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Quarterback Extraordinaire

QUARTERBACK EXTRAORDINAIRE

By Marty Dobrow

What is wrong with this picture? It is a Thursday Afternoon in late October on the usually bustling campus of Springfield College as people pour into Woods Hall. They come by the dozens: students, faculty, administrators. They converge in the corner of the cafe, filling every chair in sight. All of these energetic people have come…to watch television.

Say what? Has this quintessentially active community accessed its inner couch potato? Has body, mind, and spirit turned to mush?

As the commercials finish and the crowd is hushed into silence—a professor even asking one of the Freshens employees to hold off on the smoothie machine—everything comes into focus. There on the screen is smoothtalking ESPN studio host, Dari Nowkah, and next to him the dapper Desmond Howard, former winner of both the Heisman Trophy (as college football’s No. 1 player) and the Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl.

And next to him?

Chris Sharpe ’08, quarterback extraordinaire.

NOWKAH: “Thank you very much. Joining us now on the other side of Desmond is a young man by the name of Chris Sharpe from Division III Springfield College, just up the road in Massachusetts. And last week in a win over St. John Fisher in Rochester, New York, he ran. He’s a quarterback, triple-option offense, so picture this: He ran for 280 yards—and seven touchdowns. Seven touchdowns!...So how good are you feeling after you score seven touchdowns, 42 of your team’s 55 points?”

SHARPE: “Honestly, I didn’t actually notice I had seven touchdowns. It didn’t feel like it. It’s not a big deal. We want to put points on the board. I like to put myself and the team in the best position to win. So I do whatever I have to do to get it done.” Part of the reason so many converged on Woods Hall that day was an acknowledgment that what Sharpe was accomplishing on the football field this fall was simply extraordinary. In truth, the performance for the ages against St. John Fisher (a 7-0 team at the time) was not much of an aberration. All year, Sharpe made the exceedingly difficult look routine. In the first game of the year against No. 11-ranked Union, Sharpe took the first play from scrimmage for 10 yards and a first down, and the second for 66 yards and a touchdown. He finished that day with 268 yards and four rushing touchdowns, plus two more through the air.

In subsequent weeks, he added glitter to the gold: 235 yards and five touchdowns against Alfred, 135 yards and four against SUNY Brockport, 272 and two against Hartwick, 242 and four against Curry.

When all was said and done, Sharpe had broken 12 school records and six NCAA marks. In leading Springfield College to a 10-2 record, an Empire 8 championship, and the second round of the NCAA tournament, the 5-9, 204- pound junior from Derry, N.H., averaged 161.8 rushing yards, and 17.7 points per game. Along the way, he scored 35 touchdowns. No one at any of the other 223 football-playing schools in Div. III could match any of these totals.

That performance added up to a slew of postseason awards. Among the mound of national and regional hardware was one item that stood out: the Melberger Award as the Division III National Player of the Year.

“We’re just so proud of what Chris accomplished this season,” said Mike DeLong ’74, for 25 years the head coach at his alma mater. “He leads quietly, but so effectively. There could not be a finer representative, both on and off the field, of Springfield College.”

Indeed, Sharpe’s contributions go way beyond his uncanny ability to find the end zone. In a world of increasing athletic specialization, he is not only a two-sport varsity athlete (also playing lacrosse), but the captain of two nationally prominent teams—as a junior.

Off the field, Sharpe worked last year as a resident assistant, and spends this year working ten hours a week in the dean’s office, humbly filing and making copies. He was chosen to be SC’s representative to attend the 2006 NCAA Leadership Conference last May in Orlando, Fla., and he serves on both the Community Service Committee and the Pride Athletic Advisory Committee. What’s more, he is a solid student, carrying a 3.14 grade point average as a business management major.

He carries himself with an appealing blend of confidence and humility. Looking for the expected arrogance of the superior athlete? Look elsewhere.

“You wouldn’t even know who Chris Sharpe was,” says friend and teammate Sean Kemp ’08, “unless you went to a game.”

Another thing you might not know, unless you happen to be very close with Sharpe, is that he has endured a huge amount of heartbreak for such a young man. Neither of his parents is still alive. His mother, Debbie, died of ovarian cancer when Chris, the youngest of three children, was just 11. His father, Cliff, died last February from cirrhosis.

While no one could emerge from such struggles unscathed, Sharpe has nevertheless summoned a consistently upbeat outlook, a perspective that his friends will tell you is completely genuine. “I look for positives in pretty much anything,” he says. “The way I see it, it could always be worse. There are worse things in life than just this. There’s no need to stress out about one thing when there are other people out there who have it worse than I do.”

That perspective has inspired others as they deal with their own struggles. “His ability to respond to adversity is like no one I’ve ever met before,” said Keith Bugbee G’84, head lacrosse coach for the last 24 years. “He’s such a strong kid. And it’s not phony. It’s not like he’s going to snap someday because he’s repressed all these emotions.”

Sports have provided an anchor through all the stormy seas. When Sharpe was 15, his father moved out west, and Sharpe remained in New Hampshire, emerging as a two-sport star at Pinkerton Academy (while living with his aunt and uncle, who remain enormous supporters to this day). Brian O’Reilly, who coached Sharpe in both football and lacrosse at Pinkerton, says that his ability and effort in both sports stood out, but not as much as his character. “For all the physical attributes, for all the amazing things he does on the football and lacrosse fields, he is one of the greatest people I have ever met. I couldn’t find anybody nicer, more sincere. He’s the kind of kid you want for a son.”

At Springfield, he has made the same kind of impression. He has, however, been a little startled at all the attention. When ESPN called, Sharpe was stunned to learn that they would pick him up in a limousine to bring him to the interview. Arriving at the studio, he was floored by the introduction to Desmond Howard. “That was shocking,” he said. “I didn’t know he was going to be there. I just kind of froze.”

When he returned to campus later that afternoon, Sharpe walked into the locker room to get ready for practice. As soon as he opened the door, his teammates started applauding. They spoke for all of us.

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Head Coach Mike DeLong

Head Coach Mike DeLong Mike DeLong enters his 32nd season as a head football coach in the fall of 2013, including his 30th year as the head coach at his alma mater, Springfield College. To date, DeLong currently has the second-most career wins of any active Division III football coach. Read more.

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