TJ product Haberstock enters Mercyhurst's hall of fame
“It's been 20 some years, and I can still see him in the weight room, pushing himself, doing that little extra. He was a special kid who ended up being a special player. He's definitely deserving of being in the hall of fame. In fact, I'd say it's overdue.”
Those are the words of veteran football coach Mark McNellie as he reflected on the stellar college football career of Brian Haberstock, a Thomas Jefferson graduate who was a star running back Mercyhurst University from 1987 through 1990.
Haberstock was inducted Saturday into the Mercyhurst University Athletics Hall of Fame.
McNellie was a Mercyhurst assistant holding his first football coaching job during Haberstock's senior season in 1990. He said that Haberstock opened his eyes from the second he stepped onto campus.
“It was my first time holding a coaching job. Here I am, rolling into Erie, Pennsylvania, and I didn't know what to expect,” said McNellie, now head coach at Lake Erie College. “I walk in the door, and Brian was physically and mentally more mature that your average bear on the team. You could tell he was ‘battle ready,' and we didn't have that at every position.”
These vivid memories persist despite the fact McNellie was Mercyhurst's defensive line coach at the time.
“I was the defensive line coach, but sometimes you get a greater appreciation of a player when you're trying to stop him every day in practice,” McNellie said. “Opponents had to try and stop him once. I had to try to stop him every day.”
Despite the fanfare surrounding his career and last weekend's induction ceremony, Haberstock remains humble about the honor.
“This came from out of the blue,” Haberstock said. “The Mercyhurst athletic director (Joe Kimball) called me and told me I would be going into the Hall of fame, and I was very surprised.
“I am very honored, but I don't feel that I deserve it. There are other players who deserve it more than me.”
Haberstock's resume suggests otherwise.
He finished his Mercyhurst career with 1,271 rushing yards, still 12th on the school's all-time list. He was the first player in school history to rush for four touchdowns in a game, and he held the school record for career yards per carry at 5.1 until it was broken just last season.
He still holds Mercyhurst records for most rushing yards in a game (212 against Buffalo on Oct. 27, 1990), and for the longest kickoff return in school history (100 yards against Brockport State in 1988).
“It's amazing that some of those records are still here,” said Haberstock, who works as an international currency trader at Bank of New York Mellon. “Records are made to be broken.”
McNellie described Haberstock as a multi-dimensional player who also was a ferocious competitor and locker-room leader.
“The thing about Brian that I loved, if you needed a short yard, that one yard, he could go in and get you that one yard every time,” McNellie said. “But at the same time, every time he had the ball in his hands, he could go the distance. He could also be that home run hitter.
“I've been fortunate to coach a lot of great football players over time, but what separates Brian is he was the complete package. He had versatility, and he had a lot of intangibles, too. The word ‘throwback' comes to mind. We're in the age of specialization, where teams have one back who runs inside, another back who runs outside, a third-down back who comes in and can catch the ball. But Brian could do all of those things. He was a ‘man's man' when it comes to running backs, and he was the complete package.”
In true sportsman-like fashion, Haberstock downplays his football prowess.
But he doesn't downplay the role football played in his life, nor the memories he forged on the gridiron in Erie.
“What I remember most about my college football days is just the fun of playing the sport,” he said. “Football is one of those sports when you're done playing after college — unless you're blessed to go on to be a professional — you're done. It's not like other sports, like soccer or basketball, where you can keep playing it.
“I made some great memories, and I just miss the game.”
Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.