Sprint football fits MacDonald to a T
DJ MacDonald admits that he had to think long and hard when he was asked to play sprint football at Franklin Pierce University.
A three-sport athlete at Old Rochester High School, MacDonald misunderstood Franklin Pierce first-year coach Peter Ewald in their initial conversation.
“I thought he kept saying spring football,” said MacDonald, a freshman from Mattapoisett. “I had never heard of sprint football.”
Now, MacDonald has become quite familiar with the little known cousin of “heavyweight’ football, which was introduced by Franklin Pierce as a varsity sport this fall. He is as acclimated to sprint football as he was to the traditional version he played at Old Rochester, where he rushed for 10 touchdowns and threw for one in his senior season.
A 5-foot-9, 172-pound freshman from Mattapoisett, MacDonald broke through for 105 yards rushing on 24 carries in the Ravens’ opener, a 26-21 loss to Cornell on Sept. 22.
Sprint football is played by the same rules as regular college football. The only difference: a 172-pound weight limit. The restrictions allow smaller players to play competitive football in college.
Franklin Pierce, which competes at the Division 2 level in every other sport, is a member of the Collegiate Sprint Football League, joining programs such as Penn, Princeton, and Yale. Next season, the Ravens will play Army and Navy, both of which have longstanding sprint football traditions.
“DJ brings toughness, strong discipline, and a football mentality to Franklin Pierce,” Ewald said. “He’s a workhorse for us on offense and is talented in all facets of the game. He’s everything I’m looking for in an I-back. He’s only a freshman, so he’ll continue to get better.’’
For the 18-year-old MacDonald, sprint football represents a perfect way to continue his playing career in college. At 5 foot 9, MacDonald would be considered an undersized college running back, even in most Division 3 programs.
“This definitely gives smaller players or maybe the guys that weigh 190 pounds a chance to keep playing,” said Ewald. “If they want to modify their diet and the way they eat, it gives them an opportunity to keep playing college ball.”
Sprint football still takes a fair amount of selling.
“I had no idea what sprint football was until coach Ewald came and talked to me about it,” said MacDonald, who also played basketball and ran track at Old Rochester.
“At first, I thought it was a crazy idea, but then I realized it’s pretty much the same, except that every one is 172 pounds or lighter.”
The game has suited MacDonald well. The Ravens (0-2) lost their first two games by a total of nine points and narrowly missed their first win in program history last week when Pennsylvania scored in the final seconds for a 24-20 victory.
Franklin Pierce had its eyes on the win after MacDonald hauled in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Mathews with just 30 seconds left in the game. MacDonald had five receptions for 115 yards and also scored Franklin Pierce’s first touchdown on a 14-yard run.
“The key to my success has been everyone else playing well around me, especially the offensive line,” MacDonald said. “It’s just running hard, not trying to dance too much, and just keep going downhill.”
There are some adjustments to sprint football, however.
Once MacDonald breaks a tackle or two, he cannot take his foot off the gas. Unlike regular football, there’s not a 350-pound nose guard to stop the run. But any number of defensive linemen can be just as fast as a player at a skill position.
“There are more guys on the field who can tackle you,” said Ewald. “If you get by the defensive line you need to keep running, because the play is never really over.”
Here and there
East Bridgewater’s Aidan Hanratty, a sophomore goalie for the Fitchburg State men’s soccer team, has been named Player of the Week in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference. Hanratty made 16 saves and did not allow a goal in nearly 207 minutes of play during a 1-0-1 week for the Falcons, including four stops in a 1-0 overtime victory over MCLA to go with 12 saves in scoreless double overtime draw with Salve Regina. . . . Whitman’s Mackenzie Hatfield is having a major impact on the Bridgewater State women’s soccer team. The freshman forward scored a goal and assist for the Bears in a 4-0 victory at Framingham State. The graduate of Whitman-Hanson leads BSC with seven goals and five assists.
John R. Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.