Lehigh senior running back Dominick Bragalone listens as his cell phone buzzes. He looks at his screen and smiles, just as he does every Saturday before a Lehigh football game.
Bragalone, Lehigh’s new all-time leading rusher, is showered with encouraging texts from his friends and family from his hometown of South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, reminding him of why he plays the game he loves.
“The amount of support my town has shown for athletes is amazing,” Bragalone said. “Last year at Bucknell there were more Lehigh fans because so many people made the 30-minute drive to watch the game.”
Bragalone’s humble and appreciative personality may mask his talents from people who don’t know him. But to the people of South Williamsport, he’s nothing less than an icon.
“He’s a very reluctant celebrity,” said Daniel Williamson, Bragalone’s high school athletic director. “Other than looking at him you knew he was an exceptional athlete, but to hear him talk about himself, there was no way you’d ever know that he was a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.”
Bragalone didn’t begin playing organized football until the eighth grade, and didn’t initially love the sport. In fact, he wanted to quit and only play baseball in high school. But a meeting with his then football coach ignited a passion and changed his future forever.
“My coach, who was like a second parent to me, came over to my house for two hours and told me he saw potential in me,” Bragalone said. “I trusted him.”
After that conversation, Bragalone never looked back.
He finished his high school career as the single-season rushing leader in Pennsylvania, a MaxPreps All-American, a two-time Pennsylvania Class A Player of the Year and a district champion in track and field as a sprinter.
As the prestigious awards and recognition grew, his modest demeanor remained.
“He was so humble and so tough on himself,” Williamson said. “He thought he could do better and he thought he could help the team more, but his stats spoke for themselves.”
Bragalone’s reputation, however, extended far beyond the boundaries of his hometown.
Penn State’s then head coach, Bill O’Brien, saw something special in Bragalone and wanted to bring him to the Happy Valley.
“They had him up at Penn State every week for games and visits,” Williamson said. “I know he also looked at Army and other programs like that.”
But for Bragalone, countless school visits and special treatment didn’t matter. He had everything he needed where he was.
Bragalone ultimately decided Lehigh was the best fit for him, something he knew as soon as he stepped on campus.
“I know he wanted to stay close to home so his family could watch him play,” Williamson said. “Family and friends seem to be really important to him.”
As a freshman, he garnered the starting running back position and became the first Lehigh freshman to rush for over 1,000 yards.
“I just wanted to start,” Bragalone said. “When I first heard that it was the first time a freshman had rushed for over 1,000 yards, I just thought that was pretty good, more than I could have asked for.”
Bragalone quickly moved up the ranks of Lehigh’s all-time rushing leaders and ultimately broke the record in his first game this year against St. Francis.
“I didn’t even know how close I was until right before the game and realized I only needed 120 yards to break the record,” Bragalone said. “It’s really cool to know that my name will go down in the record books.”
Bragalone’s teammates are still impressed by his performance in every game.
“I think he’s the best running back in the country and the best athlete I’ve ever seen,” said senior quarterback Brad Mayes. “If he doesn’t get drafted, I don’t think I will watch the NFL anymore.”
Despite his unparalleled athletic abilities, Bragalone remains committed to improving, specifically as a leader.
During his first three years at Lehigh, Bragalone said he was more of a lead-by-example player. Now, he is a captain and wants to be more vocal. His teammates say he’s already accomplished that.
“He was a very quiet and reserved guy when I first met him, but I think over the years he’s come out of his shell,” junior defensive back Riley O’Neil said. “He’s our captain now and he leads our team by being a lot more outspoken.”
Bragalone said he owes everything to the people who got him here.
“Without them I wouldn’t be here today,” Bragalone said. “I’m just so thankful and grateful for everything they’ve done for me. I built a relationship with people that will be there for the rest of my life, and they’ll always be second parents to me no matter where I end up.”