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SACRED HEART FOOTBALL Pioneers eager to get back to work after bye

September 18, 2018

It is rare for a football team to approach its bye week with hesitation, unsure whether it should embrace everything that comes with it. After all, there are only so many chances for rest over the course of a season.

But what happens when it arrives at an inopportune time?

Well, if you’re Sacred Heart — unbeaten and brimming with confidence with the season still in its infancy stage — you reluctantly take two days off before getting right back to work.

“I hate sitting around and not playing on Saturday. It’s all routine,” Sacred Heart head coach Mark Nofri said last week. “You get into a groove as a coach, and you hate when you have to change up your schedule.”

The Pioneers have had a few extra days to savor their perfect start thanks to a bye, one that popped up on the schedule far sooner than Nofri would’ve liked.

“I think it’s a little early in the season, but I didn’t make the schedule,” Nofri said of the bye. “It is what it is. Everybody’s got to have a bye and ours just happened to come Week Three. So we need to stay focused and continue to work on the things that make us better, not take time off and think it’s another week to sit around.”

Coming off convincing wins over Lafayette and Bucknell, the Pioneers find themselves at 2-0 — the same record they’ve held in six of their seven seasons under Nofri. Up next is a trip across the Verrazano Bridge to face Wagner for the start of Northeast Conference play.

Wagner is 1-2 on the season, with its lone win coming against Division-II Bowie State. The Seahawks were picked fifth in the NEC preseason poll, one spot ahead of Sacred Heart.

“It always feels good starting your season off well,” senior running back Jordan Meachum said. “We’re working hard. We want to keep doing well. We know in the past that we’ve started off well and not finished the season well.”

A hot start can be fleeting, and Sacred Heart knows this better than anyone. Seasons can turn from promising to hopeless on a dime. The Pioneers opened last year with wins over Stetson and Lafayette, but proceeded to lose seven of their final nine games to finish near the bottom of the NEC.

Meachum, the newly anointed starter in the backfield, will have plenty to say about whether these Pioneers can avoid traveling that same path. He’s strung together back-to-back 100-yard games since taking over for the injured Eli Terry, rushing for 132 yards against Lafayette and 178 yards and one touchdown against Bucknell — the latter of which earned him NEC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

“I feel good running the ball,” Meachum said. “Right now, my biggest thing is just being able to keep this momentum moving forward.”

Nofri commended Meachum’s work ethic, noting how he was back in the gym one day after carrying the ball a career-high 28 times against Bucknell.

“I love the fact that he’s having so much success,” Nofri said. “The kid works his butt off. ... Sunday at 1 o’clock, he was in the weight room squatting.”

Meachum — all 5-foot-10, 200 pounds of him — is a scat back with decent size, toughness and good vision. He was used multiple ways last year, as evidenced by his 72.5 all-purpose yards per game, which ranked fourth on the team. His role has only increased since Terry went down with a knee injury on Sacred Heart’s first drive of the season.

Sacred Heart’s offense has proven to be effective in spite of Terry’s injury, averaging 261 rushing yards per game, which ranks 14th in the country.

“We’re all on top of each other as far as wanting to work hard in practice and in the weight room,” Meachum said. “This week was the bye week, however, we were still on each other to work hard because we don’t want to have the same thing happen as last year.”

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour

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