Student-Athlete of the Week Archives
Please click on the name below to read more about Salisbury's outstanding student-athletes.
September 7, 2015. Labor Day. The final day of the traditional final weekend of the summer, here in the U.S. of A. Salisbury boys are enjoying the waning hours of their summer vacation while making final preparations to head for the northwest corner of Connecticut for the start of the 2015-16 school year.
Most Salisbury boys, that is. Not Petter Bang-Andreasen.
Not by a long shot.
On September 7, Bang-Andreasen had flown to Oslo from his home in Bergen, Norway, to expedite the paper work he was required to complete before he could leave the country to study in the United States. Unfortunately, Bang-Andreasen does not know his way around Oslo and has no idea where the American Embassy is. Seconds tick away. As his appointment time draws closer, a desperate Bang-Andreasen begins asking strangers where the embassy is, running up to one person after another, zig-zagging among the unfamiliar streets of his country’s capitol. Eventually, he gets there, and the documents make their way to the hands of Salisbury Director of Admissions Peter Gilbert.
While one might have supposed that Bang-Andreasen would long since have had everything in order for his post-graduate year on the Hilltop, one would be mistaken. And for good reason: Bang-Andreasen had only learned of his admission to Salisbury two days earlier. In fact, the idea of a p.g. year in the United States had only come up the previous May when the roommate of Bang-Andreasen’s older brother at Northeastern University floated the idea. That roommate – a rower himself, like Bang-Andreasen’s brother – had been in the first varsity boat at Kent during his prep school days and suggested that Petter apply to his alma mater.
A member of the Norwegian National Rowing Team who had represented Norway at the Junior World Rowing Championship in Hamburg, Germany, in 2014, Bang-Andreasen had credentials that seemed certain to secure him a place at Kent. It was not to be. Wait-listed in May, he was turned down in June. But Kent did suggest other schools that, even so late in the admissions cycle, might be interested in his candidacy – Deerfield, for example, or Taft, both of which Bang-Andreasen pursued, neither of which had a space for him. Perhaps not coincidentally, both of these schools race four-man boats, not eights. “Salisbury was not on Kent’s list,” Bang-Andreasen notes with a smile. “Taft suggested Salisbury. I don’t think Kent wanted me to show up rowing against them in one of Salisbury’s eights!”
Indeed, that is exactly what happened this past Saturday, as the Knights’ 1st varsity eight defeated defending champion Kent by more than two seconds to claim Salisbury’s first New England Interscholastic Rowing Championship. Bang-Andreasen was on board that boat along with Ryan Cornelius, Kai Rice, Jacques von Steuben, William Berkowitz, Charlie Ryan, Torrance Smith, Tim Pumphret, and Chase Merrill.
Not that Bang-Andreasen is uncomfortable rowing in a four. Indeed, he, Smith, Berkowitz, Ryan, and Merrill competed in a four at last fall’s Head of the Charles Regatta, where Salisbury’s boat captured 4th place in a field of 84, the School’s highest finish ever at that prestigious international rowing event. As Salisbury’s undefeated record in the just-completed spring season confirms, that result was a harbinger of things to come.
Competitiveness, it turns out, runs in the family: Bang-Andreasen’s father started rowing in his late 20s, and just a few years later, in 1989, he won the doubles at the Henley Regatta in England. “He’s a competitive guy,” Bang-Andreasen affirms. “It’s pretty easy to see where my brothers and I get that trait.” In addition to his older brother’s collegiate rowing career, Bang-Andreasen has a younger brother who currently plays for the National Basketball Team. But Bang-Andreasen’s father is not the only athletically accomplished parent in the family: his mother competed on Norway’s Women’s National Basketball Team for several years.
While study in the United States is popular among Norwegian high school students, the idea of a post-graduate year is almost unheard of. “What I am doing is very unusual,” Bang-Andreasen explains. “More typically, Norwegian teenagers travel to the U.S. for a homestay sometime during high school. Nobody,” Bang-Andreasen asserts, “does a post-graduate year after finishing high school.” He is glad he broke out of that mold. “While I wanted 100% to go to an American college,” he states, “people needed to convince me that a p.g. year would be a smart thing to do. It absolutely has been worth it,” he declares emphatically. “I have developed a lot as a student,” he attests. “I have learned to manage my time more effectively, and living on a campus where teachers are available to help at all times of the day has been great. Homework is handled much more strictly here than at home, and that has helped me do so much better as a student.”
If Bang-Andreasen is any example, the years of training in spoken English that begins in first grade serves Norwegian students well once they get here. Part of the national educational program, the English curriculum is taught in every public school in Norway. Written English is introduced in seventh grade. Bang-Andreasen is fully fluent in English, his Norwegian accent hardly noticeable. Academically, he has excelled here on the Hilltop, earning Honors for all three trimesters.
