When Joe McCourt completed his record-setting career at Roman Catholic High School, he was recruited by a number of colleges, including Villanova, Lehigh and Buffalo. He chose Lafayette for one simple reason: It was the only school that recruited him as a running back.
“All the other schools told me I couldn’t play running back at the 1-AA level,” McCourt told Kevin Tresolini of the Wilmington News-Journal. “(They said) I’d have to be a strong safety or outside linebacker. I wanted to play running back.”
McCourt merely became one of the best running backs in Patriot League history. He finished his career with 4,474 rushing yards, second all-time at Lafayette and fourth in the Patriot League. He also set the school and league scoring mark with 326 points (54 touchdowns, one two-point conversion) and his 50 rushing touchdowns is another Lafayette record.
The 6-0, 225-pound McCourt had a brilliant season in 2004, rushing for 1,193 yards and 16 touchdowns as he led the Leopards (8-4) to the Patriot League championship and the first post-season berth in the 123-year history of the Lafayette football program. For his efforts, McCourt was named the Maxwell Club’s Tri-State Player of the Year. He can put this trophy next to the Jim Henry Award which he received in 2000 as the area’s top high school player.
“He has outstanding instincts,” head coach Frank Tavani said. “That’s such a big characteristic of the great running backs. There’s only so much you can teach them and he has that. He has great lateral ability and then just a tremendous heart and determination.”
“He’s kind of a throwback,” backfield coach John Troxell said. “He’s not a flashy guy, doesn’t dance in the end zone after scoring. He’s a tough, no-nonsense kid from Philly.”
McCourt grew up in the Juniata section of Philadelphia and led Roman Catholic to the Philadelphia Catholic League championship as a senior. He graduated as the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,315 yards. In his final season at Roman, he ran for 1,780 yards and scored 173 points.
“He was just a pure joy to coach,” Roman coach Jim Murphy told Rick O’Brien of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He was always the first one to practice and the last one to leave. And he was always willing to take younger players under his wing.”
McCourt had similar influence at Lafayette, where he rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his last three seasons. He went over the 100-yard mark in 23 games in his college career. He topped the 100-yard mark in seven games as a senior, including six in a row as the Leopards put on a late season push to earn a spot in the NCAA Division 1-AA playoffs.
McCourt opened the 2004 season at tailback, but was switched to fullback for four games as the Leopards started sophomore Jonathan Hurt at tailback. McCourt went back to tailback and carried the load down the stretch, averaging 103.9 yards rushing per game for the season. He was named the 2004 Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year as well as earning a spot on the American Football Coaches Association Division 1-AA All-America Team.
McCourt had his biggest game in the 56-20 win over Holy Cross, where he rushed for 156 yards and scored a career-high five touchdowns. Asked about his performance, McCourt modestly gave the credit to his teammates. “The fullbacks and the offensive line, they don’t get any love, but they know I love them to death,” he said. “I owe today to them, I owe the points record to them.”