Four student-athletes from the Merrimack College football team saw their efforts from the 2017 season recognized in the form of being named to the Northeast-10 All-Conference Teams, which were announced by the league office on Tuesday.
All four players were honored for the first time in their Merrimack careers, as junior defensive lineman Jesse Jones (Newark, N.J.) headlined the group with his earning a spot on the all-conference first team defense. Senior running back Derrick Villard (Cromwell, Conn.) was an NE10 All-Conference Second Team selection, while redshirt freshman linebacker Jake Ragusa (Canton, Mass.) and true freshman running back Rodney Samson (Peekskill, N.Y.) were selected to the NE10 All-Rookie Team.
Merrimack has now placed four student-athletes on the league’s all-conference team in each of the last two seasons and now has had at least four all-conference selections in at least the past eight years.
Jones, in his second full season as a starter, was a monster presence on the interior defensive line and was instrumental in helping Merrimack rank second in the entire conference in rushing yards allowed per game, as the Warriors yielded only 124.3 yards on the ground each contest. Unsurprisingly, Jones had his best year yet, totaling a career-high 55 tackles – 22 of them on his own – while finishing with one forced fumble that he recovered, one pass breakup and his first career interception. Jones also was credited for 2.5 tackles for losses totaling 13 yards and was credited for 0.5 sacks, as well.
Villard, who was neck-and-neck with the league’s rushing leader throughout the season, finished his career as one of Merrimack’s top rushers in program history. He surpassed the century mark in four games and finished with over 1,000 yards rushing on the year (1,001), becoming only the third player in program history to finish with over 1,000 yards. His 1,001 yards were the third-most by any player in single-season program history, while his 2,050 career yards also rank fourth all-time in school history. He also finished with 10 touchdowns on the year, becoming just the fourth Warrior to post 10 rushing scores in a single season. He ranked second in the league in rushing average (100.1) and touchdowns (10) and only lost two fumbles all season.
Ragusa, who was named NE10 Defensive Player of the Week after his mammoth showing in Merrimack’s win over Saint Anselm in late-October, was a welcome addition in his redshirt freshman season. After injuries to other key players threatened to derail the cohesion of the defense early in the year, Ragusa quickly provided stability and much more as his play ascended throughout the fall to the point where he ranked among the league’s best by season’s end. The Canton, Massachusetts, native led Merrimack with 70 tackles on the year, including 12.5 for losses of 66 yards. He also shared the team lead with 4.5 sacks totaling 40 yards, and he also led the team with two interceptions. He added three quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, and he ranked fourth in the NE10 in solo tackles and ninth in tackles per game.
Considering that he was behind arguably the league’s top rusher in the depth chart, Samson still managed to contribute heavily during his true rookie season and wound up playing in all 10 games and had at least one carry in nine of them. Samson’s workload increased exponentially from Week 5 onward and he finished the season with at least 10 carries in four of the final five games. He totaled 325 yards on 81 carries, averaging a hearty 4.0 yards per carry, while finding the end zone once. His best game was against Pace when he finished with 93 yards on 16 carries, while his lone score came at home against Stonehill.