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Tufts is getting tough

Civetti expects a lot from Jumbos

By Craig Larson
Globe Staff / September 24, 2011

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Dressed in a T-shirt, shorts, and sneakers, Nick Falk had an inkling of the challenge ahead when he walked onto Bello Field Aug. 29, at 5:30 a.m. sharp, for the first day of training camp. So, too, did the other 80-plus candidates for the Tufts football team.

“We knew it was going to be a team-building activity,’’ said Falk, a senior captain from Riverside, Ill. But then again, “it was nothing like we have experienced before as a team.’’

Push-ups. Sprints. Jumping jacks. All in unison.

A fireman’s carry, one teammate draped over the shoulder of another, for 100 yards. Moving a long log, hoisted overhead with nine teammates, across the field.

“Five hours later, we finally started to function as a team . . . everyone had to be leader, not just the seniors,’’ added Falk, an Army ROTC student majoring in economics who spent part of his summer at air assault school in Fort Knox, Ky., jumping out of helicopters, and another part at Fort Lewis, Wash., for basic training.

And that is how the Jumbos kicked off the Jay Civetti era, and the 137th season of football at Tufts, which will officially commence with today’s NESCAC opener at Hamilton.

Their “Judgment Day,’’ a grueling training session under the direction of Eric Kapitulik, a former lacrosse standout at the Naval Academy who founded “The Program,’’ set the tone.

“We have worked hard at being great teammates, focusing on the guy to the left of you and the guy to the right,’’ said Civetti, formerly the team’s offensive coordinator who was named interim head coach after Bill Samko stepped down in December after 17 seasons. “We start each practice now with one perfect jumping jack.’’

The Jumbos, who lost their final seven games last fall after winning their opener against Hamilton, have quickly toed the line under Civetti.

“It’s a complete new tempo with Jay, there’s accountability and attention to detail,’’ said the 5-foot-9-inch, 185-pound Falk, who is shifting to inside linebacker from strong safety this season. “From his point of view, all the little things add up.’’

A Wellesley native who prepped at Belmont Hill under coach Kevin Fleming, the 32-year-old Civetti has been well-schooled. At Trinity, where he was the NESCAC Rookie of the Year under the tutelage of a pair of coaching legends, Don Miller and Joe Restic, Civetti started all 32 games of his career, and was team captain and an All-America guard as a senior. And at Boston College and later North Carolina State, he worked for Tom O’Brien and respected offensive coordinator Dana Bible.

“Coach O’Brien, structurally, his blueprint is successful, and Coach Bible, he is one of best teachers I’ve ever been around,’’ said Civetti. “His expectations of his players is reflected in their play. Those two were very influential, but I have a lot of respect for everyone that I have either played or worked for.’’

In charge of his own program for the first time, at a highly regarded academic institution, in a conference that he loves, Civetti is determined to create an identity that will be successful going forward.

That starts with mental and physical toughness, transitioning to a more-balanced offensive approach, and true to his roots, controlling the line of scrimmage.

With senior Anthony Fucillo operating the spread offense, the Jumbos were a pass-happy bunch in 2010, no more so than in a 70-49 loss to Amherst.

“We broke a bunch of records and scored a lot of points, but at the end of day we were still 1-7,’’ recalled Civetti. “We have to establish the run.’’

Sophomore Ryan Pollock, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher at Reading High, is the lead back, running behind a front that includes senior captain Luke Lamothe, a 6-3, 260-pound guard, senior tackle David Lloyd (6-6, 305), and junior center Ralph Faia (6-0, 275) of Everett.

The return of 6-6, 245-pound junior tight end Nick Kenyon from injury presents another weapon for quarterbacks Johnny Lindquist and John Dodds.

The defense, anchored by all-conference cornerback Sam Diss, along with Falk and fellow linebackers J.T. Rinciari and Zack Skarzynski, is athletic.

Can the Jumbos challenge perennial NESCAC heavyweights Amherst, Trinity, and Williams?

“We don’t want to compare ourselves with anyone else, those three have had great success,’’ said Civetti. “We’re worried about Tufts and making sure we get better.’’

Bentley piled up 529 total yards and 30 first downs in routing Saint Anselm, 43-16, last night in Waltham. Bryant Johnson passed for 286 yards and five scores for the Falcons (3-1, 2-0 Northeast-10). The Hawks (0-3, 0-2) had just 42 yards on 22 carries, while Bentley ran for 165 yards. The Falcons’ Wade Critides and Bill Kiley combined for 17 catches, 214 yards, and three TDs . . . Kevin Lynch was 13 of 15 for 213 yards and four TDs in New Haven, and Southern Connecticut State (3-1, 2-0 NE-10) blasted Pace, 61-0, for the biggest shutout victory in program history.

Craig Larson can be reached at clarson@globe.com.