Senior Frank Lucchesi is thriving academically at Muhlenberg College as a finance major with a business minor. He interned at Bank of America Merrill Lynch last summer, and is in the running for a full-time job with the same firm after graduation.

Frank Lucchesi ranked eighth on the Muhlenberg football team in tackles, as of Nov. 22.

That’s all good stuff.

And yet…

“Anytime I get to put on the pads with my brothers and represent Muhlenberg College is the best part of my day,” the 2016 Steinert graduate said.

It’s not hard to understand that attitude. Entering its Nov. 23 NCAA Division III first-round playoff game with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Muhlenberg was 10-0 and ranked fourth nationally in the AFCA Coaches Division III poll. In their regular-season finale, the Mules defeated Moravian, 52-7, to win the outright Centennial Conference championship and clinch the second undefeated regular season in the program’s 119-year history. The defense allowed the least amount of points since the CC went to a 10-team league.

Lucchesi has been an integral part of it all, as he was eighth on the team in tackles with 29 (14 solo, 6 for loss) and had five blocked passes and one sack while playing as a hybrid defensive lineman. His efforts earned him honorable mention All-Centennial Conference. “Frank plays end in our base defense, but we have multiple personnel groups and ask him to be able to line up anywhere on the defensive line,” Muhlenberg defensive coordinator Kory David said. “With Frank’s play, it has helped us to be one of the best defenses in the country in several statistics.”

Entering the playoffs, Muhlenberg was ranked ninth in points allowed per game (11.7), 19th in total defense (270.9 yards per game) and 10th in rushing defense (70.6). With the way David’s system works, Lucchesi needs to be versatile.

“I truly believe I am part of the best defensive line unit in Division III football,” Lucchesi said. “There are five of us that can play any position. To keep fresh legs and to maximize pressure on the quarterback, we do a true NFL rotation. To make this rotation as effective as possible, we all are forced to know each position. That means we have to be able to line up on the tackles, on the guards, or on the center and execute to the best of our abilities. Although I consider myself more of a run stopper, (David) calls the plays and lines me up accordingly.”

And Lucchesi has responded accordingly. That is to say, he has done his job well.

“Frank is extremely confident in his abilities,” Mules head coach Nate Milne said. “He has worked really hard off of the football field to be in great shape and be mentally prepared for each opponent. That confidence spreads to our entire defense and when he performs at a high level it allows others to do the same.

“We knew that Frank was a very good high school player on the field and we knew he could contribute to our defense during his time. This season he has put himself in position to make plays and capitalized on that. I think this season, especially, he has matured and done a great job off the field. He is doing really well in the classroom and has a tremendous future.”

It wasn’t always this way for Lucchesi. Coming out of Steinert, where he was honorable mention All-State and first-team All-Area at defensive tackle, he was a bit taken aback when he got to college.

“There was a huge jump from the CVC to college football,” Lucchesi said. “The speed and physicality of the game caught me by surprise. It made me realize, there is always someone bigger, stronger, and faster than you. It doesn’t matter what level you play at. You have to realize how much more you want it and work that much harder than your opponents.”

Lucchesi worked hard enough to play in all 11 games and get significant playing time, saying, “the experience I gained was monumental.”

He hoped to immediately build on that experience as a sophomore until adversity struck. A week prior to training camp, Lucchesi suffered an off-field mishap that caused season-ending head and neck injuries. He underwent weeks of therapy while glumly sitting out.

“Watching from the sidelines with any injury is emotionally painful,” Lucchesi said. “Not being able to be out there and compete next to my teammates was certainly tough. But I remained positive. I got in the weight room as much as possible, focused on my technique, helped motivate my team in any way possible, and kept my head in the books.”

Upon returning, he had not played a down of football for nearly two years and it was almost like starting over. It took a while to work himself back into top football shape as well as earn playing time and re-adjust to the game’s mental and physical rigors.

“I was certainly behind the eight ball,” Lucchesi said. “But I saw improvement every week. Every game my snap count increased and I rotated in a significant amount depending on defensive schemes.”

Lucchesi finished ninth on the team in tackles last year with 32 (he had 12 as a freshman), including 20 solo and 8-1/2 for losses. He also came to realize that every minute on the football field should be embraced and cherished.

“To me, the injury gave him a great appreciation for playing,” Milne said. “Every day he works extremely hard knowing that you can’t take any play or game for granted. He has really used it as a positive.”

Even more positive were the steps Muhlenberg took as a team, as it finished 11-2 and reached the Division III quarterfinals before falling to Mount Union. The momentum of last year carried into this season.

“We immediately got back to work after that loss, preparing our bodies for what we knew would be a remarkable 2019 season,” Lucchesi said. “Having a young team, we had many players returning on both sides of the ball. We knew with the proper work ethic and the right mind set, we could achieve anything.”

Lucchesi did his part to improve. While happy with his football IQ and strength last year, Lucchesi realized he had to get faster. He worked with local trainer Joe DeMarco of DeMarco Training Systems over the summer. DeMarco developed a training and nutritional plan specific to Lucchesi’s goals, pretty much breaking him down and building him back up.

“I stuck by the plan to a T and got the results I needed to take my game to the next level,” Lucchesi said. “I went into my senior year in the best shape of my life. This season has been everything I could ask for. And we are the winningest senior class in Muhlenberg history (37-7 as of Nov. 22).”

As for his own improved play, Lucchesi attributes it to “playing with a motor, fitting defensive schemes, visual and pressure keys, and tons of film breakdown. Once you truly understand the offensive formation and tendencies, you know what’s going to happen before the center snaps the ball. From there, it’s proper execution of footwork, keeping a low pad level, using your hands, and getting off blocks.”

Lucchesi is eligible to come back for a redshirt season in 2020 but is opting to graduate and get started on a career in the business world so he can help provide for others.

“I hope to take my talents to the world of finance to help people safely and responsibly manage their hard-earned money,” Lucchesi said. “I also want to perform community service, something my parents always instilled in me. There is a TED Talk by Simon Sinek titled, ‘Find your why.’ After listening to it, I always thought that when I graduate, I want to give back and help others any way I can.”

He hoped, however, to play as many games as possible with his brothers before starting on all that.