Senior Zach Donnarumma, a fixture in the backfield since his first year, ended his college career this past Saturday with a 23-carry, 100-yard effort and three touchdowns, including a 32-yard scamper that put the team up 14-0 on the way to their victory over Colby. Donnarumma leaves the team with almost 50 more carries than any Bowdoin player before him. He appears three times on Bowdoin’s top ten for carries in a season and ties for fifth for touchdowns scored. He will also rank somewhere in the top five in career yards.
“My freshman year, I see this big Jersey kid with two stud earrings and I couldn’t believe how strong he was,” captain and offensive lineman Bobby Driscoll ’14 said. “He was outbenching everyone in the freshman class.”
“You have to tackle his legs,” added linebacker Brian Glazewski ’14. “You don’t want to meet him chest to chest. That’s a battle you’re not going to win.”
Donnarumma has been a consistent runner during his time at Bowdoin, averaging 20 carries a game at roughly 3.8 yards per carry over the course of his career. He started all four years, replacing an injured upperclassman during his first season. Donnarumma’s stats are all the more impressive considering the injuries he’s dealt with for most of his career. He missed two games due to mononucleosis his junior year and saw only a few carries after straining his MCL this past season. Donnarumma says he also endured various injuries during his first two seasons but only had to miss one game. (His most serious injury, a broken leg, occurred when he was still a high school junior in the middle of recruitment.)
“It’s always been a battle,” Donnarumma said. “You never know with injuries in football. You have to play each down like it’s your last.”
Head Coach Dave Caputi suggested that the timing of the injury—at the beginning of the college recruiting process—led teams to overlook Donnarumma, who only began to attract major attention after a strong senior season.
“He was a downhill runner,” Caputi said. “There was nothing really nifty or fancy about him, but he got tough yards. He was like a salmon going upstream.”
Donnarumma started playing football in second grade and has been a running back from the beginning—he said he “always tended to be a little faster [than the other kids].”
Growing up he was known as a speed back. In high school, he became the downhill runner he is now after rehabbing the broken leg that prematurely ended his junior season. During that period of inactivity he was able to work on improving two things that would shape his future football career—his strength and his grades.
Donnarumma believes that the time he spent improving his grades junior year increased his appeal to Bowdoin and other NESCAC schools, though the 10 pounds of muscle he added in the offseason likely helped as well. Either way, he had visited and committed to play at Bowdoin less than three weeks after finishing his senior season.
“I knew I didn’t want to stop playing,” Donnarumma said. “If I could play for four more years, I wanted to.”
Despite a reputation for being a hard-nosed runner, Donnarumma has shown some flexibility over the years. He broke off two runs of over 50 yards this season, the result of both good blocking and his ability to beat the safety in space.
“The offense has slowly been building around him,” Driscoll said. “Before he was here, we ran the spread, but we’ve transformed in a power running offense because of him.”
While the team still runs the spread on occasion, they spent a lot of time in the pistol formation this year, the formation used often during Donnarumma’s sophomore year. Caputi describes the offense as “built to be a between-the-tackles team with some counterpunching to the outside.”
After four years of such consistent performance, Donnarumma will be hard to replace.
“We’re going to miss him,” Caputi said. “He was ‘Old Reliable’ back there. I thought he was going to stick around forever.”
The sports editor of the Orient chooses the Athlete of the Week based on exemplary performance.