Three flag-football games broke out late Wednesday afternoon at Muhlenberg’s Scotty Wood Stadium. All involved Mules football players.
Defensive players were on offense. Offensive players were on defense.
Hardly normal activity for a team less than 70 hours away from a tackle football game against Centennial Conference unbeaten Ursinus.
There was nothing normal, however, about Wednesday for Muhlenberg’s players and coaches.
Minutes before those flag-football games, the Mules were informed that head coach, Mike Donnelly, passed away earlier that day after a battle with acute monocytic leukemia.
Muhlenberg acting head coach Corey Goff delivered the gut-wrenching news at an unscheduled 4 p.m. team meeting.
“We thought something was up because that’s when we normally would be practicing,” captain Nick Savant, a Saucon Valley High School graduate, said. “It sucks. It was a shock. We all thought and prayed that he would pull through.”
Flag football was the players’ idea.
“They wanted to go out on the field and mess around,” Goff said. “There was a lot of laughter from telling Duke [Donnelly] stories.
“Then after 30 minutes, the players thought that Mike would have expected them to practice, so [the coaches] ran in to get the scripts we normally would have been using and practiced without pads for about 40 minutes.”
Later Wednesday evening, players, coaches and others on the Muhlenberg campus who were befriended by Donnelly during his two-decade tenure there gathered inside the stadium to light candles in his memory.
There were more stories, more laughter, more tears. He often told the same jokes. He always called freshmen froshburgers. Players always knew what he was feeling in practice.
“At the beginning, he’d be cracking jokes and then he’d be yelling at you for something,” Savant said. “Last night was important for all of us. It gave us a chance to process things in our own way.”
The emotional roller-coaster for those who knew the 65-year-old Donnelly will continue for days, weeks, even months.
Donnelly’s resume, which included coaching stops on the high school, Division I, II and III college levels in his 40-plus years in football, was stockpiled with far more wins than losses.
More importantly, however, there were life lessons for everyone.
“He taught young men to be advocates for what they believe in, for what they think is right,” Goff said. “He’s always been known as a professional arguer. He’ll talk for three hours about the minutest of details just to make sure that you fully understand what you’re arguing for.”
For all the demands on the field, in the classroom and in life, Donnelly, an Albany, N.Y., native who lived in Easton, also found a way to relate to players.
Read the entire article at mcall.com.