He was an exemplary player and student at Bradford High, with a strong work ethic and a desire to succeed in whatever he took part in.
And it was those qualities that earned Owl running back Derek Sunafrank the Mike Kowlsen Memorial Scholarship, given to a BAHS gridder named to the Big 30 Charities Classic and that succeeds both on the field and in the classroom and also shows leadership.
“For me to receive the award was a big honor,” Sunafrank said. “It felt amazing to receive it, and it feels like my hard work paid off in the classroom and on the field. I’ve been playing sports since I was 8 years old, so I’m glad to see I’m doing well in the things I pursue.”
The scholarship is awarded by a committee each year, and is in the amount of $2,000. Sunafrank will have good use for it, as the BAHS alumnus is headed to Morgantown, W. Va., this fall to attend West Virginia University and study wildlife and fishery science. He hopes to become a game warden after earning his degree.
AT BRADFORD HIGH, Sunafrank was the Owls’ leading rusher this season with 357 yards and five touchdowns. He finished his career in the black and red with 1,198 yards and 15 touchdowns.
He also anchored Bradford’s defense with 44 tackles, second most on the team. For his career, he racked up 115 tackles and nine tackles for loss.
The apex of his final year at BAHS came during an October home game against Punxsutawney, during which the back powered Bradford to a 59-34 victory with 201 rushing yards and five touchdowns, by far his highest output of any game last season. He added seven tackles on defense.
“That game made my whole season for the most part… That game, the line came together and made the right blocks, and I saw the right holes, and the coaches called a great game,” Sunafrank said. “I couldn’t have done it without the line or coaches.”
It was certainly a highlight for the back, but Sunafrank says his favorite moments weren’t tied to any specific game.
“My favorite moments were the bus rides with the team. Those are unforgettable,” he said. “You get to relax and become better friends with teammates.
“And also just being out on the field doing what we do and looking after each other to make sure everybody plays a smart, strong game. There’s no better feeling than scoring a touchdown under Friday night lights. It’s probably the greatest feeling of the game — being under those lights.”
FOR HEAD COACH Jeff Puglio, though, the best moments of having Sunafrank on hand came during the day-to-day practices and preparation of the team.
“He was a lead-by-example player. He was always really steady, and he always did the right things,” said Puglio, who also taught Sunafrank in advanced chemistry in the classroom. “What I liked about him was that he worked really hard in whatever he did.”
And it was that leadership that proved most valuable to Bradford’s program, something Puglio feels will be tough to replicate.
“He was one of those players you can’t replace because of his attitude toward practicing and playing every day,” Puglio said. “He always wanted to be on the field… Too many players take it for granted, but that was never Derek. So you can’t replace that type of attitude.
“He was the type of person, player and student that you want younger kids to watch and emulate. That’s Derek.”
PUGLIO WAS one of several people that Sunafrank wanted to thank in addition to the committee.
“I’d like to thank my parents for taking me to practices, and going to away games and supporting me at those and at home. That meant the world to me,” Sunafrank said. “And thank you to my teammates and coaches for building me into the man and teammate I became. I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without them.”