By Matt Jenkins
---- — There was a time when Austin Connolly, like so many other young boys before him, dreamed of playing professional football.
The odds of reaching the National Football League are against every football player, never mind someone who stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 165 pounds, but Connolly has taken the sport to a pretty high level nonetheless.
Connolly, Salem’s senior captain, will continue playing next year at Saint Anselm College, a Division 2 school in the NE-10.
“Football was something I was interested in when I was younger, even though I didn’t start until I was in the seventh grade, but I wanted to play in high school and then college. I thought of the pros too when I was younger ... you know how that is,” Connolly said.
Although he may be undersized for the typical football player, Connolly makes up for it with toughness and intelligence.
Scott Connolly, who coached his nephew on the Witches’ football team before stepping down this offseason to focus on his duties as athletic director, feels Saint Anselm is getting a special player.
“Austin is by the far the smartest and most coachable player I’ve ever had,” he said. “He was always in the right spot and could make the slightest adjustments on the fly. It’s just in him; it’s instinctual with Austin.
“You hear coaches saying in any sport of how they’re always looking for high character kids? Well, Austin is most definitely a high character kid.”
Austin Connolly carries a 3.6 Grade Point Average and his decision to attend Saint Anselm goes way beyond football.
He plans on majoring in Political Science and with the New Hampshire Institute of Politics located on campus, Saint Anselm was a logical choice.
“They have internships for the Presidential elections and I’m interested in the things that will help me through my career,” Connolly said. “I really like the location with Manchester (N.H.) being right there; it’s sort of like a smaller Boston and felt a little like home. It’s a great area and there’s a lot to do, and the campus itself was really nice. The fields and facilities are updated and new, state of the art.”
Connolly played quarterback for the Witches this year, throwing a couple touchdown passes and rushing for more than 300 yards, but his future is in the defensive backfield.
He made 74 tackles, one interception and two fumble recoveries for Salem. According to Saint Anselm coaches, he has a chance to work his way into the lineup, most likely as a cornerback.
“I met their coach (Patrick Murphy) and he’s a great guy,” Connolly said. “One of his big mottos is, he doesn’t care who you are, how big you are, if you’re a captain, a senior, junior, sophomore or freshman, if you’re playing better you get your time.”
Connolly has every intention of going into Saint Anselm and fighting for playing time.
He feels he brings some strong football qualities that will help him get on the field.
“I would say one of my biggest (strengths) is my football IQ. I can read a play before it happens, diagnose it and read and react,” Connolly said. “I’m really excited to be able to have an opportunity to play. I’m looking forward to it.”