LEWISTON, Maine -- Junior quarterback Brendan Costa spent his summer doing a lot of reading.
The Bates football team went through a year of transition in 2018, with first-year head coach Malik Hall and his staff installing new schemes on offense and defense. There was little time for anyone to prepare.
So after a season of learning on the fly, Costa (Westport, Mass.) was able to sit down this summer and dissect offensive coordinator Custavious Patterson's playbook. He now has a greater understanding of the famed "air raid" offense.
"(Last season), we were thinking too much," Costa said. "'Oh am I doing this wrong? I don't want to mess this up.'"
"Now, we know what we're doing, we're going to do it right. We've been killing it all camp and we're going to have a very explosive offense, and a very explosive defense where we just let our athletes play."
Bates (0-9 in 2018) visits Amherst (8-1 in 2018) Saturday at 1pm to begin the 2019 season.
"I've been preaching this a lot: This is a time in Bates football history where you have to say 'enough is enough.'" Costa said. "You just have to go out there with no conscious of what else is going on and just do your job."
"If we do that I think we'll be a very tough team to beat."
Bates College at Amherst College
When: Saturday, Sept. 14, 1 p.m.
Where: Pratt Field at Lehrman Stadium | Amherst, Mass.
Live Coverage: Video | Stats
All-Time Series: Amherst leads 26-4-2
Last Meeting: Amherst 19, Bates 7 (Lewiston, Maine | Sept. 15, 2018)
The Mammoths return four starters to a unit that finished second in the NESCAC in total defense in 2018. Amherst is transitioning from a 3-4 defensive scheme to a 4-2-5 in 2019. Senior captain cornerback Avery Saffold tallied 30 tackles, two interceptions, four pass break-ups and one blocked kick last season as a junior. Rising junior safety Matt Durborow racked up 41 tackles, one fumble recovery and four pass break-ups in 2018. The Mammoths were stout against the run, giving up just 70.4 yards on the ground per game on their way to an 8-1 record.
Balanced and productive enough to average nearly 30 points per game, Amherst's spread offense returns six starters, led by senior captain quarterback Ollie Eberth (1634 Yards, 10 touchdowns) and senior captain wide receiver James O'Regan (39 Receptions, 579 Yards, four touchdowns).
Amherst tied for first place in the final conference standings last year with Trinity, but the Bantams won the conference title thanks to a 27-16 victory over the Mammoths in head-to-head action. Amherst's E.J. Mills ranks as the senior head coach in the NESCAC, with a 136-42 record over 22 seasons.
Like most spread attacks, the Bates offense starts with how effective the speedy Costa is at quarterback. He is coming off an injury-shortened 2018 season but is fully healthy now.
"Costa has a dynamic arm, but last year we transitioned from running the ball 40 times a game to wanting to throw it 40 times a game," head coach Malik Hall said. "Not only is it a physical shift but it's also a mental shift. So we are trying to get him to rediscipline his eyes, rediscipline his technique. He's making a change from looking to run downfield to buying time so he can throw it downfield."
When Costa throws, he will have a variety of targets, including last year's leading receiver: sophomore Jackson Hayes (San Marino, Calif.), who caught 19 balls for 249 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie season.
"For (Hayes) to come in at a buck 55 as a first-year nonetheless, and to have the impact that he had, I think that sets the tone for his career here," Hall said. "But that comes with consistent work. Smith has great range, great size. But a year prior to us getting here, he was run blocking 60% of the game. And so now saying, 'Hey, I have to recondition my mind and my body that I'm running a post, or I'm running a fly, or I'm running a dig,' that is much different than stalking the safety or corner 40, 50 plays a game."
One of the most interesting additions to the wide receiving corps is first-year Chris Costa (Westport, Mass.), younger brother of Brendan.
"Chris committed early," Brendan Costa said. "I told him: 'Dude we're up-and-coming, you're the receiver in this world I have the best chemistry with, so if you come up here, we could be very dangerous. You can add another element to our game, to our offense as we keep building it.' And he bought in early, which was nice."
