By Matt Noonan
E.J. Mills has one goal for his Amherst College football team: have a great day.
Having a ‘great day’ maybe the rallying cry behind the Purple and White’s recent success as Amherst has won a quartet of New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) crowns since 2009.
In 2013, the Purple and White shared the crown with Middlebury College and Wesleyan University.
Two years later – last season to be exact – Amherst clinched its seventh perfect season in program history, finishing its slate 8-0 for the second consecutive season. Their win against rival Williams College – a 17-7 victory – extended the Purple and White’s winning streak to 19 games, which dates back to October 26, 2013.
“The biggest goal (for us) is to win the day and if we spend time worrying about Hamilton or Trinity (College) … that won’t help us, so we just have to stay focused and have a great day,” said Mills, who is a three-time NESCAC Coach of the Year honoree.
Mills and his staff have been hard at work since their final contest of 2015 and eager to lead the Purple and White onto the field this Saturday when they host Hamilton College for a 1:00 p.m. kick-off.
Amherst and Hamilton last met in 2013 with the Purple and White claiming a 23-7 win in Clinton, New York. Amherst defeated Hamilton one year earlier at home behind a pair of touchdown passes by Max Lippe.
If the Purple and White are going to be successful this season, they’ll need to lean on their defense, which limited opponents to roughly 10 points per game last fall.
Additionally, Amherst will need its rushing attack to be at its best too.
Last season, the Purple and White led the conference in rushing yards (1,612), thanks to Kenny Adinkra, who caped his four-year career with a career-best 504 yards on the ground.
Sophomore Jack Hickey enjoyed an impressive first-season at tailback, rushing for 319 yards on 47 carries and two touchdowns.
In front of Hickey and the halfbacks will be senior quarterback Alex Berluti, who will be tasked with leading an offense that converted 27 of 31 red zone opportunities last fall. Berluti appeared in one game last season, but has tossed four touchdowns in his career, while rushing for one score during his initial season in 2013.
“Alex has worked hard,” said Mills. “I have seen tremendous growth (since he arrived on campus) and I think he’s going to take advantage of this opportunity.
“The ball has been thrown in his court and I am confident that he will be able to do to lead this football team.”
One of Berluti’s top targets this season could be his brother Bo Berluti, who appeared in four games last season.
In addition to Bo, keep an eye on senior wide-out Devin Boehm, who led the Purple and White last season in receptions (41) and yards (555).
On defense, Amherst returns five of their front seven from a year ago, including seniors Evan Boynton (56 total tackles, 33 solo stops, 4.5 sacks and eight tackles for a loss) and Parker Chapman (44 total tackles, 24 solo stops, one sack and one tackle for a loss.).
Behind the front seven will be a young secondary, however, Mills anticipates his linemen and linebackers should assist them, especially with getting to the quarterback, stopping the run or dropping back in coverage.
“I think we have a chance to be pretty good back there,” Mills said of his secondary. “They’re just going to be young, so hopefully those guys up front can take some of the pressure off the guys on the back end … Our philosophy is don’t bend, don’t break and don’t give up big plays.”
While Mills knows every player on both sides of the ball will need to execute properly to help Amherst contend for a NESCAC title, he also believes everyone must have a great day too.
“That is really the consistent message,” Mills said of his team’s so-called rallying cry. “We have preached it around here (for a while) and the kids have bought into it.”
So, what exactly is Mills’ outlook for today?
“Today is all about Thursday,” said Mills, “so let’s have a great Thursday.”