In some ways, the 2019 NCAA football season felt very familiar to Amherst College’s Avery Saffold. The Mammoths’ defensive back was named First-Team All Conference in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, the third consecutive time he had been so honored during his college career.
But in some of the most important ways, it was also unlike any other season Saffold had ever experienced. Because 2019 marked the first time Saffold stepped back on the gridiron after publishing his coming out story during the summer.
Not only was 2019 a success in terms of Saffold’s performance on the field, it proved to be transformational in the best possible way off it.
“After my coming out story, I felt like my teammates knew me better as a person off the field which made playing with them more fun,” Saffold told Outsports. “Before, I felt like I could never truly be myself, but this year, I was able to play freely.”
With 27 tackles and three interceptions on the year, it showed. From the very first day of the season, the south side Chicago native made his presence felt, serving notice to the rest of the conference that his senior year was going to be special with a blocked punt helping lead to a 27-13 opening game victory over Bates.
Saffold’s biggest game came two weeks later with two interceptions against Tufts sparking the Mammoths to a 26-16 victory on September 28. He named that contest as his personal highlight for the year and it inspired the NESCAC to award him with Defensive Player of the Week honors.
As for his team, it proved to be an up-and-down season, with Amherst winning its first three games but dropping its final four to finish 4-5. The Mammoths finished in a three-way tie for fifth place in the NESCAC during Saffold’s senior year.
Nonetheless, being accepted for who he was still made the year a special experience. Looking back on 2019, Saffold declared, “Every day we were together was the highlight of the season. Practice, workouts, meetings and dinners were a great time together and something I will remember forever.”
It was that sense of bonding that Saffold will remember most when reflecting on his football career at Amherst:
“Our senior class will have a lot of memories together. We have been through a lot together in our four years. We have experienced winning seasons, losing seasons, the passing of a teammate, but through everything, we always had each other’s back and will continue to. I will take with me the ability to deal with adversity as a group.”
The Amherst football captain even took a team-first approach in discussing being named All Conference. As Saffold noted, “It’s an honor to be recognized by opposing coaches but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give credit to my coaches for putting me in the right position to make plays throughout my career.”
Now that Saffold’s football career has ended, he told Outsports that he is currently applying for work after graduation and hoping to find a position advocating for diversity and inclusion in sports. As his four years at Amherst demonstrated, great things can happen when teams commit to those very principles.
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