Bang-Andreasen also checked in on two aspects of school life that may put him in a minority among his peers, but in the interest of full disclosure and journalistic integrity, his opinions are included here. “I have also appreciated not having the distraction of girls,” he says with utter sincerity. “It is good that the tradition of single-sex schools continues. And the demerit system,” he adds, “is an excellent way to hold students accountable.”
The p.g. year has been invaluable to Bang-Andreasen's growth not only as a student but also as a rower. “In Norway,” he points out, “unlike in the United States, sculling [rowing with two oars] is much more popular than sweeping [rowing with one oar].” At age twelve, he was introduced to rowing as a sculler. When he rowed for the Norwegian National Team in the World Championships two years ago, it was as a sculler. His boat was a “quad”: four rowers, eight oars. “While I was introduced to sweeping when I was fourteen,” Bang-Andreasen recounts, “my p.g. year has enabled me to improve my sweeping tremendously and, in turn, to prepare for American collegiate rowing.”
It is sobering to hear Bang-Andreasen speak of his experience on the National Team. “During the year I rowed for the National Team,” he reflects, “I had only three weeks’ vacation. We were in training for twenty-one weeks. Although it was very time-consuming, I am happy that I had the experience. I had the chance to meet a lot of great people and see a lot of cool places most people will never see.”
Bang-Andreasen notes with admirable humility that there are many, many more rowers in the U.S. than in his country, and it is therefore much more difficult to make the National Team here in the States. “William [Berkowitz] and Charlie [Ryan] both attended Development Camp,” he points out by way of example, “but did not go to the National Team. If they were Norwegian,” he attests, “they would have had a very good chance to make our team.”
Prior to Salisbury, Bang-Andreasen was already well-traveled in the United States. “My family has taken five or six vacations to America,” he shares. “New York City, Boston, Florida, San Francisco and San Diego. We were in Houston and Galveston after Hurricane Katrina. Seeing the effects of such a disaster was a shocking experience.”
Bang-Andreasen’s immersion program in all-things-American includes popular culture as well. He rattles off the names of numerous Hollywood stars he’s enjoyed over the years: Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno, Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Mark Wahlburg, Matt Damon. Netflix are just as popular in his homeland as they are here.
Bang-Andreasen appreciates the opportunity he has had as a rower this year to give back to his adopted country through Salisbury’s recently established relationship with San Miguel Academy in Newburgh, New York. Founded as an independent school in 2006, San Miguel provides free tuition for middle-school boys in one of New York State’s most impoverished and crime-ridden areas. The Salisbury crew program’s relationship with San Miguel resulted from the efforts of rowers Peter Fousek and Kai Rice, who sponsored a fund-raising ergathon here on the Hilltop last winter. The proceeds from that event enabled Salisbury’s rowing program to buy two refurbished boats for San Miguel. Bang-Andreasen was one of two Knights – William Berkowitz was the other – who completed the entire 42K ergathon without relief. In addition, Bang-Andreasen and his teammates hosted the young rowers from San Miguel here at Salisbury. “It was a great experience,” he says, “mentoring the boys and hanging out with them here on a Sunday afternoon.”
As a student next fall at George Washington University, Bang-Andreasen will pursue studies to prepare for a career in business and finance. He is excited, too, about becoming part of a rowing program that is on the rise. “When I visited George Washington in January,” Bang-Andreasen recalls, “my hosts really sold me on the school. I was there during the snowstorm that shut down D.C. and met a lot of people that weekend, all of whom seemed so nice.” As to the prospect of a well-known American businessman joining him in Washington next January, Bang-Andreasen offers only a pithy “I stay out of American politics.”
One further benefit to the post-graduate year was unplanned but has proved to be perhaps the highlight of Bang-Andreasen's p.g.experience. “Rowing with the guys in the first boat has been amazing,” he enthuses. “To achieve what we did at the Head of the Charles and then to beat Kent at the Kent Invitational and again to win the New England Championship is something I will never forget. I had the chance to join the other rowers for the season of their lives.”
Two progenitors come to mind. First, there is Joe Hardy, the fictional star who leads his Washington Senators team out of the cellar to challenge the New York Yankees for American League supremacy in the Broadway classic Damn Yankees. Hardy comes out of nowhere to emerge as the best hitter in baseball. Second, there is Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, in which painting the goddess astonishingly emerges, at birth, as a fully-grown adult.
