If attending the U.S. Naval Academy isn’t dedication and commitment enough, how about doubling up by playing sprint football for the school during the same four-year span?
That’s what Madison High School graduate Luke Kustra is in the midst of doing. The senior is a starting defensive lineman for Navy’s sprint team.
“I instantly fell in love with the game and have stuck with it because of my passion for football and the team’s dynamics,” said Kustra, a two-way starting lineman for Madison and also a champion wrestler at the school. “Sprint football doesn’t get much fanfare and few know about it. We all play for the love of the game as the main thing, and we are all very committed to pushing each other.”
The rules of sprint football (formerly called lightweight football) are the same as the regular game, with the only difference a maximum weight limit of 178 pounds. With lighter players, speed and agility are emphasized.
Navy is one of 10 college sprint teams that play in a league including Army, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania.
Most players don’t play sprint football all four years, either getting involved their second or third years or dropping out before their senior seasons.
Kustra, 22, was a team member since his freshman year. He pursued the same path as his father, Mark, who played sprint football for four years at Navy, graduating in 1990 and also a defensive lineman.
“There is something pure about the sprint game,” Mark Kustra said.
The 5-10 Luke Kustra, who plays right at the 178-pound weight limit, wasn’t initially sure he would compete all four years.
“I took it a year at a time at first and kept playing,” Luke Kustra said. “It can be a balancing act with all the other stuff you do at the academy.”
Luke Kustra has enjoyed his share of success with the sprint team. He played as a freshman and sophomore. Then as a junior, Kustra played much more, eventually being chosen a first-team All-Collegiate Sprint Football League defensive lineman selection. In eight games, all starts, Kustra made 34 tackles, including five sacks and 7.5 tackles for losses. He also recovered a fumble, blocked a kick and broke up a pass, helping Navy finish 7-1 and second in the league title game.
This fall, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Navy sprint team has played only one game, but might play more during the spring. Kustra had four tackles in that contest.
Kustra will graduate this coming spring, then hopes to become a member of the U.S. Marine Corps or a Navy pilot.
As a starting lineman for Madison, Kustra squared off against then Oakton High School player Pierce Banbury a couple of times during competition. The 6-foot-2, 302-pound Banbury is a junior center on Navy’s main football team.
“So that’s pretty neat. We played against each other in high school and now we’re both at Navy on different teams,” Kustra said. “I think I gave up about 100 pounds to him back then.”
Kustra spoke more about his Madison playing days and the late Warhawks’ head coach Lenny Schultz. He was killed in an accident on the Capital Beltway in June of 2017, just days after Kustra graduated from the school.
“He was amazing and so fun to play for, and I interacted with him a lot,” Kustra said. “He had a big influence on me.”