When Bates runs the ball, the Bobcats will have plenty of weapons beyond their quarterback Costa, who rushed for a team-high 327 yards last season and scored two touchdowns. Junior Liam Spillane (Byfield, Mass.) got a lot of playing time late in the 2018 season and finished the year with 272 yards on the ground, averaging 3.1 yards per carry. When the Bobcats get to the red zone, they have confidence in junior Christian Sanfilippo (Gloucester, Mass.) to punch it in. He led the team in rushing touchdowns and finished tied with Hayes for the lead in receiving touchdowns a year ago.
When it comes to dynamic playmakers, few are as exciting as junior running back Jaason Lopez (Marblehead, Mass.), who missed most of last season due to injury. As a first-year in 2017, Lopez averaged 7.5 yards per carry and caught 15 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns.
"(Jaason) gives us an element of having a guy who can break one, just another big play threat that we have in the backfield, which is huge for us," Costa said. "The one game he was really healthy last year, we put up 34 against Middlebury."
Mainers can expect to see last year's Fitzpatrick Trophy winner as the top senior football player in the state Tyler Bridge (Wells, Maine) get some action in the backfield as a first-year for Bates.
"We have that nice balance of big back, small back," Hall said. "But the great thing about our big backs is they can run the corner just as well, they can jump cut just as well, and our small backs can, like Sanfilippo, power through."
Swiss Army knife senior Matt Golden (New Bedford, Mass.) is going to be a factor on offense for Bates. Listed as a starting fullback, Golden is a strong blocker in the run and pass game. But he can also catch the ball out of the backfield and run the ball up the gut himself. As a first-year in 2016, he came off the bench as a quarterback and led Bates to a 24-7 victory at Bowdoin.
"Of our eight seniors, Golden is the most vocal," Hall said. "He does great work in the community. He's one of those guys who brings his hard hat, he brings his "do the right thing" lunch pail, and that messaging in itself, whether it's a verbal message or watching him do it, I don't think we can go wrong with that as a team."
Of course, none of Bates' skill players on offense can be effective without a strong performance from the offensive line this season. Of the Bobcats' eight seniors, three are offensive linemen. Senior left tackle Matt Flanagan (Sudbury, Mass.) tips the scales at 313 pounds and started all nine games last season. Senior center Jack O'Brien (West Roxbury, Mass.) is the most experienced lineman, having 17 career starts under his belt.
"What we lack in quantity on the offensive line, we make up for in quality," Hall said. "With two, three spares I think we'll be as good as we can be with our numbers, but more importantly, I think we will see those guys come together and gel our offense. Because for whatever we will be, we will be because of our offensive line and their chemistry."
Second team All-NESCAC strong safety and senior captain Jon Lindgren (Plainville, Conn.) leads a defense that returns five starters from a year ago. Lindgren recorded 77 tackles (52 solo), one sack, six tackles for loss and two pass break-ups last season. His 77 tackles ranked first in the NESCAC.
"Jon is like a bullet on the football field," Hall said. "He sees ball, gets ball, and provides a spark of energy in the secondary because he'll make a dynamic play or dynamic hit. And that rallies our guys."
Lindgren is excited about the talent around him in the secondary, a unit that got bit by the injury bug repeatedly last year. Despite the injuries, Bates finished fourth in the NESCAC in pass defense. And a lot of younger players gained valuable experience.
"We are deep at every position so we're not going to be having guys out there for every single play the whole game," Lindgren said. "Keeping our legs fresh will be something that we haven't been used to before. But yeah, it is a blessing in disguise from last season."
After a big game against Amherst, junior free safety Connor Hunt (Duxbury, Mass.) missed most of the 2018 season due to injury. Up stepped junior Anthony Costa (West Springfield, Mass.), who proceeded to lead the Bobcats in interceptions with three as a sophomore. Bates is also excited for the return of sophomore defensive back Tyler Hamilton (White River Junction, Vt.), who was Vermont's Gatorade Player of the Year in 2017.
