D-II SPOTLIGHT | East Stroudsburg’s Robert Healy overlooked no more

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Robert Healy wanted to play college football so much that the New York native sent out his game film to an estimated 60 schools across the country.

No FBS or FCS programs responded to the versatile all-state running back from East Meadow High on Long Island. A handful of NCAA Division III programs reached out, but Healy hoped to play at least at the D-II level.

Two DII schools — East Stroudsburg (Pa.) and LIU Post (N.Y.) — called him. Healy wanted to experience college life away from home, so he picked the Warriors of ESU in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.

“I never would have thought I’d come here, but I didn’t get looked at a lot out of high school,” said Healy, now a redshirt senior. “I didn’t want to stay home, and my other option was ESU. It’s worked out amazing for me.”

Amazing would sum up the college accomplishments of the 5-10, 190-pound Healy, who is already ESU’s career leader in rushing yards (3,729) and yards from scrimmage (5,571). Last week he ran for 163 yards and three touchdowns on a career-high 31 attempts in a win at Millersville. He set school records for 100-yard rushing games (15) and carries (626).

On the season Healy has rushed for 899 yards and 14 TDs for ESU (4-2, 2-1 PSAC) and caught 22 passes for 320 yards and one score. He is the D-II leader this season in yards from scrimmage (203.2 ypg), tied for first in total TDs (15) and third in rushing yards (149.8 ypg). Healy is No. 2 among active D-II players in career yards from scrimmage and No. 4 in rushing yards.

“I try not to think about all the stuff I’ve done — I want to wait until after my career is over to do that — but when I do think about it, it’s amazing stuff,” Healy said. “I’ll treasure all the records and accolades after I’m done playing football. Right now I just want to keep playing how I’ve been playing.”

Healy is 112 yards from breaking ESU’s career record for all-purpose yards set by receiver Evan Prall (5,682) in 2006. If Healy produces like he has all season, he will top Prall on Saturday when the Warriors play Kutztown (3-3, 3-0 PSAC) in ASN’s Division II Game of the Week.

His combination of size, speed and versatility has led to Healy being called the DII version of Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, the reigning Associated Press Player of the Year and Heisman runner-up.

“I really want to get the all-purpose yards record, which I’d do with only rushing and receiving and no punt or kick return yards,” Healy said. “I hear all the time how good Evan Prall was, so to break his record would be special.”

Healy credits his family for his competitive nature. His dad is a retired New York City firefighter who has run 29 marathons. His mom is a secretary and former high school soccer player. He also has two older brothers, both of whom played high school football (Kevin was a safety at Buffalo State and now a cop in New York City).

“It was definitely a competitive childhood,” Healy said. “My brothers and I were best friends and always pushing each other to be the best. They usually beat me in sports because they were older, but they taught me to be better. My parents were always supportive of me and taught me that if you want to do something, you’ve got to work for it.”

That work ethic resulted in a stellar prep career for Healy. As a senior he rushed for 1,800 yards and 38 TDs and set the Long Island record for most points scored in a single season (236) in East Meadow’s wing-T attack. He was named second-team all-state and received the Thorp Award as Nassau County’s top player, an honor previously won by Jim Brown, John Mackey and D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

Despite that productive season, Healy was largely overlooked by major colleges as he was a back who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds. ESU head coach Denny Douds got to know Healy during his senior year at a college night on Long Island. Douds has recruited the area since 1967.

“A lot of schools won’t go up there since you have to go around or through New York City, but there’s about 3 million people between Nassau and Suffolk counties, so you know there are some players,” said Douds, who has won 260 games (second among active NCAA coaches) in 43 years as head coach of the Warriors.

“When we talked with him, we were familiar with the Thorp Award he had received. Jim Brown had won it among others, so we knew he could play. His speed wasn’t what they wanted for the big guys, but we could develop that.”

Under the guidance of Douds, Healy did just that. After redshirting a year, Healy set ESU’s record for yards from scrimmage (1,333) by a back and the program’s freshman mark for rushing yards (1,129) to earn Football Gazette All-Region third-team honors. As a sophomore he rushed for 817 yards and eight TDs and caught 46 passes for 561 yards and six scores to finish as one of two D-II players with 500 yards rushing and receiving (something done by 10 in NCAA football that season).

Last season he was the only NCAA player with 750 yards rushing and receiving (884 and 757 yards, respectively) and ranked ninth in DII in yards from scrimmage (149.2 ypg). He was named All-PSAC for the third consecutive year and made the Football Gazette All-Region second team.

Now a senior, Healy is a 4.5 guy considered one of the most versatile threats in college football. Douds calls him one of “all-time greats” in ESU history.

“He has worked every day for five years — arrives early, stays late — and is an excellent teammate,” Douds said. “He has all the skills you want in a back and could start at wide receiver for us. You shouldn’t play tag in a phone booth with him—it’s tough to get your hands on him — and with his quickness and strength he is a very difficult matchup.”

Healy stays busy off the field, too. He is part of ESU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and was nominated last summer for the 2016 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for his work in the community.

Some of his community work includes participating in the football program’s “Breakfast with the Warriors” with players from the East Stroudsburg Youth Association, helping the Salvation Army at Stroud Mall each December and assisting with an anti-bullying coalition.

“It’s been an honor to play for coach Douds,” Healy said. “He’s a legendary, old-school coach who knows there’s a light on those of us who play football at ESU and that we need to give back to the community.”

In addition to playing football this fall, Healy is also completing his internship in physical therapy. The exercise science major graduates in December and plans to become a physical therapist.

“At some point I’m going to have to hang up the cleats,” Healy said. “Being a physical therapist would allow me to stay close to the game as long as I possibly can.”

Photo courtesy Bob Shank/ESU Athletics

Joshua Parrott

Joshua Parrott is a freelance writer based in Houston. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaParrott.