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Gridiron dreaming

Evan Jobst had an epiphany of sorts as he drove to Fairfield, Conn., in early August.

“I was like, ‘Sh*!, I’m on my way to play football,’” he joked.

Jobst was en route to Sacred Heart University, a school that competes in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA), which is just one step removed from the biggest college football stage in the country. That’s pretty good for someone who last put on the pads in 10th grade.

So how do you go from a six-year hiatus to competing at a high level?

The Athol native and former Turners Falls High School athlete was never really known in these parts for his play on the football field. Jobst had played Pop Warner Football growing up and continued to play during his early years of high school at Athol, where he was a quarterback. Unfortunately, Jobst tore his miniscus (knee) during an intersquad scrimmage prior to Turkey Day during his sophomore year.

“That day I knew I probably wouldn’t play football next year,” he said. “I just wanted to focus on basketball but I’ve always missed football.”

Jobst wound up transferring to Turners Falls, where he played basketball under Gary Mullins and moved on to play Division III college basketball at St. Joseph’s College of Maine. During an early-season practice in his freshman year, Jobst was injured and redshirted, meaning that it would not cost him any of his four years of collegiate eligibility, because all college athletes have five consecutive years to use four years of eligibility. The injury did not stop Jobst from graduating on time, however, so when he finished up his bachelor’s degree in four years this past spring, he still had one year of eligibility remaining.

The thought of attending school and not competing in a sport didn’t sit right with Jobst. During a discussion with his physical trainer at St. Joe’s, Jobst said that he was “kind of bummed” to be done with collegiate sports. The trainer mentioned that he thought if Jobst put on a little more muscle, he would have a realistic chance at playing Division I-AA football, so together they worked on a resume and sent out tape to Davidson, South Dakota State, Wagner and Sacred Heart. He was invited to practice by both Davidson and South Dakota, but it was Sacred Heart coach Matt Gardner that hooked him.

“He really liked my athleticism and he didn’t have a big physical receiver,” Jobst recalled.

Along with the fact that Sacred Heart was the closest school to home, Jobst decided to give it a shot. He still had to get accepted into the university and he was a couple of credits behind. So Jobst spent this past summer taking classes during the day and working out at night. The result was that he had the credits he needed to get into graduate school and added the 20 pounds of muscle he needed to play collegiate football, standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 210 pounds.

But being eligible to play and being prepared are two different things, and that’s where Jobst was when he was making the drive to training camp on Aug. 5. The next three weeks were going to be filled with two-a-day practices, where he was going to be learning the wide-receiver position, which he had never played.

“I probably didn’t sleep more than 10 minutes the night before that first practice,” he said. “But that all went away as soon as I strapped up the pads.”

The hours spent not only in the gym but studying the playbook paid off. Jobst said the training camp experience was “pretty challenging but fun.” He said that many of the receivers on the team are his age and helped make the transition smoother. But perhaps the most comforting thing for Jobst was also one of the most painful. Jobst was lined up in the slot and was running a 4-yard slant over the middle of the field. The ball was thrown to him and as he caught it he received a solid shot from a defensive back who had lined him up.

“After that I was fine,” he joked. “I just needed to get that one lick.”

As for the biggest difference in playing basketball and football at the two colleges, it has been commitment. Whereas basketball was a step up from the high school level, the football experience involves morning meetings, lifting, practice, school and two more meetings at night.

“It’s a major commitment,” he said. “I’m fine with it, you just have to put a lot of hours in.”

As for the season itself? It hasn’t exactly gone as planned for the Pioneers, who came into the season ranked 23rd in the country in the preseason poll. Sacred Heart started the season with a four-overtime loss at Morgan State, then dropped away games to Colgate and Monmouth. The Pioneers picked up their first win of the season playing on national television against Central Connecticut State on Sept. 29, and won for the second time two weeks later in a game against Dartmouth that Jobst said has been one of the highlights of his season.

“We beat them pretty good (27-10), and playing in that old stadium in front of 8,000 people, that was pretty cool,” he said.

Sacred Heart is coming off a 34-14 loss to Bryant this past weekend to drop the team to 2-7. Jobst does not start, but has lined up in four-receiver packages and also plays on kick return, kickoff and punt rush teams.

“It’s more than just being a receiver. You do whatever you can do to benefit the team,” he explained. “And when everyone works together as a unit and you see it on film, it’s a really good feeling.”

He has not caught a pass this season, and with just two games remaining — home this weekend for Senior Day against Robert Morris and then off to finish out the season at Saint Francis (Penn.) — there is only a slight chance he will. But that has not mattered to Jobst. He said that his dream of playing collegiate football came true, and it is the best way to finish off his collegiate athletic career.

“It’s been absolutely awesome,” he began. “It’s been everything I thought it would be. It’s a great environment and for a final season, it’s been perfect.”

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While Jobst was a bit of a surprise to show up on a Division I-AA football roster, someone who is not surprising to see is former Mahar Regional School running back Isaiah Jones, who currently plays football at Maine.

Jones is a redshirt freshman this fall and has seen time on the Black Bears team that currently sits at 3-6 on the season.

Jones has appeared in six of the team’s nine games, serving as a primary return man. He has seven kickoff returns (the team leader has eight) and is tied for return yardage with 143.

Jones has also lined up at running back at times this season and has five rushes for 41 yards. On Sept. 15, he took a handoff against Bryant and scampered 30 yards to the end zone for a touchdown with 7 minutes, 50 seconds left in the third quarter for his first career collegiate score.

Keep an eye on him for even better things to come.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.

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