Winthrop’s Upton finds his calling on the gridiron

PHOTO BY JOSH CUCKENS, BATES ATHLETICS
Mark Upton (#48) sheds a block as he looks to make a tackle. 

By JOSHUA KUMMINS 

Winthrop’s Mark Upton had always considered himself a hockey player first.

He played hockey and football at St. Mark’s School in Southborough before entertaining offers to play both sports at the college level.

Now a captain on the gridiron at Bates College, Upton still considers his career path a bit funny.

“Hockey was my No. 1 sport growing up, so I always had a lot of car trips and ice time,” Upton said. “It was definitely not what I expected. When I was a little kid, I always thought I was going to win the Stanley Cup.”

Hockey dreams aside, there’s nothing funny about Upton’s quick rise to becoming one of the top defensive players in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.

Upton is one of just three NESCAC players averaging 10 or more tackles per game as he paces the Bobcats with 78 for the season. He is also tied for the league lead in sacks with five solo and seven total in seven games.

Much of the Bobcats’ success circles back to a rush defense that allows just over 120 yards per game, of which Upton is a key part.

“He’s done a great job all year,” Bates head coach Mark Harriman said. “Each and every week, he’s made plays that have allowed us to get off the field defensively or put us in position to go down and score offensively.”

Bates stands 3-4 on the season after earning wins over in-state rivals Colby and Bowdoin in their last two games, clinching their third straight CBB title  (Colby-Bates-Bowdoin) for the first time since 1931.

Upton played a key role right off the bat, starting the final four games of his freshman season before becoming the first Bates sophomore since 2001 to be named to the All-NESCAC First Team, an honor he earned again last fall.

Upton’s early experience was crucial to his growth as a player.

“I remember the feeling of being thrown into the fire,” said Upton, who was a three-time All-Independent School League (ISL) selection while at St. Mark’s. “I always tell the freshmen, ‘Hey, you’re not going to be able to make everything, and just focus on what you have to do.’ Getting that playing time real early, it really helped me get a good baseline and accelerated the process.”

Upton posted double-digit tackles in each of the Bobcats’ first five games this season. He led Bates with seven tackles in Saturday’s 24-7 win over Bowdoin.

While his total personal numbers were less the past couple weeks, Upton noticed teammates stepping up to help fill in the gap.

“We’ve faced some new things, some new wrinkles against some of the offenses we’ve played, but I think I’ve been playing well,” Upton said. “All the guys around me are really picking up a lot. I haven’t had some of my best games, and I know they’re always there picking me up.”

Still, he registered 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss against the Polar Bears.

The Bobcats are certainly happy to have Upton. He committed to Bates early in his final year of high school, choosing to play varsity football and on the Bobcats’ club hockey team.

Even when the opportunity arose to play both sports at the varsity level in the NESCAC, Upton stayed true to his word.

“I feel like I would have had some regrets either way it went, and I never would have known how my football career would play out in the same way,” Upton said. “But, I wanted to go to the best school possible. Bates was definitely that.”

To Harriman, there is no greater example for his younger players than Upton.

“He’s continually watching film and knows how to prepare each and every week,” Harriman said. “That’s probably almost as valuable as his contribution on the field because it has set a standard that our other guys will follow.

“He really bought into what Bates is all about. He’s not only a leader on the team, but he’s been very involved on campus,” the Bobcats’ 19th-year head coach said of Upton, who is a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and also involved with Residential Life at Bates.

At first, another sport was his top priority. Now, he’s a leader on the football field and enters his final collegiate game ― this Saturday against Hamilton ― with no regrets.

“I’ve definitely come a long way,” Upton said. “I had no idea what the playbook was at first, but it’s been great looking back on it all.”

Names and notes

  • Saugus native and Malden Catholic product Mike Vecchione scored seven more points in the Union College hockey team’s wins over Yale and Brown this past weekend, increasing his nation-leading total to 24 through just 11 games. Vecchione scored a hat trick and an assist Friday against the Bulldogs, while his spin-o-rama goal the following night landed as the No. 7 play on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
  • Peabody’s Kerri Zerfoss earned Colonial Athletic Association All-Rookie honors after playing in 18 games for the Northeastern University women’s soccer team, which won its third conference title in four years with Sunday’s 3-0 win over Drexel. Zerfoss started 14 times and scored her first collegiate goal against La Salle on Sept. 2.
  • Saugus’ Sophia Cogliano was named to the All-Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) First Team following an impressive sophomore season for the Endicott College field hockey team. She led the Gulls with 30 points in 20 games, with four of her 10 goals standing as game-winners.
  • Lynnfield’s Emma Mancini posted a team-high 16 kills and 11 digs on Saturday as the Endicott women’s volleyball team earned its first CCC title since 2008 with a 3-0 win over Western New England.

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