As the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard clock, the most-played college rivalry in the nation was about to conclude its 154th game. It was a big deal. It mattered little that the neighboring participants were both bringing down the curtain on disappointing seasons, this was Lehigh and Lafayette and whether you were a Mountain
As the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard clock, the most-played college rivalry in the nation was about to conclude its 154th game. It was a big deal. It mattered little that the neighboring participants were both bringing down the curtain on disappointing seasons, this was Lehigh and Lafayette and whether you were a Mountain Hawk or Leopard, pride and a year’s worth of bragging rights were on the line.
Hugs and happy faces were seldom seen on the Lehigh sideline this season, resulting from an unexpected 3-8 year, but the Mountain Hawks 34-3 dismantling of their archrival was indeed cause for celebration. As he accepted congratulations for his three touchdowns and 95 rushing yards, the realization was about to sink in on former South Williamsport High School and Lehigh University All-American running back Dominick Bragalone that his time as an amateur football standout had reached its conclusion and the fat lady was singing a farewell chorus.
Coaches in all sports have long told the athletes under their tutelage ‘to enjoy the experience and give the sport the best you have because the time will go by all too quickly.’ All too many never grasp the wisdom of those words until the harsh finality hits them in the face. Looking back, no doubt Dominick Bragalone may be wondering how fast the years have flown by since he first began playing football in the eighth grade, simply because his friends wanted him to give it a try. But to anyone who has ever seen him play or opponents who’ve tried to slow him down, they’ve known they witnessed a very special talent.
As an eighth grader, it was no contest when he carried the ball. As a high schooler, his exploits were legendary as he rewrote South Williamsport and county rushing and scoring records, and came within a few yards of establishing a national rushing yardage record. He finished his high school career as the single-season rushing leader in Pennsylvania, a MaxPreps All-American, a two-time Pennsylvania Class A Player of the Year and a district champion in track and field as a sprinter.
At Lehigh, he established new school records for rushing yards (4,324) and rushing touchdowns (46) in leading his team to back-to-back Patriot League championships in 2016 and 2017 while gaining Patriot League Player of the Year and All-American collegiate honors.
Our local area has been fortunate to witness tremendous and memorable performances from athletes calling Lycoming County home, and Bragalone’s exploits rank right up there with the best of them. While his arrival at Lehigh was not the campus destination most fans — or he — originally anticipated, the Mountain Hawk nesting place provided Bragalone with both a good education (a psychology major) and the opportunity to be a four-year starter on the gridiron.
In the South Williamsport community, the Bragalone legend began to grow during his sophomore year. Penn State’s then head coach, Bill O’Brien, saw something special in Bragalone and wanted to bring him to Happy Valley. The interest was so strong; the Nittany Lions sent observers to the Mountaineers weight room to see for themselves the lifting prowess the young Bragalone was exhibiting on a regular basis. Additionally, he was a regular invitee to PSU games and visits under O’Brien’s watch.
When O’Brien left Penn State to take the head coaching job of the NFL Houston Texans, the interest in Bragalone waned under James Franklin’s watch. Seems they turned their attention to another pretty good running back recruit named Saquon Barkley.
Bragalone had also drawn interest from Army but staying close to home so his family could watch him play was an important consideration. But the ultimate interest from Lehigh did not come until late in his senior season, and only after he had put on a spectacular six-touchdown performance in the state Class A PIAA quarterfinals.
Following Bragalone’s freshman season at Lehigh, I had the opportunity to talk with the Mountain Hawks head coach Andy Coen about his young running back’s performance. Asked when he first had recruiting interest in Bragalone, Coen’s answer surprised me.
“Honestly, Dom really came to my mind and eyes when they were making a run in the high school playoffs,” Coen confessed. “A former player of mine is the head coach at St. Pius. I watched that game and St. Pius was throwing it, and Dom was getting the ball and running for touchdowns. My reaction was ‘holy cow’ every time he touched the ball it seemed like he was running 60 yards.
“I think a lot of schools didn’t recruit him because of the level of school he came out of. But that St. Pius game piqued our interest. He came to campus for a visit and liked it, and it turned out to be a very good fit for him and a wonderful thing for our football team.”
Looking back, Bragalone has no regrets about his experiences the past four years. He’s helped his team win two Patriot League titles, firmly entrenched himself in the Lehigh record books, gained All-American recognition, and obtained a quality education. As for beating archrival Lafayette; “It’s an awesome experience to play and beat Lafayette. The entire week leading up to the game is full of Lehigh spirit, and the game is exciting to play.”
As for what’s next, he has another goal in mind. He wants a shot at playing professional football. It only takes one opportunity for that dream to become a reality and Bragalone’s Lehigh teammates have high praise for their hard-running, soft-spoken team captain.
“I think he is the best running back in the country, and the best athlete I’ve ever seen,” said quarterback Brad Mayes. “If he doesn’t get drafted, I don’t think I will watch the NFL anymore.”
- May 22, 2019
- May 22, 2019