Walking alongside his teammates from the locker room, Cheshire High School senior football player Jake McAlinden always felt his energy building up on his way down to Alumni Field. The drumming of the Marching Ram Band and roar of the crowd got him even more excited to play on Friday nights.
“There was a huge amount of adrenaline before games. I’ve never felt anything like that anywhere else,” stated McAlinden.
Using a combination of speed, acceleration, and toughness, McAlinden ran for 2,804 yards and scored 33 touchdowns over the last three years at CHS.
“Growing up, I just imagined being that guy scoring touchdowns and having fun on the field in Ram Land,” reflected McAlinden. “It was a blast and I wish that I could do it again with my friends.”
While he will miss playing before friends and family, McAlinden is happy that his football story will continue nearby this fall. After talking with many coaches, McAlinden chose to sign a Division II scholarship with Southern Connecticut State University.
“It feels really good to get the whole recruiting process over with and have a home for the next four or five years,” said McAlinden. “I’m excited to meet new people and grow with them.”
McAlinden wanted to stay close to home, so his family could see him play in college.
“A lot of my friends are going to Southern for academics and I love a lot of things about the football program,” McAlinden said.
He chose SCSU over the University of Maine, University of New Haven, Pace University (New York), Stonehill College (Massachusetts), Wagner College (New York), and Western New England University (Massachusetts).
“I’ve always wanted to play in college,” recalled McAlinden. “I don’t know what I would do without football and I hope my life goes in the right direction because of being around it.”
A member of the Northeast Conference, SCSU is coming off a 2-8 season last fall. Along with McAlinden, the staff has signed multiple local players this year.
“We are already talking about going in there,” said McAlinden. “We want to bring a lot of good players into one place and hopefully create a dynasty.”
“I think it (SCSU) is a great spot for him being close to home,” said CHS Head Coach Don Drust. “It is good football in a strong conference. I feel it will test him and he will rise to the challenge.”
McAlinden has had success playing lacrosse and baseball, but football has been his passion since joining Cheshire Junior Football in fourth grade.
“I was always really fast,” said McAlinden. “I like the physicality of the sport and playing in front of big crowds like in Ram Land.”
McAlinden burst onto the varsity level as a CHS sophomore, compiling a team-best 681 rushing yards and scoring seven touchdowns in 2017.
In his breakout game, he rushed for 196 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-29 win at Norwich Free Academy.
“I work really hard in the off-season to prepare for moments like that,” said McAlinden. “With the help of my o-line (offensive line) and the players around me, I was able to shine on the field.”
In being a sophomore starter, he played with the largest senior class (27 boys) in team history.
“It was great,” recalled McAlinden. “I’m still close to a lot of the guys on that team.”
As a junior, McAlinden ran for 973 yards and scored nine touchdowns en route to receiving Offensive Player of the Year and All-Southern Connecticut Conference honors. However, after the Rams graduated their deep senior group, the team went 3-7 against a tough schedule.
“It (that year) was big motivation for us,” stated McAlinden.
With a more experienced unit in 2019, the Rams broke through to earn an 8-3 record and secure the program’s first Class LL playoff berth since 2009.
“We always knew that our class was going to be special when we were seniors,” said McAlinden. “The underclassmen knew that and worked hard to get us on that next level.”
The Rams dropped to 1-1 after falling 35-28 at Hall, but Cheshire responded with seven straight wins, including a 24-12 victory at unbeaten Shelton.
“We knew that Shelton would be a huge rivalry game,” recalled McAlinden. “To be in that atmosphere and winning with my friends meant a lot to me.”
McAlinden broke 1,000 rushing yards (1,150) and led CHS with 20 touchdowns. He earned Offensive MVP and All-SCC for the second straight year, as well as receiving his first All-Class LL selection.
“He brings so much passion and energy to the game. It is infectious,” stated Drust.
In a 35-20 win at Fairfield Warde, McAlinden ran for 197 yards and three touchdowns and made his first two interceptions.
“I had always played defense in junior football,” said McAlinden, who made 35 tackles and three interceptions as a senior. “I was happy to get that opportunity again because we had a lot of depth on the team.”
McAlinden earned career-high stats behind the offensive line of senior co-captain Will Bergin, senior Sean Cangiano, and juniors Dan Bourdeau, Colin Crowe, and Chisom Okoro.
“The holes were usually there for me. I can’t thank those guys enough,” explained McAlinden. “(Seniors) Colby Griffin, Alec Frione, and (junior) Nick DiDomizio were always blocking for me, too.”
In what he calls the greatest game he played in at CHS, the Rams fell 21-20 to Southington on Thanksgiving. Cheshire had a chance to win in double overtime, but were held a yard short on a two-point conversion run.
McAlinden, who received Cheshire’s Offensive MVP in the 24th Apple Valley Classic, scored on a 10-yard touchdown run to put the Rams up 14-7 in the first overtime.
“The atmosphere that day was crazy,” reflected McAlinden. “That rivalry is so much fun.”
In returning for states, CHS built a 14-0 lead at Simsbury, but the Trojans rallied to win 17-14 in the Class LL First Round.
“I wish that we could have won the game,” stated McAlinden. “I always wanted to play in a state playoff game.”
In reflection, McAlinden credits Drust in his development on and off the field.
“He is a great coach and an even better guy,” stated McAlinden. “I’ll always thank him for anything he has done for me.”
“Jake left a positive mark on the program,” stated Drust. “I’m fortunate to see him grow into who he is today.”
McAlinden chose to not play lacrosse this year, so he could prepare to play football at SCSU.
“I want to go in there and compete,” stated McAlinden. “I hope to play as a freshman, but I can’t be discouraged if that doesn’t happen.”
Cangiano (Trinity College), co-captain Jason Shumilla (Western New England), and Jacob Dubois (Salve Regina University-Rhode Island) will join McAlinden on the college level. Bergin will attend Cheshire Academy as a post-graduate this fall.
“This (senior) group had genuine love and care for football,” explained Drust. “They enjoyed being on the field and in the locker room for practice and games. That group worked very well together.”
This fall, McAlinden plans to come back to watch the Rams. He also wants to join the staff after he graduates from college.
“It means something to play Cheshire football,” added McAlinden. “You are part of a family.”