Like both, Ryland McNabb ’16 seemed to emerge this spring, out of nowhere, fully formed on the varsity baseball field, a diamond-in-the-rough roughing up opposing pitchers on the diamond. If the comparisons seem extravagant, consider this: last season, McNabb’s first on the varsity roster, his full-season’s stat line consisted of two at-bats and one inning in the field. That’s right. Over sixteen games, he made two plate appearances and put on his glove once. And, yes, he was “put-me-in-coach-I’m-ready-to-play” healthy.
This year? McNabb entered last Saturday’s game riding a team-best twelve-game hitting streak. His .475 average is the second highest on the team. His 9 runs-batted-in are second best on the team. Six of those rbi’s have come with two outs, testimony to McNabb’s performance in the clutch. And in the sabermetric categories, McNabb has team bests in both quality at bats (57.14%) and contact rate (.900). While he may not have emerged, Venus-like, from the briny depths, McNabb could not have been much lower on the depth charts coming into this season.
And he swears he made no Faustian bargain – a la Joe Hardy – parlaying his soul to the devil in exchange for a season of Hilltop immortality.
“I came to Salisbury for the baseball,” McNabb says without hesitation. Or irony, considering that he languished for two seasons on the junior varsity during his third and fourth form years. A solid j.v. performer, McNabb batted close to .300 in his “minor league” stint and took little solace in having been the last player cut from the varsity during pre-season his sophomore year. “I was crushed,” says McNabb of that experience. In short, there was little to indicate that he would ever leave a mark on Salisbury’s storied baseball program.
McNabb understands people’s tendency to sell him short. What those same people perhaps missed is, first, McNabb’s passion for the game of baseball. While he may not wear his emotions on his crimson jersey sleeve, McNabb cares deeply about the game. “To me, baseball is like a sanctuary,” McNabb rhapsodizes. “Whatever is going on in my life, bad or good, it calms me down. Baseball is endlessly fascinating: the duels between pitcher and hitter, a glove flip from the second baseman to the shortstop to start a double-play, all the little things that go on during a game.”
McNabb has been playing the game all his life, from tee-ball to Little League, Babe Ruth to the North Coast Grays, an elite travel team based in Buffalo, New York, that plays summer tournaments in New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, North Carolina, and – the big one – the World Wooden Bat Association National Tournament in Atlanta, Georgia, involving over 100 teams from around the United States. And when not competing as a member of an organized team, McNabb, like generation-after-generation of boys in America and beyond, filled his afternoons, weekends, and summer days with wiffle ball, “wall ball,” “home run derby,” “hot box” (a.k.a. “pickle”), or any number of other home-grown permutations of the National Pastime.
People may also underestimate McNabb’s determination to improve in every facet of the game. Coupled with his love of the game, that determination produces a powerful alchemy. “I could take ground balls all day,” McNabb, a former-catcher-turned-infielder asserts. For two or three weeks every summer since age 11, he attended catching camps, then fielding and hitting camps at the University of Rochester, where he will be a freshman next fall. In recent years, summer baseball camps continued at Monroe Community College.
In addition to his passion for the game and his determination to improve, McNabb’s willingness to dedicate every ounce of effort and as much time as he could devote to strengthening his skills has been largely a lonely pursuit, unwitnessed by others. “I spent last season sitting on the bench,” McNabb states. “I didn’t like sitting on the bench,” he adds, an unmistakable tone of steely resolution entering his voice. In addition to spending two hours a day building his body – “I’m not a big guy,” McNabb observes, “so I have to make the most of what I have” – at the gym near his home in Brighton, New York, McNabb has a batting cage in the back yard. “Every day, all summer, or whenever I’m home,” McNabb recounts, “I take 100 to 200 swings off a batting tee.”
The art of hitting has consumed McNabb, who works with a batting coach once or twice a month to perfect the mechanics of his swing: hand position…hip movement…leg movement…bat path…bat extension through the ball. “Getting everything down makes it easier to hit the ball in a game,” McNabb states, “but it is a lot harder than people realize.” When told that Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams, regarded by many baseball aficionados as the greatest hitter of all time, said that hitting a baseball is the most difficult feat in all of sports, McNabb nods his head in ready agreement.
“You can learn a lot about yourself and about life through baseball,” McNabb, who also plays varsity soccer and rec hockey, reflects. “It’s a game about failure.” The best players in the world hit safely three times out of ten. They fail the other seven times. When I go through slumps, whether at the plate or in some aspect of my life, I’ve learned to pick myself back up and keep going.”
