On May 1, 2015, Ali Marpet sat in his basement surrounded by friends and family. He wore a straw hat and a red Hobart football t-shirt. Marpet’s phone rang, and he answered, “I’m doing well coach, how are you?” Seconds later, Marpet had a huge smile on his face. He hung up the phone and said, “That was Tampa Bay.”
His family and friends charged him, cheering and yelling, forming a dog pile. Marpet, from Division III Hobart College had just been drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 61st pick in the NFL Draft, Marpet was the earliest drafted Division III player in the history of the draft.
Sitting in his dorm room watching the draft was Springfield College two-time All-American Max Nacewicz. The star linebacker saw Marpet get drafted and had aspirations to do the same.
However, seeing Marpet get selected in the second round wasn’t the first time Nacewicz realized Division III players could go to the NFL. When Nacewicz was a sophomore, he was with his roommate when he found out that the Division III defensive player of the year, Alfred University player Nick Clark was signed by the Buffalo Bills.
“I remember watching some of his film, and I said to my friend, ‘bro, I can do this,’ Nacewicz said.
Today, Nacewicz, Springfield’s only two-time All-American since Jack Quinn in 1978-79, is working to achieve the goal of playing in the NFL. He has attended pro days at UMass and Yale and worked out in front of NFL scouts a number of times in Arizona.
“It’s definitely exciting to see scouts with NFL logos,” Nacewicz said. “You get a bit of an adrenaline rush. At the beginning it’s weird. You’re like ‘holy s***, these are NFL scouts,’ but once you get going and do a few workouts, you realize that you belong there.”
In his pro day at UMass, Nacewicz pulled his hamstring. However, he was still able to earn personal records in his bench press and his vertical.
“I had been preparing for that for three months and for that to happen with all the scouts and coaches from Springfield there was pretty rough,” Nacewicz said.
Ten days later, he was fortunate to have another chance. After rehab and therapy, Nacewicz headed to Yale University to show off his ability. He worked out as a linebacker, fullback and in other positions as well.
“I showed all the teams the versatility that I have, and I was happy with the numbers that I put up,” Nacewicz said. “I had a few of the scouts text me after and tell me how impressed they were. It was just a surreal experience, being the only Division III kid at every workout.”
Before coming to Springfield College, Nacewicz was certain that he was going to play college lacrosse. He had a number of Division I offers and was sure he was going to be firing lacrosse balls at the net for High Point University in North Carolina. That was until he played his final high school football game.
“My last football game ended my senior year, and I just remember saying, ‘this can’t be it. I have to keep playing,’” Nacewicz said.
Because he was so set on lacrosse, Nacewicz missed the window for Division I football offers. He got looks from some smaller Division II schools, but “nothing too crazy.”
That landed Nacewicz at Springfield College. When he first arrived on campus, he wasn’t sure if he even wanted to play football all four years. However, after starting all 10 games in his freshman campaign, he fell in love with the game and everything it requires.
“I made some lifestyle changes. I stopped partying and continued to train and train. I really fell in love with football and training,” Nacewicz said. “If someone told me I’d be in this position when I first came to college, I would’ve told them they’re crazy.”
Making it to the NFL is no easy task for a Division III athlete. Since 1988, there have only been 20 Division III players to break into the big leagues. If there is any red flag for a Division III kid, chances of making it are automatically slimmer.
“You’ve already got a perception from being at a lower level that you’re not as good or you don’t put as much work, time and effort into it,” Springfield football coach Mike Cerasuolo said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth for Max. He epitomizes what we look for in a Springfield College football player.”
Cerasuolo has been in touch with Nacewicz since his journey through pro days began, but due to the amount of time Nacewicz spends training in the gym, he isn’t always available for long conversations.
“He’s so focused on what he’s got to do that I think he shut his phone off for a period of time,” Cerasuolo said. “He put blinders on because he knows that he can’t have any other distractions. He’s making sure that everything that he does aligns with the goals and visions he has for himself.”
For now, Nacewicz continues to push himself to the limit, hoping that one day he’ll be able to be the 21st Division III player to make it into the NFL.