The Worcester Telegram has a nice feature story on Hudson native Scott Duggan, who will have his second chance to play a dream game this season -- Saturday at Gillette Stadium. Playing at the Big House earlier this season was a lifelong dream come true for Duggan.
Scott Duggan has already had his seminal moment in college athletics, blocking a punt in front of 110,000 people at Michigan Stadium.
Thing is, the UMass football player isn't sure that will be his career highlight.
That might come this weekend, when the Hudson native and his Minuteman teammates head to Gillette Stadium tomorrow for an important showdown against New Hampshire.
The game, dubbed the "Colonial Clash," kicks off at 3:30 p.m.
"I'd say (the excitement) is definitely the same, even maybe a little bit more," said Duggan, a former Hudson High standout. "I'm going to have so many family and friends there. At the Michigan game, only my parents, grandparents and siblings went. ... And obviously, being a (Massachusetts) kid, I've been a Patriots fan my whole life."
The Minutemen have seven local players on their roster, including twin brothers Tim and Tom Brandt, and Thad McCummings - who all played at Natick High - along with Marlborough's Mike Kahale and Hudson's Jeff Skoog. On the UNH side, Franklin's Matt Carini, Holliston's Mark Petercuskie and Stow's Matt Murray will represent the Wildcats.
But Duggan is by far the biggest contributor of anyone from MetroWest who will step onto the Gillette turf tomorrow, as a special teams demon and a converted fullback for UMass. His journey from Hudson to Amherst, however, wasn't as simple as a little drive down the Mass Pike.
A two-way standout for the Hawks, Duggan graduated in 2004 having talked to about 10 schools at the Football Championship Subdivision level (known as Division I-AA until 2006), and was advised to do a year of prep school. So off he went to Worcester Academy, where he continued to shine as a tailback and linebacker. But the collegiate offers he expected would flow into his mailbox never came.
"It was very disappointing to me," he said. "I still had the desire and chip on my shoulder that I could play at this level."
Duggan could have walked on at UMass but received a partial scholarship at Southern Connecticut State, and so he decided to go there. It took only a couple weeks with the Owls to realize that it wasn't the right decision. Duggan was playing behind the first team, and the coaching staff wanted him to redshirt his freshman season.
Right around that time, UMass made a run to the FCS championship, where it lost to Appalachian State. Duggan remembers watching it on TV, still thinking he could play above the Div. II level. So after just one semester, he left New Haven for Amherst.
During spring practice in 2007, he caught the coaching staff's eye immediately.
"When he came in the door, we knew we'd have a hard-nosed kid," said UMass coach Kevin Morris, who was then the team's offensive coordinator under Don Brown. "We knew what we'd get in terms of his character. In terms of his play, we weren't sure where he was going to be at, where he was going to fit in."
Neither did Duggan, and it was going to be a long time before he could prove his worth on the field. Due to transfer rules, Duggan wasn't eligible to play until the following season, meaning he had over 18 months of practice before he could suit up on game day.
"My freshman year, you're so far down on the depth chart you can't see out," he said. "You can't play anyways because you're ineligible. So you go through the grind each week, getting beat up and running the scout team, and on Saturdays you have to stand there and watch everyone else play.
"I definitely had to take it one step at a time. I looked at the bigger picture that a couple years down the line it would all pay off. You definitely do what you have to do to make it through scout team, or you'll either get injured or get discouraged and not be able to stick with it."
The payoff finally came over a year later, when Brown - now the defensive coordinator at Maryland - sent him in on the kickoff coverage team for the final three games. He played in eight games on special teams last year, and this season, with the Minutemen sorely in need of fullback depth, Duggan was asked if he'd be willing to try the position.
"At the time, I was second string at linebacker, and wanted to do anything I could to get on the field more," said Duggan, a kinesiology major who one day hopes to either be a football coach or strength and conditioning coach.
"He really made a name for himself on special teams, and we figured we'd give him a shot at fullback," Morris said. "He's really stood up and done an excellent job."
Duggan has played in all six games at fullback, starting two, but still has his role on special teams. At no point was that more evident than during UMass' 42-37 loss to Michigan last month, when Duggan busted up the gut and blocked a fourth-quarter punt that set up his team's final touchdown, allowing the Minutemen to be an onside kick away from an extraordinary upset.
"To block a punt alone is definitely a highlight," said Duggan, a lifelong Wolverines fan. "But to do it in front of 110,000 people, on the road, against the winningest program in college football history and also a team I followed since I was little is a great moment."
Tomorrow's game has huge playoff implications for the Minutemen, currently ranked No. 12 in the FCS. UMass (4-2) is coming off a brutal last-second loss to Richmond, and UNH (4-3) is suddenly one of the hottest teams in the FCS, ranked No. 10 after beating James Madison (who upset Virginia Tech earlier this year) on the road.
Already a huge rivalry game, tomorrow's battle could leave one team on the outside looking in when the 20-team postseason bracket is announced.
"No matter where we play them, it's always a game we circle," Duggan said. "(Playing at Gillette) just adds to the hype."