Academically, McNabb has had little experience with failure. Since entering Salisbury as a third former, he has achieved Honors or High Honors in every single trimester, including one streak of four consecutive appearances on the High Honors List. His interests include history, math, and physics. “Biology is kind of cool, too,” he adds, “and with all the new research going on with the human brain, I also want to study psychology.” As far as a major is concerned, while it is very early in the game, political science looms as a strong possibility. “The [political] system here in the U.S. is pretty broken,” McNabb observes, “and that situation alarms me, especially looking at the candidates running this year.”
Having clinched second place in the Young Division this week, the Knights are poised for the post-season. While unaccustomed to underdog status, the defending Western New England Champions have no intention of rolling over and surrendering their crown. It will have to be wrested from them.
Whatever the outcome, McNabb can look back on this magical season with satisfaction not only in the knowledge that his hours and hours of hard work paid off but, perhaps more importantly, that he made good on a promise he made to himself “to play the way [he has] been taught to play.” In honoring the game that has meant so much to him, McNabb has arguably achieved something more profound than any hardware can bestow.
Where to begin? The state and national rankings in junior tennis? The commutes back and forth from Texas to New York to maintain those rankings? The 5’s in on-line AP courses? The refusal to take “no” from the United States Naval Academy? Maybe the fact that this is Brett’s first, last, and only year of “regular” high school. You know: classes? classmates? daily assignments? nightly homework? homeroom? lunchroom?
The odyssey of a serious tennis player may bear occasional resemblance to the peregrinations of other student-athletes profiled in this series, but on balance the picture is radically different. Post-graduate Brett Jones’s story amply testifies to this.
Jones picked up his first racket at an early age – no surprise there, given his later accomplishments on the tennis court – inspired by older brother Austin. Now a senior at the Naval Academy, Austin Jones captains a team that recently closed out its season with a 16-match winning streak to capture the Patriot League Championship. “My brother had already fallen in love with the sport when I started playing around age three or four,” Brett Jones reveals. “He was always playing tennis, and I wanted to be just like him.”
The rigors of twice-weekly sessions at a tennis academy near his home in Dallas, Texas, however, took a toll on young Brett. By fourth grade, he was ready for a year or so away from the game to focus on other sports, such as football and lacrosse. By sixth grade, however, he had found his way back to the court and decided that tennis was his main sport. Despite the lay-off, Jones soon returned to a high level of play. He and his family, in turn, began to set their sights on achieving a ranking.
“It’s complicated,” the articulate Jones explains. “In Texas, there are three tournament levels. To make it to the top tournament level and have the opportunity to play for a ranking, a player first must win or the equivalent, such as two runner-up finishes, at the third level. Then he can compete at the second level and achieve similar success there before moving up to the top level.”
Jones won just the second tournament in which he competed at the lowest level as a 13-year-old. It would take him two years, however, to repeat that success at the next level as a 15-year old and establish eligibility for the top level. He would eventually rise as high as #70 in his Texas age group.
By the end of eighth grade, the demands of practicing and preparing for tournaments, traveling to tournaments, and competing in tournaments necessitated Jones’s leaving the structured environment of The Cambridge School of Dallas to become a home schooler. So for ninth grade, he attended various home school groups around Dallas. Those tournament demands had another effect: Jones once again took a year off from the sport. “I was burned out,” he readily admits, “but I picked up again in the summer after ninth grade.”
In tenth grade, he began a program of study that he would continue for the next three years of high school: on-line courses, including APs. These measures enabled Jones, through eleventh grade, to play tennis for five hours daily at Brookhaven Tennis Academy. Before his twelfth-grade year, he moved with his family to New York City. The on-line studies actually provided continuity, even as his tennis base shifted to the tennis center Courtsense in Bogota, New Jersey.
At both Brookhaven and Courtsense, Jones would play every weekday, traveling to tournaments one or two weekends each month. Saturdays when he wasn’t tournament-bound found Jones teaching tennis to little children. Somehow, Jones also found the time to make the rank of Eagle Scout back in Dallas.
This June, Jones will follow his older brother to the Naval Academy. The path was not as straightforward, though, as following Austin into tennis had been. “My whole family accompanied Austin to Annapolis when he entered,” recalls Jones, who had just finished his freshman year of high school. “We took him into the main administration building and basically handed him over. We didn’t see him again for eight hours. When he came out, his hair and civilian clothes were gone. He was in uniform, including the navy-issue haircut. Twenty minutes later, he said good-bye and reported for duty.”
The experience at Annapolis had a profound effect on Jones. “By the time we said good-bye to Austin,” Jones recounts, “I had made up my mind that I wanted to go to the Naval Academy. I asked myself what would give me the best chance of admission. [Ed. Note: The service academies - Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard - consistently rank as the four most selective colleges in the United States.] I realized the answer to that question was ‘tennis.’ From that point on, I rededicated myself completely to the sport.”
