SMWC to debut in its new sport Sept. 17

Sep. 8—In less than two weeks, what will former President Jimmy Carter and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College athlete Tyler Vaughn have in common?

Yes, that's an odd question. But this is an odd decade.

The answer is, both will have competed in organized sprint football.

Carter, the oldest living U.S. president, did so for the U.S. Naval Academy in the 1940s. A week from this Saturday, Sept. 17, The Woods and Vaughn will make their debuts in the sport that's very similar to regular football, except each player must weigh no more than 178 pounds.

SMWC is one of six charter members in the Midwest Sprint Football League (MSFL), which formed in 2021 so it could kick off in 2022. The other schools are Calumet College of St. Joseph (where the Pomeroys' season opener will be played in the city of Whiting), Quincy, Midwest (Ky.), Bellarmine and Fontbonne.

According to, one other college league exists for sprint football in the United States — the Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL). The only charter member left from the CSFL, which started in 1934 (when it was known as lightweight football), is the University of Pennsylvania. But eight other colleges have joined Penn in the modern version of the CSFL.

Woods coach Blaine Powell — an assistant for 24 years and head coach for the last five years at Sullivan High School — ran his first sprint-football practice Aug. 23 and he's enjoyed the experience so far.

"When you're out there coaching, you don't really think about that [weight limit]," Powell told the Tribune-Star. "Football is football . . . and you're trying to install your offense, your defense and your special teams. Really, as a coach, there's no difference because you're just coaching the kids, no matter how big they are.

"The biggest difference to me is the speed, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. It's a lot faster up front. That's something you kinda have to get used to."

The 5-foot-10, 163-pound Vaughn, who is penciled in to start at safety after graduating from North Central High School earlier this year, agrees with his new coach.

"There's not much of a difference [from regular football]," said the speedy Vaughn, who played running back and safety for the Thunderbirds in 2021. "It's just a little bit faster."

Vaughn admits that from his perspective on the field, watching the lines clash — with players weighing in the 160s and 170s on both sides — is different than regular football, where 250- and 300-pound defenders might be clogging holes and smothering running backs in the trenches. In sprint football, defensive linemen often try to make a bee line toward the quarterback, who probably weighs roughly the same as they do.

"Other teams' passers probably won't have much time to get the ball out," pointed out Vaughn, who's majoring in sports management.

Powell acknowledged that filling an offensive or defensive line with athletes who played only that position in high school is pretty much impossible. Many of the current linemen played tight end or linebacker when they were younger.

"You look for guys who are that size to play on the line," he explained. "Second of all, you're just looking for physical kids, smart kids who have played in a system where they run a lot of different things."

Regarding the weight limit, Powell said he didn't recruit high school athletes who were well above 178 and force them to diet off the excess poundage. He preferred athletes who hover around 178 or less all year and may need to lose only a pound or two from week to week.

During the season, Powell noted, weigh-ins for each player will take place every Tuesday after a game and every Thursday before the next game. Then someone from the SMWC training staff will submit those numbers to the league commissioner before Game Day (always a Saturday).

Asked what he would do if he saw a player on another team who looked more like 228 instead of 178, Powell mentioned there is an option to file a protest with the league. But he hopes that won't be necessary.

As of now, Powell knows very little about his opponents. But that's likely to change in a few weeks . . . and his players must be ready to adapt.

"They've done great," he said of those players, who are using a combination academic/athletic scholarship to attend school. "Like I said, it's really been no different than regular football.

"We like the group of kids we have. To them, it's another chance to keep playing football."

Powell said his starting quarterback has not been determined yet, with 6-0 freshman Brennon Landry from New Iberia, La., and 5-10 freshman Brian Merrell from Amarillo, Texas, battling neck-and-neck.

Players with Wabash Valley ties include Vaughn, freshman wide receiver Kyle Vernelson (Sullivan), sophomore wide receiver/tight end Corey Miller (South Vermillion), freshman defensive lineman Jaeden King (Sullivan), freshman linebacker/wide receiver Zander Wilbur (West Vigo), freshman offensive/defensive lineman Trey Carter (Terre Haute South), freshman offensive lineman/linebacker Jake Skinner (Sullivan), freshman offensive/defensive lineman Lane Sluder (Sullivan), junior offensive/defensive lineman Chris Torrence (South Vermillion) and freshman wide receiver Andrece Miller (Terre Haute South).

SMWC's three home games will be played at West Vigo's Jay Barrett Field.

"I'm really excited," Vaughn proclaimed.