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Army a heavyweight in 'lightweight football'

Keegan West is Army's junior quarterback on West Point's "lightweight football" team.

U.S. ARMY PHOTO

By SAL INTERDONATO | The Times Herald-Record (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 9, 2017

WEST POINT — Keegan West grew up watching fast, hard-hitting football at West Point.

West wasn't in the stands at Michie Stadium. He was viewing his father Mark's sprint football team, where collisions between running backs and linebackers echoed throughout Shea Stadium.

"The speed of the game really attracted me," the younger West said. "I always knew that was the style and the team I wanted to be around. It's intense and fearless. You are against kids who are the same size as you. A defensive tackle can be the same size as a running back or a quarterback."

Army is one of nine teams that plays "lightweight football" in the Collegiate Sprint Football League. The league increased its maximum weight from 172 pounds to 178 pounds this season. Army is undefeated (7-0) heading into the inaugural CSFL championship game against Penn (6-1) on Friday night at Shea Stadium.

West, now Army's junior quarterback, doesn't operate the triple option like the Division I team up the hill. Sprint football runs a spread offense, where plays are off every nine or 10 seconds.

The 2014 James I. O'Neill graduate is playing at a high level this fall. West has completed 68 percent of his passes (98-of-145) for 1,323 yards and 15 touchdowns in seven games.

"We are definitely excited to be playing in a championship atmosphere," West said. "It comes down to two teams and these two teams have proven to be the best in the league."

Zach Trainor, West's high school teammate at O'Neill, isn't complaining about the league's weight change. The senior started his athletic career at West Point with the Division I football team. Playing time was difficult to come by and Trainor, a 195-pound defensive back for the big team, was transformed into a sprint football right tackle as a sophomore. Trainor had never played offensive line.

"Nights before weigh-ins are a little less stressful," Trainor said. "When everyone is the same weight, it's definitely different. You don't have the advantage when you play with no weight limit. You are going up against someone exactly the same size, speed and height. You got to have good technique and footwork."

Wallkill graduate David Baker joins Trainor on the right side of the offensive line. Baker, a senior guard, first heard about sprint football at a Section 9 awards banquet his senior year. He was accepted to West Point but didn't make the cut until his junior year. Army has won 12 of its 14 games in Baker's two seasons.

"It's been a few years now since I've played in a championship game," said Baker, whose Wallkill team lost to Cornwall in the 2013 Section 9 Class A final. "It didn't end the way I wanted it to my senior year. I'm definitely excited to end things with a victory and a championship."

Army, which defeated Penn 24-14 on Sept. 30 in Philadelphia, will be missing sophomore linebacker Rino Tamburri, the 2015 Varsity845 player of the year and Marlboro graduate. Tamburri fractured his right hand while making a tackle on a kickoff against Chestnut Hill on Oct. 13.

Like West, Trainor and Baker, sprint football has given Tamburri the opportunity to continue playing the sport he's loved.

"After high school, you think, 'What am I going to do after this?'" Tamburri said. "I was blessed to come here and have a team I could play with. What you missed the most and what's great here is the team aspect and the family aspect. I'm so blessed to be playing this game."

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©2017 The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.
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