With 40 seconds remaining in the second quarter of a Sacred Heart University vs. Merrimack College matchup, sophomore quarterback Marquez McCray of the Pioneers stands back in the shotgun formation ready to call the snap.
The ball is snapped as McCray drops back and delivers an over-the-head throw to junior running back Julius Chestnut, who reels in the ball with one hand.
“Open field for Chestnut, down the sideline and see ya!” said announcer Randy Brochu. “Julius Chestnut with a touchdown!”
61 yards, untouched. An easy six points for Chestnut.
Chestnut has accumulated at least 150 yards of total offense every game this season, as well as ten total touchdowns and 699 total yards, according to Sacred Heart Athletics.
“Julius is a great football player and an even better person. He works hard on and off the field and is a real joy to have around,” said head coach Mark Nofri. “He is always smiling and has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. His success is a tribute to his work ethic.”
Nofri, in his ninth season as head coach of the Pioneers, has seen Chestnut play since his high school days at Archbishop Spalding in M.D.. Chestnut credits Nofri for being a key part of his recruitment and interest in the Sacred Heart football program.
“As soon as I came up here on my official visit, I knew Coach Nof’ was that man,” said Chestnut. “He was welcoming.”
In Chestnut’s rookie season, he produced seven touchdowns in 11 games, 713 rushing yards and was named the Northeast Conference (NEC) Offensive Rookie of the Year, according to Sacred Heart Athletics. Chestnut followed up this success in his sophomore campaign as well, rushing for over 1,400 yards and earning two NEC player of the week accolades, according to Sacred heart Athletics.
“I’ve been playing football since I was six years old, playing football is fun to me,” said Chestnut. “I don’t look at it as ‘I’m just here to do this,’ I love the game of football.”
Having fun does not mean Chestnut takes football, or academics, lightly. Of all of the accolades Chestnut has received over his three-year career at Sacred Heart, making the dean’s list ranks high in his eyes.
“Making the dean’s list was definitely my main accomplishment that I like to brag about,” said Chestnut.
Chestnut opened the 2021 season against Duquesne University with four total touchdowns and over 160 rushing yards. He followed up this performance with another four touchdowns against Long Island University (LIU) the following week, according to Sacred Heart Athletics.
According to Sacred Heart athletics, when the Pioneers faced off against Merrimack in the third week of the season, Chestnut led in both receiving and rushing yards with over 240 total yards and two touchdowns.
In what was set to be the last game of the season against Wagner College in Staten Island, the game was canceled due to positive COVID-19 results within the Wagner program, according to Wagner Athletics.
“It was very disappointing, and we were crushed that we couldn’t play,” said Nofri. “A week of football preparations is very demanding. They need to be rewarded to play the game.”
The Pioneers are set for a rematch of their week one matchup with Duquesne in the NEC Championship game on April 11. A win against Duquesne would earn them a bid in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) tournament, and would be their first trip since 2014, according to Sacred Heart Athletics.
“I feel confident that we are going to get the job done,” said Chestnut. “Everyone knows what we have ahead of them. I feel confident about this championship game.”
The Pioneers went on to defeat the Duquesne Dukes 34-27 in the first NEC Championship game that went into overtime. Chestnut and the Pioneers will now play in the FCS playoffs.