by Sue Ann Rybak
An Afghanistan veteran. A member of Alaska’s Tlingit tribe. A semi-professional Australian football player. These three men have traveled to Philadelphia for one common goal: to play on Chestnut Hill College’s sprint football team.
The college announced that it was accepted into the Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL) last summer. In addition to CHC, the nine-team league includes Army, Cornell University, Franklin Pierce University, Mansfield University, Navy, the University of Pennsylvania, Post University and Princeton University.
On Friday, Oct. 23, The Griffins will host Franklin Pierce University at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School Football Stadium for their last home game of the inaugural season. Kick-off is at 7 p.m.
CHC quarterback Theophilus McBurnette, of Ketchikan, Alaska, said sprint football is the same as the traditional game except for one technicality. All the players must weigh no more than 172 lbs.
“The only real difference is the size of the lineman,” he said. “The game itself is not different. Someone still wants to rip your head off when you have the ball.”
Head sprint football coach Mike Pearson said Sprint Football follows the same rules as NCAA Division 1 collegiate football with two exceptions: student-athletes must weigh 172 pounds or less, and the program allows for a 65-player roster.
The league was founded in 1934 in response to the increasing size of college football players as a way to give average-size students a chance to play.
Thomas Sovereign Gates, Penn’s first president, helped to make the game popular and referred to the game as “football for all” – a phrase that fits 24-year-old Scott Ashton, of Melbourne, Australia perfectly.
Ashton, who describes himself as a late-bloomer, played Australian football for four years before getting a job as a personal trainer for Holland American Line. He jokes that he toured the world twice in order to meet his girlfriend.
“I was looking into schools around here – Drexel University, St. Joseph’s University – but then – I talked to coach Pearson, who said he really wanted me here,” he said. “We don’t have this game in Australia.”
Lucky for him there is no age limit in sprint football. Unfortunately, coaches can’t go to schools to recruit players or persuade players by offering them sport scholarships.
Pearson, who was an assistant with the Collegiate Sprint Football League program at Mansfield University before coming to Chestnut Hill College in 2014, said the Sprint Football model does not offer sport scholarships.
He said athletes play Sprint Football for the love of the game.
Freshman Jonathan Baldwin, an Afghanistan veteran, agreed. After serving four years in the Army, he was looking at schools in the area when coach Pearson called the former high school quarterback and asked if he be interested in joining the sprint football team.
“It was the deciding factor between here and Drexel,” he said. “Coach Pearson has done a great job of welding our team together to make us a family. We all get along and we are definitely having fun this season. We are looking forward to next season when we will have a full schedule.
In an earlier interview with the Local, Gene McIntyre, Collegiate Sprint Football League commissioner and associate athletic director at Army, described the players in the league as “true student-athletes, equally dedicated to school and sport.” He added that Chestnut Hill College will help the league “carry on a longstanding tradition of football for all the right reasons.”
“We’re not just building a football program, we’re building a culture, so that when former players come back with their families 10 to 15 years later, they can look back on sprint football as having been a positive and just fun experience,” he said.
For more information about The Griffins Sprint Football Team go to www.griffinathletics.com/index.aspx?path=sprint_football.
This article was updated on Oct. 22, 2015. A earlier version of this article erroneously stated that the Griffins last home game would be played on Sunday, Oct. 25. The game is on Friday, Oct. 23.