Now it was time to work on the national ranking. “There are twelve big tournaments - 64-player draws - at the state level,” Jones elaborates. “Four of those tournaments award national points, crucial to getting a ranking. Jones entered all four of those tournaments and, eventually, did pick up points. He now had the privilege of joining the 2,000 other players to have national ranking in his age group, the U-16s. Since then, he has ranked as high as the top 500.
Jones’s ambition to parlay tennis success into an appointment to the Naval Academy faced a challenge prior to the start of his junior year when his family moved to New York for six months, followed by a move back to Dallas for a half-year, and then back to New York for good. “I was not doing well in tournaments,” Jones acknowledges, “and the Navy tennis coach, John Officer, said I needed to re-establish my national ranking. My junior year was very stressful.”
Despite the upheaval - which saw Jones establishing himself at regional events in the Northeast after the first move (to New York) and then, after the second move (back to Dallas), having to fly from Texas back to New York to continue to compete in tournaments there - Jones’s academic credentials were in order. “It’s actually fairly normal to find tennis players at the college level who have had a non-traditional high school experience, such as home school,” he states matter-of-factly. “Through the on-line work I had done, I achieved high scores on my SATs and also earned 5’s in AP U.S. History and AP Economics. Of course, none of it would have been possible without the amazing support my parents provided.”
Jones also became part of an on-line academic community. He developed close relationships with several teachers, whose recommendations were critical to his application to Annapolis and other colleges. And success in the early rounds of the doubles bracket at a big regional tournament in Maryland improved his national ranking. Jones seemed poised to fulfill his dream of attending the Naval Academy.
Then disaster struck: a torn shoulder, sidelining Jones during his crucial junior year. Coach Officer had to tell Jones that he would not be able to support his application - as a presumptive varsity tennis player - with the Admissions Office. Jones had been counting on Officer’s influence as a varsity coach. Now, Jones would have to gain admission on his other merits, not through tennis, “though Coach Officer said he would welcome me,” Jones states with some chagrin, “as a walk-on.”
Nevertheless, Jones felt certain he could gain admission to the Naval Academy on the strength of his academic and other accomplishments off the tennis court. Thus, the Academy’s subsequent rejection came as a shock. “I was not ready to hear ‘No,’” Jones recalls. “It was a big surprise.”
When he received an acceptance letter from Texas A & M, Jones was ready to give up his dream of playing tennis for the Academy. “I was still convalescing from the shoulder injury,” Jones says, “so I wasn’t playing. Since January, I’d been working as a back waiter at a restaurant on the Upper West Side, Osteria Cotta. When I was accepted at A & M, we paid the deposit, and I signed up for their ROTC program.”
But in May, the Navy notified Jones that he had been wait-listed, and in June he was informed that he had been given a spot in the “Navy Foundation Program.” Say what? “It’s basically a one-year deferral,” Jones explains. “The Navy has a list of eighteen private schools. They help pay the tuition. I had to do three things: pick the school I wanted to attend, get good grades, and stay out of trouble.”
Jones accepted the Navy’s offer and chose Salisbury School. “I liked the idea of having a more traditional high school experience,” Jones relates, “since I’d missed that, and I liked the idea of playing high school sports I wouldn’t get to play again.” True to his word, Jones played varsity soccer last fall and was a varsity skier in the winter, even though he was new to competitive skiing. “Contributing points to the ski team result for the first time in the very last meet of the season is something I will never forget,” says Jones with evident satisfaction. Despite his bitterness that the sport of tennis had somehow “let him down” by failing to deliver the coveted appointment to the Naval Academy, Jones has been the top player on the varsity team this spring. “Frankly, I didn’t care if I ever played competitive tennis again, but I wanted to be a successful player on one of my teams here at Salisbury,” Jones says of his change of heart, “make a more significant contribution than I had in soccer and skiing. I knew that I could do that through tennis.”
While Jones appreciates the unusual educational experience he had over the past four years, his year on the Hilltop has shown him that the traditional school setting is superior. “Don’t get me wrong,” he hastens to add. “On-line school was hard work. My teachers had high expectations, and my parents made sure I kept up. Some people have a stereotypical idea about on-line courses. I resent that. All the same, comparing, for example, AP Physics and AP BC Calculus last year on line with this year in the classroom, there is no comparison: the classroom is much, much better.”
Considering what lies ahead for Jones, who reports to Annapolis on June 30, just seven weeks from now, it was heartening to hear him speak of his experiences working at Morning Glory Farm on Martha’s Vineyard last summer, surfing at Squibnocket, playing guitar and serving on the worship team for music at the Reformed Baptist Church in Edgartown, writing songs with a partner in his spare time, and performing with her at venues around the island. (“Lynyrd Skynyrd and ‘King George’ Strait are a couple of my musical influences,” Jones offers.)
