EAST LONGMEADOW, Mass. -- Mike Maggipinto has never heard of Joe Morris. Most kids his age probably haven't.
Yet in some sort of uncanny way, there are similarities between the East Longmeadow running back and Morris, who will forever live in the annals of being one of this state's most-prolific rushers. Comparable in stature (Morris was 5-foot-7, Maggipinto is 5-foot-5), the two also share a few other common threads having played the same position.
Morris, known for a quick first step and his unique ability to see the entire field, first excelled at Ayer High School before moving on to star at Syracuse University before enjoying a brilliant nine-year career in the NFL with the New York Giants and later with the Cleveland Browns.
Obviously it would be unfair to put Maggipinto on such a high pedestal at this point in time. Whether it happens or not remains to be seen. But, at the pace he is presently on, don't be surprised if he encounters some similar success as Morris did moving forward.
Maggipinto -- who is the first junior during Scott Raymond's 12-year tenure as head coach here to be named a team captain -- has made it his own personal ritual to make opposing defenses look foolish with a calculated-mix of quickness, agility and vision. There is no doubt he is one of only handful of elite running backs in the state, and only time will determine if he is capable of reaching legendary status.
During his sophomore year, Maggipinto had what many would consider a breakout season. Having played a bit part as a freshman, in which he accumulated just under 300 yards, Maggipinto firmly put himself on the map last year after rushing for 2,002 yards and 30 touchdowns. In doing so, he became only the fourth Spartan back to eclipse the 2,000-yard plateau for a single season. The others included Mike Barthelette (2,574 yards) Jon Thorpe (2,130) and Chris Setian (2,023).
Having already gained 598 yards in three games this season, Maggipinto, now with 2,883 career yards, has a legitimate shot to become the school's all-time leading rusher once his high school career comes to a close next year. Thorpe currently holds the mark with 4,905 yards.
Quite honestly, did anyone expect this out of Maggipinto? Those who judge football talent often focus on a player's dimensions first and tend to overlook what resides inside a player's heart and soul. For Maggipinto, height is just a number. For he has proven that it has never been a detriment to hold him back. What he lacks in size, Maggipinto overwhelmingly makes up for in skill, ability and instinct.
"The first time I saw Mike was when he came to our suburban summer camp as an eighth grader," recalls Raymond. "I knew right then that he had a lot of instinctive abilities. Obviously the concern at the time was his size. You are always thinking how is this kid going to hold up physically when he gets to high school. As it turned out, Mike was one of the first players that I ever played as a freshman at the varsity level. We sort of eased him into things. You could see his development was going to occur early in career here."
It wasn't long into that freshman season when Raymond realized he had something special. Raymond notice almost immediately that Maggipinto had the clear-cut vision to see the entire field and, in doing so, was able to find holes within the offensive line no matter how small it might be.
"We've had some great running backs come through here over the years," said Raymond, "but Mike is just a notch above everyone else in terms of his speed, quickness and his ability to read things."
By his own admittance, Maggipinto has never been one to bask in the glory of his own statistics. He is, and always will be, a team player. Individual accolades mean nothing to him. The only thing on his mind right now is helping East Longmeadow make it to a second consecutive Division 2 Western Mass. playoff appearance and beyond.
Maggipinto says the things he has accomplished here will never be taken for granted. He has paid his dues here by adhering to a solid work regiment -- whether it be spending countless hours in the weight room or waking up early to do conditioning drills on his own during the off-season.
"I realized at a young age that I was pretty quick off the ball," Maggipinto said. "I just knew that I needed to keep working on my skills and continue working on my development. During the off-season I do a lot of things involving agility and acceleration. I realized from my freshman year going into my sophomore year how important it was to start quick with the ball.
"The speed of the game in high school was tremendous as compared to what I was use to prior. I came to understand that with my first step off the ball, if I could get the linebackers to react much quicker than they are use to, then I could be more successful in finding holes to run through."
Last year Spartans played themselves into the postseason only to see it end quickly with a loss to Westfield in the Division 2 Western Mass. semifinals. This season, besides Maggipinto, East Longmeadow has enough talent to make a return trip to the playoffs.
A disappointing defeat against powerful Springfield Central a week ago currently has them sitting at 2-1. But a quick glance of their remaining schedule offers up no reason as to why this team cannot run the table and make a serious push towards a state championship.
"Myself and this team are always looking for something greater out there," Maggipinto said. "That's for me to be a better team leader and for us to be more-successful as a team. Last year we didn't achieve our goal to win the Western Mass. championship and compete for a state championship. That is always the goal here. We want to win as many games as possible. After last week's performance we all need to give ourselves honest self-evaluations and work to improve on the things we didn't do well in that game."
The Spartans are off this weekend before locking horns with Holyoke next week.
It goes without saying that any defensive coordinator, in his preparation for East Longmeadow, certainly has Maggipinto's name circled in red ink. It is no secret that opposing defenses put forth an entire week of practice trying to figure out ways of slowing him down. Many have tried but only a handful have succeeded. While there are some who still inadvertently consider Maggipinto too small to flourish in this game, he has a resounding message for them.
"Every now and then I'll hear someone say I'm too small to be a good running back or that I'm only good because I am fast," he said. "To me, being fast is a big part of being a good running back so I take that as a compliment. It doesn't bother me. Someone's opinion is someone's opinion. For me, I'll just continue to move forward. When you are a smaller running back, like myself, the one advantage I've often found I have is pad level. It is much-easier to get lower than the linebacker when you have such a low center of gravity. The lower you get, and if the linebackers can't get under your pads, I've learned that it is much-more difficult for them to tackle you."
Much like on the playing field, Maggipinto has been equally successful in the classroom. Holding down a 4.5 GPA, you have to wonder what academic opportunities await him as well. Combined with his incredible athletic ability (he also runs indoor and outdoor track), you can expect many college coaches to be knocking on his door during the upcoming months.
Yet if some coaches remain unwilling to dismiss his size situation, then obviously they will be missing the boat on a sure-fire student-athlete. Maggipinto says he would welcome the opportunity to continue playing at a high-level football institution, Ivy League or NESCAC program should an offer come down the pike. But academics remains his number one objective. Maggipinto plans to major in finance and hopes to one day land himself a position on Wall Street.
"With Mike it all starts in the classroom," Raymond added. "When you look at some of the better football players around you hope that it corresponds with what they do in the classroom. As far as his level of football goes, all of us here would love to see him go to a lot of different places from the NESCAC on up. But in most cases people will look at size as a determining factor.
"In Mike's case, it's not nor should it be. We are all proud of what he does on the field and off. He is tougher than most kids and that goes a long way. Not once has he ever asked me about how many yards he has or the number of receptions he has coming out of the backfield. Everything with him is solely based on wins and losses. That is why he generates so much respect and admiration from everyone here."