At corner, junior Devin Clyburn (New York, N.Y.) has been a rock in the secondary the past two seasons, playing in 15 games and tallying 37 tackles, three interceptions and five pass break-ups. Sophomore Owen Straley (Norwell, Mass.) saw action on special teams as a first-year but did not play in the secondary. He will get a ton of playing time this year and is projected to start at corner at Amherst.
"(Owen) had one of the best camps and one of the most improved camps from last season to this season that I've ever seen," Lindgren said. "I mean the kid just worked his tail off in the off-season, got so much better. So, we're really excited to see what he can do for us."
Sophomore Jose Calleja (Secane, Pa.), sophomore Caleb Bolden (Dover, N.H.), first-year Quinn Kieselowsky (Stillwater, N.J.) and first-year Mohamed Coulibaly (Philadelphia, Pa.) will see playing time as well as part of the Bobcats' deepest unit. Lewiston High School alumnus Hunter Landry (Lewiston, Maine) should see action on special teams as a first-year.
At linebacker, the Bobcats will mix in a number of guys in the middle of their 3-4 defense, starting with fifth-year senior Peter Daley (Wilmington, Mass.) and sophomore Spencer Adams (Bedford, N.H.).
"(Spencer) came back in great shape, came back with a better understanding of our defense, all around just came back ready to go," Hall said. "Daley, who's a senior, again, another guy who's coming back to kind of rectify some things of his past. Being here for four-and-a-half years, all he wants to do is get it right."
Converted running back and senior Zach Doyon (Eliot, Maine) will see action in the middle of the defense as well, along with first-years Brian Carmichael (Wayland, Mass.) and Tony Hooks (New Rochelle, N.Y.), in what Hall describes as a "linebacker by committee" situation.
On the outside, sophomore Mike Bulman (Hanover, Mass.) and junior Liam Greene (Bedford, N.H.) hold down the fort. Greene is looking to rebound from an injury-plagued season, while Bulman had a huge rookie campaign for Bates, tallying 35 tackles (24 solo) in nine games. Add in junior David Campbell (Marblehead, Mass.), who finished tied with Anthony Costa and Tyler Harrington '19 for second on the team in total tackles with 49 last year, and the Bobcats have a unit primed for success.
"Bulman got the nickname 'Magic Mike' because we couldn't get him off the field last year as a first-year," Hall said. "And the stuff that he would do on gameday, to be undersized, to be underdeveloped, he played all nine games as a first-year, that was magical. And the guys named him that because it was like, 'Bro. I don't even know how you are doing it.'"
The defensive line is perhaps the most intriguing unit. It lost some big-time players in Harrington and Walter Washington '19 to graduation. But the line returns junior Ramon Ruiz (Haskell, N.J.) at nose guard. "Razor Ramon" had a memorable scoop-and-score last year against Wesleyan and draws rave reviews from coaches and teammates.
"Ramon is a great dude and he's pound-for-pound, one of the strongest, fastest, nastiest noses I've ever seen play," Lindgren said. "He is going to be an absolute beast for us this year."
Converted linebackers sophomores Nolan Potter (Wells, Maine) and Tim Simplicio (West Hartford, Conn.) are the starting defensive ends. But Bates will rotate a number of guys on the line, including sophomore Jack Ryan (Cornwall on Hudson, N.Y.), junior Shane Collins (Stoneham, Mass.) and converted tight end Erik Stephens (Dover, N.H.).
"We lost a senior-loaded defensive line. That's the bad news," Hall said. "The good news is we have some fresh blood who's hungry. Young Bobcats such as Tim, Potter and Mr. Stephens, who were at different positions a year ago. Man, what does it say about kids who are willing to sacrifice a position that they're familiar with to play a position of need?"
The Bobcats have plenty of support coaching-wise. Hall has coached defensive linemen and linebackers throughout his career. And Lindgren raves about assistant coach Brandon Potvin.
