After 500 days without football, the Sacred Heart football team’s season kicked off on March 7 at Duquesne University. In a tightly contested game, Duquesne came away with a narrow victory in the end, by a score of 30-27.
“We didn’t have three weeks of summer camp,” said Pioneers head coach Mark Nofri. “It was challenging not being able to get all the kids in the locker room at once, lifting and practicing in pods, and not having in person meetings.”
Senior captain tight end Ed Cuddahay spoke about the adjustments the team has made due to COVID protocols.
“There’s no time to sit in the locker room and talk to the guys. For example, a lot of the older kids on offense were not really able to develop a relationship with the younger kids on defense right away the way they usually are,” said Cuddahay. “It took a little more time than usual.”
College football is usually played in the fall. However this year, in the Northeast Conference (NEC), it will take place in March and April. The NEC is one of the many leagues to postpone their schedule to an alternate season.
“It’s a little strange to be playing at this time of year,” said Nofri. “But it doesn’t matter as long as we are given the opportunity to play games and compete.”
The highlight performer in the season opener for the Pioneers was running back Julius Chestnut. Coming off a season of 1,495 rushing yards in 2019, Chestnut was poised for success.
Against Duquesne, Chestnut had 209 total yards, 168 rushing, 41 receiving, scoring 4 total touchdowns. The performance led Chestnut to being honored as the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) National Player of The Week, his first time receiving the honor.
“I got the NEC player of the week twice, but this is my first national player of the week,” said Chestnut. “It was a spectacular moment, I really felt the joy. It’s an honor.”
Chestnut was just thrilled to get back on the field in a game setting.
“It’s been almost 500 days. It was beautiful being back out there just running on the field,” Chestnut said. “It’s my joy just putting my pads on and playing against another opponent.”
The Pioneers are moving forward with one goal.
“My expectation is to win every game. The kids are excited to compete for an NEC championship,” said Nofri.
“Everyone has realized it’s either win or go home. We’ve got to go 3-0 now,” said Chestnut. “It’s an eye opener for everyone”
Cuddahay spoke on some of the issues that may have led to the loss, and as a captain, he is prepared to lead his team forward.
“There were more mental errors than physical and we have to snap it clear and move forward,” said Cuddahay on the team’s performance Sunday. “We had a long day in the film room, we were really honest with each other, and I think we’re ready.”
On March 7, the Pioneers announced their 2020-2021 football captains. They are senior tight end Ed Cuddahay, senior center Josh Sokol, senior linebacker Chris Outterrbridge, senior snapper Kenny McDougal, and junior linebacker Deandre Byrd.
Cuddahay was humbled about his honor.
“We have great captains here, Josh [Sokol] has done a great job,” said Cuddahy. “I think [Deandre] Byrd and Chris [Outterbridge] really deserved it, they’re two of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.”
The Pioneers returned to Campus Field, for their home opener on Sunday March 14 and defeated the Long Island University (LIU) Sharks 35-7. The game was the first time since the onset of COVID-19 that the university allowed spectators at a sporting event.