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McClune, Varga snare Gold Helmets

Posted by Craig Larson, Globe Staff  October 31, 2012 02:42 PM

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WPI's Mitch McClune with his Golden Helmet award.

Mitch McClune recalled intercepting a pair of passes in a single game suiting up for Silver Lake Youth Football.

And there was a pick against Catholic Conference rival Malden Catholic when he was a standout at Boston College High.

But four interceptions in a single game, the first four of his collegiate career at Worcester Poly Tech?

"I just kept hoping they threw the ball my way," said McClune of his magnificent effort in Saturday's 36-17 win over visiting St. Lawrence University.

His first pick, in the second quarter, set up a WPI touchdown for a 22-3 halftime bulge. His final interception, matching his uniform number for the Engineers, came in the end zone as time expired.

A 5-foot-9, 175-pound grad student from Pembroke who is back on the field for one final run after suffering a broken ankle in last year's season opener at Merrimack, McClune also registered five tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He also returned four kickoffs for 98 yards.

On Wednesday afternoon, accompanied by third-year coach Chris Robertson, McClune received this week's Gridiron Club of Greater Boston Division 2-3 Gold Helmet Award from the New England Football Writers at Harvard's Dillon Fieldhouse. Yale sophomore tailback-turned-QB Tyler Vargas collected the Division 1 helmet for his stellar rushing effort against Columbia.

"The first one, I should have taken it the house, but the wide receiver stepped in front of me, that was a big swing in the game," said McClune. "They were driving down the field, and that set up a score right before halftime. Kept the tempo up through halftime.

"It's not something you go into each game thinking about, mostly concentrating on getting a win. To do something special like that and come out with a 'W' feels good, that's the best part."

It was quite an impressive feat considering that McClune was a running back his first three seasons at WPI before making the switch over to defense last year.

But his season ended in the third quarter of the opener against Merrimack, with a fractured left ankle. Two bolts were inserted through the bone in September, and he underwent a follow-up surgery in December to removed the hardware.

He was back on the baseball diamond last spring for the Engineers as a terrific lefthanded-hitting outfielder, but was not 100 percent healthy until midway through the summer.

On a young 2-6 WPI football squad listing 80 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, he has been an invaluable and versatile anchor, seeing time at cornerback, safety, and even outside linebacker.

"In our secondary, we start Mitch alongside three guys that have not started before," said Robertson. "He anchors the secondary, and our defense. He's stronger than any of our linebackers, and faster than any of our defensive backs.

"Absolutely irreplaceable as a person and player. He's been through a lot of adversity. One of the toughest individuals I have ever coached. We will get the report from the training staff of an injury that he might have, but he would never say anything about it. He would never miss a practice. He's a bright spot on a young team. He's the perfect example for our younger players. I tell them 'watch him.' A man of few words. But a great motivator. He's a pretty special kid."

With a degree in mechanical engineering in his pocket, and working on his master's, McClune has applied for Officer Candidate School in the US Air Force. His father, Jeff, a lineman at C.W. Post, was a Navy man.

Making his first collegiate start at quarterback because of injuries to Yale's top three signal callers, Varga rushed for 220 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries in a 26-22 loss to Columbia. He is leading the Ivy League in rushing (122.5 yards per game), averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

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