Brian Harrington of Rockland had only a handful of opportunities to play linebacker as a freshman and sophomore, so he was looking forward to getting into the rotation as a junior this fall.
Then, just days before the start of training camp in August, starting middle linebacker Mike Hogan – who is Harrington's roommate and classmate – was diagnosed with a heart condition that likely ended his career.
Instead of just moving into the linebacker rotation in perhaps a backup role, Harrington found himself in the starting lineup, filling in for his roommate.
"Initially, going into preseason, technically he wasn't even a starter,'' said Skyhawks coach Robert Talley. "He was going to be in the mix, definitely going to play.''
With Hogan, who was third in tackles for Stonehill in each of the past two seasons, unable to play, there was a void left in the middle of the Skyhawks' defensive unit.
They turned to Harrington, a 2011 Rockland High School graduate, and he has delivered a magnificent season, helping Stonehill get off to a 5-2 start and earn a share of first place in the Northeast-10 Conference at 5-1.
Harrington ranks second in the country among Div. 2 defenders with 14 tackles per game, trailing only Jake Edmiston of Colorado Mesa (14.9), and is tied for fifth with 7.1 solo tackles per game.
He has been named the NE-10 defensive player of the week four times and tied a career high with 17 tackles in last Saturday's impressive road win over New Haven.
Harrington, named Stonehill's special teams player of the year in 2012, had his sights set on being part of a linebacker corps that included his friend, Hogan.
Instead, he is playing in the middle where Hogan was the last two years and getting plenty of advice from his roommate.
"It's not something you wish upon anybody,'' said Harrington of Hogan's preseason diagnosis. "I'd love to have Mike on the field with me every game, but it's something that's out of my control. It's something bigger than us.
"He has been a real big help with me stepping into his position. He taught me a bunch of things. He was sitting next to me every day in camp when we were watching film.
"He was giving me little pointers, what to do here, what to do there, what read to make. He's been a great help. He's been so supportive about the whole thing. I couldn't be more grateful to have him as a friend and as a teammate.''
Harrington has had at least 10 tackles in all seven games, reaching 16 on four occasions.
Having not played middle linebacker at Rockland High, where he also wrestled, Harrington spent the two years getting acquainted with the position and was ready when the opportunity came his way this season.
"It's definitely been a surprise,'' said Talley of the success Harrington has had. "We didn't necessarily expect it. He runs sideline to sideline and gives all the effort. His success as lifted the entire defense.
"The biggest thing with him is how he got there. I think a lot of kids can see it, how he did it with hard work, no secrets. He works hard all the time and has the right attitude. He has success as a result of that hard work. That's been really big.''
Harrington, listed at 6-foot-1 and 216 pounds, does not let the size disadvantage hamper his ability to continually make plays.
"It's kind of a mindset, I guess,'' he said. "I'm not exactly the biggest guy on the field by any means. I've just got to outwork them. I'm not going to be that much stronger than a 300-pound lineman. You've got to outwork those guys.''
Stonehill, which hosts LIU Post on Saturday afternoon, is in the championship race, thanks to the work of players like Harrington, who is having a year to remember.
"I don't think anyone goes in to a season with expectations like that,'' said Harrington. "I think it's more team-oriented goals that you have. My mindset was put ourselves in a position to play for the conference championship. That's where the focus is, not personal achievement.
"I work out in every summer with Tim Brown, the wrestling coach at Rockland, and every year it gets a little more intense. This summer was the best summer we had. I felt really good coming into preseason camp.''