WEST POINT, N.Y. – Though it may not get the same media coverage as the famed NCAA college football matchup between Army and Navy, the West Point sprint football team’s league championship win over Navy this past November was an eventful moment for its players, fans and coaches alike.
Yorktown native Mike Witkowich, who joined the Army West Point Black Knights staff as an offensive line coach in the summer of 2019, said he was delighted to help lead the team to victory.
“Our theme this year was ‘never quit;’ it was extremely intense to play the championship game at Franklin Field in Philadelphia and to beat Navy was just incredible,” he said.
According to the Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL), this brand of football, which has been around since before World War II, is a full-contact, intercollegiate, varsity sport with the same rules as college football. The league currently comprises 10 teams which are grouped into two divisions, and its players are held to high academic and physical standards.
In sprint football, players must maintain a weight of 178 pounds or less and a minimum of 5-percent body fat to be eligible to play. The result is a game that emphasizes speed and agility.
“Our players (the cadets) get weighed in twice a week and it is very official,” Coach Witkowich explained. “They show an incredible amount of dedication because they are choosing to serve the country, maintain that weight and dedicate themselves—it is really impressive.”
A former high school football player who has coached varsity football locally at both Yorktown and Hendrick Hudson High Schools (where he teaches history and government), Witkowich was offered the offensive line coaching position for the Army West Point sprint football team (formerly called lightweight football) and said he seized the opportunity after being recruited to the prestigious academy.
“I get asked all the time if [sprint] is like regular football and, yes, it is 100 percent regular football,” Witkowich said. “The only difference is that every player on the team has to weigh under 178 pounds.”
Witkowich joined Mike Lynch, the Black Knight’s Defensive Backs Coach, who was also invited onto the athletic staff at West Point this season after a long and winning tenure as head coach for Hendrick Hudson High School’s varsity football team.
Lynch credits the Army West Point team’s victory to its leadership and “to a tremendously talented, experienced group of players in the secondary.”
What surprised him, he added, was the speed and agility of all of the players; noting his 22 players out on the field who all run very fast and can swiftly move up and down.
The contenders met for the championship game for a second straight year, with Army triumphing over the Navy Midshipmen, 13-0, earning the team their 36th Collegiate Sprint Football League title and reclaiming it after a 2018 loss.
Army finished the season with a 7-1 record, the only blemish a 14-7 loss to Navy on Sept. 20. The Black Knights were led by a high-flying offense (34 ppg) and a stifling defense (6.9 ppg).
As for the sport itself, Coach Lynch said that he believes that if people are able to watch more games and become more familiar with Sprint football, they will see its unique appeal—and hopes to see the league expand.
“You know, not everybody is going to be a 320-pound lineman, not everybody is built that way—so it gives those smaller athletes another opportunity during their years in college which I think is a good thing,” he said.