If there is one thing that every Patriots fan learned the hard way last February, it’s that there is nothing more disruptive to an offense than an effective pass rush. For the Springfield College football team, Max Nacewicz has given them that element of pressure and the Pride are reaping the benefits.
Nacewicz led the team with 4.5 sacks last season as a freshman, but used the offseason to take his game to the next level.
“Max is just starting to play to his potential,” said coach Mike DeLong. “He is so strong, and fast, and athletic and people are now beginning to see what he is capable of.”
The sophomore from Newtown, Conn. has been outstanding through four games in 2012, registering a team – and Division III – best seven sacks, and his 8.5 tackles-for-loss put him in the top 10 nationally as well.
His performance this past week against Rochester was so impressive that it earned him a spot on the d3football.com Team of the Week, as well as Liberty League Defensive Player of the Week. Nacewicz made six tackles and registered 4.5 sacks on the day as the Pride rolled to a 44-14 win.
“When watching Rochester, I noticed their linemen were completely turning their shoulders while blocking,” said Nacewicz. “That allowed all of my inside moves to work on them and get to the quarterback.
“It feels good to know all the hard work you do gets noticed and pays off,” said Nacewicz of the honor.
All of that work began the moment last season ended. With the success of his freshman season behind him, Nacewicz knew a lot would be expected of him and got to work during the summer.
“The offseason is about doing stuff that no one else is so you can separate yourself from the rest,” said Nacewicz. “I knew it was crucial for me to come into camp in great shape and that starts with a great offseason.”
That effort has not been lost on his coaches, who have praised him for his conditioning and the improvements he made in his game. His ability to play all across the line has allowed him to keep defenses on their toes and unsure of where he would be coming from next.
Helping with that versatility is his experience at the linebacker position. The instincts he learned then still help him now, and the scary part is that he is still learning how to pass rush.
“The positions are very different,” said DeLong. “He was a linebacker playing out in space and now he’s playing up front. It takes a while to learn how to pass rush and he’s really only in his second year and is just now starting to develop his moves.”
Aiding in the development of Nacewicz as a pass rusher is defensive ends coach Cody Flanigan. Having some knowledge of Springfield prior to enrolling, Flanigan’s experience is not something the sophomore takes for granted.
“Playing for Cody has been a great experience. As a freshman, all I would hear is stories about him and how good he was,” said Nacewicz of the three-time Empire 8 All-Conference selection. “Now he’s my coach. It’s really cool to be coached by someone you look up to.”
Speaking of looking up, it has been the opposing quarterbacks who have been looking up at Nacewicz this season as his raw skills have paved the way for him. The more academic parts of the position are also something the sophomore has embraced.
As a linebacker, Nacewicz had more time to read a lineman’s footwork on his way towards the quarterback. Shifting to defensive end, he has taken those same skills and tuned them to the quicker time frame.
“I can read the lineman’s feet, their eyes and the way they lean to see where they’re going and I base my move and counter move off that,” said Nacewicz.
Film study has helped too. Flanigan and defensive tackles coach Dave Uimonen have done the busy work of breaking down the film and helping turn missed assignments into learning experiences. It is that type of knowledge that has helped him go from 4.5 sacks in 12 games last season to seven sacks through four this season.
With the rest of their Liberty League schedule still ahead of them, the Pride will be in good shape as long as their sophomore defensive end keeps those quarterbacks looking up at him instead of down the field.