"Coach Pot is the epitome of how a defense should play," Lindgren said. "I mean the guy 'brings the juice', that's what he calls it. And, he knows his stuff from a technique standpoint."
"He has a phrase: 'Spill your guts on every play and then suck them back up and do it again.' So, he brings that to the table and that's how we have to play this year."
With the loss of punter and placekicker Justin Foley '19 to graduation, the Bobcats will break in a pair of new specialists this season. Sophomore Simon Redfern (Providence, R.I.) will handle the placekicking duties while junior Clem Carter (Old Greenwich, Conn.) is in line to be the punter. Both originally tried out for the Bates men's soccer team but Hall knew Foley would need to be replaced this year so he reached out last season to men's soccer head coach Tyler Sheikh and replenished the team's kicking depth.
"They came out last year (for football), didn't get any game action, but it was an introduction to the culture, because the football culture and the soccer culture, I would imagine they're different," Hall said. "I love talking to both guys to see how they are adapting to that difference."
"This summer they did a lot of developmental work with a kicking coach to understand the nuances of football kicking and the crossover between football and soccer, and how it can work for us as a football team, and how it can work for them as players."
Hayes and Lindgren excel returning kicks and the return of junior track and field star Milan Lemon (Plantation, Fla.) to the football team should help in that department as well.
The Bates football team held Amherst scoreless in the first half and nearly came from behind to win in the second half before falling 19-7 last year to the Mammoths on Garcelon Field in new head coach Malik Hall's debut at Bates.
Jack Hickey carried the ball 22 times for 137 yards and a touchdown to pace the Mammoths and quarterback Ollie Eberth ran for 58 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 112 passing yards.
The Bobcats got 44 rushing yards and a touchdown from quarterback Brendan Costa to go along with 12 completions for 90 yards on 21 attempts through the air. Parker Smith caught three passes for 40 yards on the afternoon.
On defense, Jon Lindgren led all players with 12 total tackles, including a tackle for loss. Bates forced three turnovers and only turned the ball over once themselves. Walter Washington, Connor Hunt and Mike Bulman all recovered fumbles on defense for the Bobcats. Bulman had an impressive collegiate debut, sacking Eberth once and recording four solo stops, including two tackles for loss.
BATES' PROBABLE STARTERS:
LT 70 Matt Flanagan
LG 65 Josh Gendron
C 64 Jack O'Brien
RG 71 Nick Florio
RT 78 Julien Nicolas
TE 85 Isaiah Saunders
WR 1 Jackson Hayes
WR 88 Parker Smith
FB 15 Matt Golden
QB 3 Brendan Costa
RB 5 Liam Spillane
DE 49 Nolan Potter
NG 99 Ramon Ruiz
DE 44 Tim Simplicio
OLB 36 Mike Bulman
ILB 53 Spencer Adams
ILB 37 Peter Daley
OLB 33 Liam Greene
CB 21 Owen Straley
SS 6 Jon Lindgren
FS 18 Connor Hunt
CB 22 Devin Clyburn
AMHERST'S PROBABLE STARTERS:
LT 76 Langston Puller
LG 72 Nick Diprinzio
C 67 Dan Papa
RG 70 Jacob Ayyub
RT 78 Brendan Coleman
TE 84 Justin Berry
WR 89 Luke Mallette
WR 5 James O'Regan
WR 83 Joe Masterson
QB 10 Ollie Eberth
RB 26 Brandon Huff
4-2-5 DEFENSE (one hybrid LB/DB)
DE 38 Brett Bates
NG 99 Matt Albino
DT 97 Greg Franklin
DE 44 Joe Kelly
LB 18 Nick Tighe
LB 8 Matt Schiano
LB 46 John Schiano
CB 9 Ricky Goodson
CB 1 Avery Saffold
S 37 John Ballard
S 19 Matt Durborow
K 90 Connor Kennelly
P 92 Henry Atkeson