Danford is Turners’ Little Big Man

Sam Danford is a jokester who’s been playing tricks on opposing defensive linemen throughout the season.

The undersized Turners Falls High School offensive lineman has been one of the key newcomers to a line that has helped produce another 1,000-yard rusher and has been integral to the Indians winning the WMass Division VI football championship. And Danford and Co. are going to have to be just as good on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. at Westfield State University, where the Indians take on central Massachusetts champion Littleton High School in the Division VI state semifinals. The winner advances to the Division VI Super Bowl on Dec. 7 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

Take one look at the Indians’ practice when the players are divided into two groups — one featuring the skill players and one featuring linemen — and it looks like Danford has lost his way. He has the physique of a running back or wide receiver. He’s listed at 5-foot-6, 150 pounds on the Turners Falls roster. He won’t debate the height, but ask him his real weight and he smiles.

“It’s probably more like 137 pounds,” he smiles. “Maybe 140, and it’s pure muscle.”

Body-fat test aside, Danford makes up for his lack of size with the kind of determination that a kitten might need to take down a grizzly bear.

“You’ve got to go in with the mentality: just don’t be scared,” he said. “Hit ’em low and they’ll go down. If you play scared, you’re going to get hurt.”

It’s sound advice for the senior, who said he has been on varsity for four years but is getting his first crack at playing this season. Danford said he joined the team thinking he was going to be a wide receiver or running back, but got thrust into playing on the line during his sophomore year when the junior-varsity line needed one more body.

“I’m not fast enough to be a running back or receiver. I don’t have that kind of speed,” he joked. “We didn’t have enough linemen and I said, ‘OK, as long as I get to play. I don’t really care what position.’”

He lined up at right guard to start this season but was moved to center in the WMass championship game against Mohawk Trail Regional High School following an injury. Turners Falls coach Chris Lapointe said that no matter where Danford lines up, he has been effective.

“I can’t think of any one time where we were worried about him or had to try and cover up for him,” Lapointe said. “He’s done a good job for us all season.”

Danford wasn’t quite as high on his performance this season, admitting that fullback Brody Markol has had to pick up guys that he has missed, although that’s normal for any lineman. And he said he has lined up against a few pretty big boys this year, including one memorable guy.

“There was a kid on Mahar,” he began. “I think we were watching film and I don’t think he was lined up on me. But I get to the line and this kid is like 6-7, 300 pounds. I was thinking, ‘This is going to be an interesting game. We’ll see how this goes.’”

You might think that the opposition would be trash-talking at the line of scrimmage, but Danford said he hasn’t heard any of that this season. He did admit that he can see that look on the face of opponents.

“They haven’t said anything to me but sometimes I can see it in their eyes,” he said. “Like they’re saying, ‘Seriously?’”

He’s dead serious about his play on the line, and when it’s time to play, Danford is all business. On the practice field, it’s a different story, as he keeps the Indians loose with his jokes and a constant wry smile.

“I just like to have fun,” he concluded. “You can go through life with a negative outlook or a positive one. I just like to have fun.”

He hopes to have a little more fun Saturday morning with a trip to the Super Bowl.

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