Sacred Heart Football
There is both good and bad news to share about the Sacred Heart University football team as it prepares for its first road trip of the season to Bucknell.
First, the good news: Freshman Julius Chestnut made a good first impression on his new teammates during a season-opening 35-6 win over Lafayette last Saturday, rushing for 57 yards and two touchdowns.
Now, the bad news: The Pioneers’ running backs room is suddenly less crowded.
Head coach Mark Nofri said Wednesday that starting running back Eli Terry is out six to eight weeks after injuring his knee on his first and only carry of the season to date. An MRI taken Tuesday revealed the unsettling news for the Pioneers.
And so, the Pioneers, who were besieged by injuries a year ago, are short-handed once again. They’re left without their most physical running back — Terry is 6-foot, 220 pounds — for well into the season.
Fortunately, Chestnut, a 6-1, 215-pounder from Bowie, Md., has been quick to impress the Pioneers with his intensity, athleticism and overall makeup.
“He had a great preseason,” Nofri said Tuesday, prior to receiving Terry’s diagnosis. “He’s very mature for being a freshman. He runs downhill. He gets his shoulders square and runs downhill.”
Nofri had planned to rotate his three running backs — Terry, senior Jordan Meachum and Chestnut — against Lafayette, giving them all between eight to 12 touches. However, that plan went up in smoke after the Pioneers’ first series on offense, when Terry was hit hard at the end of a 27-yard run.
Meachum stepped up in Terry’s absence, rushing for a career-high 132 yards on 17 carries. So, too, did Chestnut, who was named Northeast Conference Rookie of the Week after his two-touchdown performance on 12 carries.
“I had a little bit of nerves, but the quarterback (Kevin Duke), as soon as I got into the game, he goes, ‘Just take a deep breath,’ ” Chestnut said. “I got that first carry and I was good from there.”
Chestnut displayed his power on his first touchdown run, bulldozing his way into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the second quarter. And he flashed his elusiveness on his second scoring run, a 31-yard scamper to begin the fourth quarter.
“He’s got great feet for a kid his size,” Nofri said. “He sees the whole field and makes cuts without breaking stride.”
Added Chestnut: “I’m a hard runner. I’m not really a speed back. I’m a get-north-and-south runner.”
Nofri knows the Pioneers will need both Chestnut and Meachum — the team’s leading returning rusher — Saturday against Bucknell. The Bison’s defense was stingy last week against William and Mary, albeit in a 14-7 loss.
“So far, what I’ve seen on tape is that they’re very active on defense,” Nofri said. “It’s mass chaos. ... They’re always a good, physical football team.”
That should be good news for Chestnut, who seems to welcome contact when he runs. Seriously, just ask Chestnut himself.
“Yeah, ever since I was at high school [at Archbishop Spaulding], I got that tough yardage,” he said. “That’s always been my M.O.”