One year ago, the Springfield College football team stuck with their old ways, dismantling foe after foe, using their signature rushing attack. Slashing off 3,750 yards on the ground, an average of 340.9 per game and 5.8 per attempt to go along with 43 touchdowns, the Pride claimed an ECAC Northeast Championship victory, finishing the season at 8-3.
Jonathan Marrero came out of nowhere to claim the Liberty League Rookie of the Year award, filling in after Austin Bateman and Rob Merckling went down with season-ending injuries. Marrero finished the year with 794 yards on the ground and 10 touchdowns in just seven and a half games.
Senior leader Joel Altavesta racked off 949 yards on 171 carries, scoring 12 times from the fullback position, splitting time with Brody Quinn, Lou Fenaroli and Keith Rodman throughout the season.
But while Marrero and Altavesta took off on remarkable seasons, none of it would have been possible without the Dawg Pound.
The Dawg Pound, the moniker given to the running backs for Springfield, often carry the largest load on their shoulders. Being asked to run the ball on the edge and cut block defenders that are almost always bigger than them, the dawg’s have arguably the toughest, unrewarding job on the roster.
Although head coach Mike DeLong was unsure of when the term “Dawg Pound” came to be, it did provide the running backs with a sense of pride for what they are doing.
“It was probably formed out of, ‘Turn the dogs on them,’ but it’s been the pound forever,” said DeLong. “Every unit has a kind of name on offense. It’s something where you develop unit pride, positional pride, and that hopefully translates over to team pride.”
The pound consists of smaller, agile running backs who have the speed to break long plays and the strength to block, resulting in a combination that requires a certain player to be able to accomplish.
“It takes a very unselfish, team-oriented player to play in that position,” said DeLong. “He’s got to put the team first. He’s got to do both, run and block. He has to remember that he is one of three options, whereas in other attacks he was the only option.”
Not only does the player have to be unselfish, but also extremely tough. Although the fullback is most often taking more hits than the halfbacks, the halfbacks’ jobs are to block defensive ends, linebackers and safeties, players that in most cases are bigger.
On this year’s team, the average size of the pound is 5-foot-8, 173 pounds. Not only are they small, but they are young. Senior Joe Staggliano has been injured all year, while junior Franco Bianchi suffered a lisfranc fracture and is done for the season. Sophomore Drew Brown has been nursing injuries this season and has yet to see the field, while sophomore Andrew Alty is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last spring. Although the pound is depleted, they still work as hard as ever.
“The biggest thing for our guys is that there are no reps where they [have] an easy rep,” said Ryan Gunningsmith, the running backs coach at Springfield. “They go from one play carrying the football 30 yards to carrying out a fake that’s 30 yards. For them, being able to come to practice every day, they have to be healthy.”
“You can’t take a summer off, you can’t take a rep off, you can’t take a day off,” continued Gunningsmith. “Every time they come to practice the mentality of getting in there and going has to be there. We got a group of guys that love to do it.”
Due to the injuries, Altavesta has moved from fullback to halfback, a position he has played in the past, to fill spots, while senior Austin Bateman was moved from quarterback to halfback, a move that could soon change. Last week, Marrero went down with an ankle injury, causing Bateman to take snaps under center at practice.
“They work hard. It’s quite a young group this year,” said DeLong. “The only senior in there is Austin [Bateman]; Joel [Altavesta] has bounced in and out of it. The rest are really young, most of them are freshman. They are making mistakes, but they are plugging their way along. It’s a big transition from high school, where some of the states don’t even have blocking below the waist rules. They have got to be pretty versatile.”
And versatile they have been. Freshmen Blake Joppy and Christian Rodriquez have both seen ample playing time, being extremely effective options. Joppy has one touchdown on the year to this point to go along with 65 yards rushing, while Rodriguez has 47 yards on just nine carries.
Joppy also handles punt and kick return duties for the Pride, averaging 8.7 yards per punt return and 20.6 yards per kick return.
The Pride running backs prepare just as diligently as any other position on the roster while giving Springfield the big-play capabilities when they touch the ball.
“The running back is the home run,” stated Delong. “We expect them to get the ball on the pitch, on the flank. We think, again, most of the defense is inside, [and] that’s our chance for a large gain. That’s the home-run part of the option.”
Every Saturday, you will see the dawg pound working tirelessly, attacking defenses and opening running lanes for the likes of Marrero, Altavesta and others, all while taking advantage of the carries that they get, flipping the field and helping the Pride attain victory.
Some teams may not respect the halfbacks in the triple option as a considerable threat, but the dawg pound proves week in and week out, that it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dawg.