Going forward, Jones’s summers will take on a very different aspect, as determined by the U.S. Navy, to whom Jones is beholden through 2026. As does every Midshipman, he will earn his Bachelor of Science over the next four years, most likely in Political Science. He expects to pursue a career in some branch of politics on completion of the five-year tour of duty that will follow his graduation. While references to Robert Frost’s famous poem on the subject have become hackneyed, who would argue that, in the case of Brett Jones, his has truly been “a road less taken”?
As a IV Former, Matt Gaudet ’16 received unexpected and exciting news from Salisbury lacrosse coach, Bobby Wynne: Yale University was interested in him. Matt’s excitement lasted all of maybe ten seconds. At that point, reality kicked in.
“They obviously hadn’t seen my marks,” the now-sixth former and captain of Salisbury’s varsity lacrosse team explains, “especially in math. I knew I didn’t really have a chance in the world of attending Yale.” Gaudet did not follow up with the illustrious Ivy League school. Why bother? “A waste of everybody’s time” effectively sums up Gaudet’s view those several years ago.
After all, as a top prospect, even as a sophomore back in 2013, Gaudet already had other options. In fact, he committed to Syracuse that very same year. “Syracuse is a Division I powerhouse,” Gaudet points out. “I was excited that they wanted me and couldn’t wait to get there.”
As to where schools such as Yale and Syracuse had caught wind of Gaudet, he has no idea. “It must have been at one of the tournaments my team played in the United States,” Gaudet surmises, “but NCAA rules forbid coaches from having direct contact with players before their junior year, you see, so I would only find out some time after one of these events that a college had seen me and then contacted my coach.”
Gaudet had started playing lacrosse at age 11, when he joined EDGE Lacrosse, the premier elite club program in Canada. Although Gaudet took right to the program, he decided to take a break after his first season – a four-year break. “I didn’t see much point in continuing,” Gaudet explains, “until I turned 15.” How’s that? “Colleges start recruiting at the U15 level,” Gaudet responds, “so that’s when I rejoined.”
Participation in an upper-tier program like EDGE is a significant commitment: a time commitment, a travel commitment, and a financial commitment. Missing those four years spared Gaudet and his family all of that and apparently did not disrupt his growth as a player or put him at a disadvantage with peers who stayed in the program.
“Actually,” Gaudet goes on, “I was playing a lot of basketball,” a revelation that hardly comes as a surprise to anyone who went up against the Salisbury Rec League’s MVP this past winter, where he averaged a double-double for the season. From the age of four, Gaudet starred in community leagues, eventually making his way up the food chain to Ontario’s prestigious Rep Program. For four years, from ages 11 to 14, he played for the Hamilton Wildcats and then the Blessed Sacrament Yellow Jackets. In his first season with Hamilton, the Wildcats won the provincial championship.
As Gaudet sees it, his years on the basketball court were instrumental in developing his lacrosse skills. “I owe a lot of my lax i.q. and talents to basketball,” Gaudet asserts. “The game of box lacrosse [a 5-v.-5 variant of the full-sided game] involves closely related skills to basketball.”
Indeed, despite his love of basketball and his hiatus from EDGE, Gaudet continued to play box lacrosse. In fact, he had begun playing box lacrosse at the same time that he started playing basketball. As soon as the basketball season ended, Gaudet turned his attention to box lacrosse, competing in the spring-and-summer season for the Hamilton Bengals from age 4 to 16.
Certainly, that experience made the transition back into EDGE that much easier when the time came, just as Gaudet was about to enter St. Jean-de-Brebeuf in Hamilton, Ontario, as a nineth grader. One of the biggest attractions of the EDGE Program is the chance to compete in tournaments around the U.S. – three such showcases in the fall and three in the spring. Locations include Rochester, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Annapolis, MD; Baltimore, MD; Charlotte, NC; and Long Island, NY. But the biggest tournament is a three-day event at New Year’s in Tampa, FL – “The Tournament of Champions” (every invitee had won a sanctioned tournament earlier in the year) – that attracts 32 teams. And all those college coaches.
Twice, Gaudet experienced The Show. In 9th grade, his EDGE team won the Charlotte Tournament to qualify for Tampa. In tenth grade, he was called up to play for an older team that had qualified. Spencer Daniel, Salisbury ’14, was a member of the latter team. “The first year,” Gaudet recalls, “we lost in the final to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.” [Ed. Note: Yes, that is the actual team name. Bet against them at your own risk.] “The next year, we lost in the quarterfinal to Northern Lacrosse, a program in Brampton, Ontario, and our biggest rival in Canada.”
