October 10, 2012

Bench Press Brotherhood

More news about: Amherst

Bench Press Brotherhood

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By Ben Badua

It was the only spat that they really remember having. Ironically enough, it occurred in the one place where they had bonded the most. Nearing the end of a set on the bench press with several teammates, Jack Reynolds '13 spotted a late-arriving John Ceccio '13. Can I work in with you guys? Before an agitated Reynolds could begrudgingly agree, Ceccio began replacing plates.

After a couple of repetitions, he once again turned to Reynolds. Let me do one more set. An increasingly annoyed Reynolds wasn't having it. They were almost done, he wanted out and the last thing they needed was another interruption. Instead of putting the weight clip back on the bar, a frustrated Ceccio dropped it and walked away. That's when all hell broke loose.

"I lost it," recalled Reynolds. "I just got in his face and started screaming. Everyone got out of our way."

With the two arguing offensive linemen weighing a combined 550 lbs., who could blame them? But despite the tension, emotions didn't run high for long. Ten minutes later, they were apologizing and laughing. Looking back, both acknowledge that it was the "dumbest fight of all time."

Ceccio and Reynolds. Reynolds and Ceccio. They're a package deal. Playing each other in high school, they knew of one another when they arrived on campus. Ceccio's St. Joseph Regional team beat Reynolds' Delbarton squad two years in a row in the New Jersey state playoffs (something Ceccio still teases Reynolds about).

With that connection, the two gravitated toward one another and began building the foundation for their friendship. They hang out together. They eat, live, play, and of course, work out together. You can't mention one without the other, and if you see one, you can almost always bet the other is either right behind or just around the corner.

"There's more hours in the day than not that I'm with John," said Reynolds. "My parents consider him another son and vice versa."

"I'm with Jack more than I am with my family," added Ceccio. "Even when we're home, we visit each other the whole time."

Offensive line coach Matt Ballard likens Ceccio and Reynolds to an old married couple, while head coach E.J. Mills thinks of them as "Frick and Frack." Spend any amount of time with the duo and it's easy to understand why. The rapport they've built is evident. The inside jokes are plentiful and the constant ribbing is effortless. While they may bicker from time to time, mostly they're just joking around and after endless hours spent together, they know exactly how to tug at each others' nerves.

While they're very similar, there are a few subtle differences. One claims to be slightly taller, the other, slightly slimmer. At times, Ceccio can be boisterous and loud, while Reynolds is a bit more understated. Both could be described as happy-go-lucky with a generally positive demeanor.

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"I think we're known as the funny guys," said Reynolds. "We try to lighten up the mood, especially with the offensive line. It's a tough position, mentally and physically, and it's easy to get rattled. I think us constantly joking around gets everybody, including the coaches, laughing and helps keep us loose."

Despite their relatively cheery disposition off the field, don't expect them to be nearly as friendly between the lines. On gamedays, it's as if a switch has been flipped. They walk on the field and just want to hit someone. It's like they've blacked out and it's all that matters. The only adjectives that come to mind are mean, aggressive and focused.

"This is probably the most physical offensive line we've had in my nine years here," said Ballard. "A lot of it is because of those two guys. You can tell on the field that they get a kick out of smashing people."

A four-year starter, two-time All-NESCAC first team selection and 2012 D3 Senior Classic Preseason All-American, Ceccio is widely regarded as the league's preeminent center. Starting as a tackle before moving to left guard, Reynolds has solidified a line that has led the conference in fewest sacks allowed for four consecutive years, while bolstering a rushing attack that has gained more yards with each successive season.

In 2009, Amherst averaged just 79.1 rushing yards per game. The following year, their first starting on the line together, the team ranked fourth in the league with 173.6 yards. Last season the Jeffs finished second at 189.5 yards per outing and in 2012, the Purple & White have picked up 254.3 yards per game on the ground.

"John is by far the most physical player I've ever seen," said Reynolds. "He's an All-American for a reason. I've seen him take people, drive them back 15 yards and put them on their backs. Some of the most absurd things you shouldn't be able to do to another person, he has done."

"He's just as physical as I am," added Ceccio. "There are times in pass protection where I may just be hanging in there, but Jack is going over to de-cleat whomever. Even if no one is there, he'll find work and do his best to hit the person as hard as possible."

Always working as a team to cover blocking assignments, the offensive line is a particularly close-knit uint. Ceccio and Reynolds take it to another level, with their closeness off the field seamlessly translating to the gridiron. Playing right next to each other the past two years, it's no wonder they work so well in tandem: they don't even have to talk to each other to be on the same page. But when something does need to be said, it's a unique bond numbers 54 (Ceccio) and 55 (Reynolds) have been able to cultivate.

"When you get critiqued by someone you respect, it obviously means more," said Reynolds. "If John tells me something, I'm going to listen."

"If I miss a block, he's there to pick me up," Ceccio added. "If I'm doing something wrong and he gets on me, I'm okay with that."

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While they have worked to make one another better during their time spent on the turf, it's their shared dedication off it that truly has brought them together. Arguably the two strongest players on the team, Ceccio and Reynolds double as each others' spotters during lifting sessions. They're the only people capable of doing so.  

Spending three months of the year together on the field, they'll spend the other nine training. Fostering a healthy competition, they've pushed and motivated each other like no one else on the team could. It's the reason they've become the athletes they are today and why they share such a mutual level of respect and admiration.

"Having John along for this whole ride means so much to me," explained Reynolds. "He's someone I can always share the memories with."

"When we're older, we'll still be best friends," said Ceccio. "We can look back and say, 'Hey, remember that day at practice or that game?'"

Now in their final season, the two are acutely aware that the clock is ticking. There are only so many practices and lifting sessions left. Mornings waking up the next dorm room over are numbered, as are the walks or drives together to Pratt Field.

This time next year, they won't be sitting next to each other in a locker room getting ready for another gameday. Instead, they'll hopefully be continuing a tradition of visiting teammate Lou Jacoubs' family home on the Cape, reminiscing about the good old days, while putting away endless amounts of food. Ceccio may playfully throw in a jab about Delbarton while feasting over the course of the weekend. Reynolds may remind his former teammate of his high school's superior academic reputation, while feeling like a skill position player watching his old line buddy eat.

Either way, while they may not want to think about it just yet, this chapter of their lives is almost over. Luckily, they know the next one is still being written and it's probably why that lone fight in the weight room didn't amount to much.

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