach, but as a mentor and a positive influence on the development of his players.
“He’s dedicated to helping underclassmen, upperclassmen … There’s a good balance between pushing us hard and enriching the student-athlete experience,“ Hereford said.
Gregor was a significant positive force during Hereford’s four years as a Jumbo, but Hereford also received guidance from within the classroom. Majoring in economics with a minor in finance, the Colorado native built relationships with a number of his professors within the economics department. With past experience in private equity and investment analytics, the finance division was of particular interest to the senior.
“That’s been my favorite part, I think there are a lot of good teachers in the finance part of the [economics] department,” the graduating senior said.
One of these professors is David Driscoll. Equipped with a wealth of finance knowledge and past experiences in the field, Driscoll has been known to engage students by incorporating real-world phenomena in his lectures. He also utilizes a number of learning styles, encouraging group work during class and assigning projects that require collaboration and critical thinking.
“He’s my favorite teacher here … He’s really smart and a good guy to build a relationship with,” Hereford said.
The 2021 graduate hopes to apply this finance acumen alongside his past work experience and knowledge of the athletic landscape in the world of professional sports. A co-founder of the sports business club at Tufts, Hereford’s ultimate goal is to have a front office role in Ball Arena, the stadium that houses his hometown basketball team, the Denver Nuggets.
While he will be walking on the virtual stage with his senior classmates at graduation this year, Hereford plans on returning to Tufts in the spring of 2022 to take a final course while using his extra eligibility to have one last run with his teammates on the courts.
With four years full of mentors and memories, Hereford has plenty of positive experiences to reminisce upon. As of now, he and his teammates are focused on continuing their stellar form as they push to make another NESCAC title run.