A year later, Gaudet would rejoin Daniel on the Hilltop, but it was another Salisbury alumnus who pointed the Gaudet family to the northwest corner of Connecticut: Shane Simpson ’13. Now a junior at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, where he stars on the 13th-ranked Tar Heel lacrosse team, Simpson had also come up through the EDGE program. His brother Kevin was a teammate of Gaudet.
Inevitably, the Simpsons and the Gaudets talked, and the subject of Salisbury School came up. Shane Simpson gave Salisbury and Coach Wynne rave reviews. The Gaudets noted that half of the players in the EDGE Program went off every year to play lacrosse at American prep schools and burnish their academics in preparation for college. The process of finding the right school began. While several other prep schools evinced keen interest in Gaudet, the Simpsons’ enthusiasm for Salisbury won him over.
Gaudet entered as a IV Former, repeating his tenth grade year. Prior to his first season as a Knight lacrosse player, he already had the verbal commitment to Syracuse. Around the same time, he achieved High Honors for the first time. With that success, Gaudet began to see himself differently as a student. Having a role model like Daniel, now a freshman at Harvard, further inspired Gaudet to achieve academic excellence. Clearly something clicked: Gaudet has made the Honors or High Honors List in all eight of his trimesters at Salisbury.
In addition, he has supported the Red Cross Blood Drive as a member of Rita Delgado’s “Bloodhounds,” while back home, he has volunteered at the Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club. “A very humbling experience,” he says of the Kiwanis work, “just to know what families go through, from alcohol and drug abuse to violence and deaths. I count the blessing I’ve been given.” Over the past five years, Gaudet has spent vacation time at the Boys and Girls Club every chance he has had.
Flash forward to V Form year. While college is not any particular concern, what with the early commit to Syracuse, Gaudet starts to become non-plussed by the lack of communication from anyone in the lacrosse program there. He sends e-mails. They are not returned. He wonders what is going on.
Meantime, both Cornell and Princeton have contacted Coach Wynne to express interest in Gaudet. And then one day Gaudet’s long-time Edge coach Marc Burton calls from Canada. “I don’t know what’s going on with Syracuse,” Coach Burton says, “but how would you feel about Yale?”
“I was really shocked,” says Gaudet, recalling what would turn out to be a life-changing moment. “I couldn’t believe it when Coach Burton told me that Yale was still interested.” Despite Gaudet’s initial rebuff and subsequent disappointment that Gaudet had committed to Syracuse, Yale – currently ranked 4th in Division I – was indeed “still interested.”
“‘The door is still open,’” Gaudet remembers his EDGE coach telling him. “I think I asked Coach Burton five times for the Yale coach’s phone number,” Gaudet further recalls, “to make sure I had it right.”
In short order, Gaudet reached Yale coach Andrew Shay, who told him to have the College Office send his transcripts. At the start of the ensuing March break, Gaudet and his father visited New Haven. “I loved the campus,” Gaudet states, “and I had a good feeling in my meeting with Coach Shay.”
Over the past few months, Gaudet had left multiple phone messages at Syracuse without hearing back. Ten minutes after leaving the message that he was thinking seriously about Yale, Gaudet had the Orangemen’s coach on the line. After voicing initial dismay over Gaudet’s change of heart, he told Gaudet, “I would have done the same thing if I had the chance to go to Yale.”
And just like that, everything changed. The young man who had, some twelve months before, not seen himself as Ivy League material was about to become a member of the Yale Class of 2020. Thinking ahead to next fall, Gaudet is keeping an open mind about his studies. Most likely, he will pursue economics. To that end, he continues to work at developing his math skills. Fluent in French – a by-product of six years’ matriculation at an all-French-speaking school in Ontario during his childhood – he also hopes to spend a semester in France during his Yale years.
Speaking of the circuitous college route that brought him, finally, to Yale, Gaudet offers these pithy words: “I’m not on the four-year plan anymore; now it’s the 40-year plan.” That credo aptly reflects the wisdom and maturity of student-athlete Matt Guadet.
It has been nearly ten years now since Jersey Boys strutted off with Broadway’s Emmy Award for Best Musical. Almost 20 years since Tony Soprano and family brought us into their beautifully-appointed North Caldwell, New Jersey, home in The Sopranos, lauded in 2013 by TV Guide as the best television series of all time. Over 40 years since Bruce Springsteen sent his Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., celebrating the Jersey Shore’s raffish charms and setting in motion one of the most storied careers in rock ’n’ roll’s annals. Even longer since William Carlos Williams was canonized as one of the past century’s most influential poets. The list could go on. Yet still the jokes persist. Still the respect is in short supply. The view from the Jersey Turnpike, with its landfills and oil refineries, remains the epitome of the Garden State: “the nation’s armpit.”
Jordan Kaplan will have none of it. Born in the same house in Morristown, New Jersey, where his father was born and his grandfather grew up before that, he takes pride in his Jersey roots. [Full disclosure: The writer of this profile also proudly hails from Jersey and has Kaplan’s back. So watch it.] He rhapsodizes about summers on the Jersey Shore, in his beloved Spring Lake. While aware of the national prominence of his state governor, however, Kaplan reserves judgment about Chris Christie’s recent endorsement of Republican Presidential front-runner Donald Trump and answers a question on that subject by instead saying, “Governor Christie has been good for New Jersey. He gets things done.”
That deft bit of redirection in the flow of an interview might just as well characterize Kaplan’s moves on the ice, where, as a two-year member of the varsity hockey team, he has demonstrated a particular talent for leaving opponents moving in the wrong direction as he slips by. His passing touch, meanwhile, makes him one of the team leaders in assists this season. As his stellar play has reminded fans recently, he is also a dangerous scoring threat. Arguably, Kaplan has never been better than during the four-game stretch that ended the regular season. Over that span, he compiled four goals and four assists, including the Knights’ lone score in their 1-1 tie with top-ranked Avon Old Farms on February 20. For the regular season, he finished with 31 points on 14 goals and 17 assists, second on the team behind Thomas Lee’s 32 points (9 goals, 23 assists).
Kaplan’s first skates were roller blades, which he donned at age five, not long after his family had moved from Morristown to Bridgewater. He enjoyed roller hockey and soon discovered that most of his teammates were ice hockey players who played the sport’s roller version only because ice was not always readily available. A kindergartner, he hastened to sign up for the Bridgewater Bears and three years in their Mite program before moving on to the New Jersey Rockets and their Squirt program in third grade.
By sixth grade, now part of the Rockets’ Pee Wee Major program, Kaplan had established himself as one of the top players in his age group throughout the Atlantic Region, encompassing not only New Jersey but also Pennsylvania and Delaware. In 2010, he was selected for the team that represented the region in the world’s biggest Pee Wee competition: the Quebec International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament, held at the 15,000-seat Colisee Pepsi in Quebec City, the same legendary venue where crowds had thrilled to watch Jean Beliveau during his minor-league career in the 1950s and, twenty years later, to watch Guy Lafleur during his minor-league days. Held over a three-week period every February, the event attracts some 2,300 hockey players from 16 countries around the world.
“It was incredible,” Kaplan enthuses, even six years later. “I’d never played anyplace like it or in front of crowds like those. There were thousands of people in the stands.”
“But how could you take three weeks off in the middle of the school year?” seems an obvious enough question to raise.
“Well, I took my school books with me,” Kaplan hastens to respond before adding, sheepishly, “but I don’t think I actually did any homework.”
Current Salisbury post-graduate defenseman James Callahan was one of Kaplan’s teammates on the Atlantic Region team. Therein hangs a tale. It turns out that Callahan, too, is a Jersey boy – born at the same Morristown hospital as Kaplan, one day apart. That’s right: The two future Atlantic Region and Knights teammates started life as bunkmates in the same post-natal care-unit.
Kaplan, Callahan, and company made it to the quarterfinals of the Quebec showcase before falling to a team from the Ukraine that included the prohibitive favorite to be drafted first in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, a player with the not-so-Ukrainian-sounding name of Auston Matthews. “Yeah, I don’t know about that,” a puzzled Kaplan says with a shrug. The U.S.-born Matthews, a resident of Arizona, has long since become the face of American teams in international competition.
Kaplan’s trajectory eventually took him to The Lawrenceville School, where he played on the first line and led the team in scoring both his sophomore and junior years. Simultaneously, he was also skating for the Rockets’ U-18 team by this time, playing in the split-season during the fall and spring, bookending the prep season.
Unsatisfied with the direction of the Lawrenceville hockey program, however, Kaplan decided to transfer, landing on the Hilltop as a repeat junior in the fall of 2014. While he brought with him an impressive soccer resume – three years as a varsity midfielder and striker prior to Salisbury – the demands of the classroom and his continued commitment to split-season hockey forced him to settle for strength and conditioning as his fall option. He will, though, suit up once again this spring for the varsity lacrosse team.
Last year, Kaplan spent his split-season on the Stamford Sharks. This year, he became a member of league powerhouse Mid-Fairfield, along with fellow Knights Dayne Finnson, David Jankowski, Cole Poliziani, and Anthony Vincent. Mid-Fairfield will travel to San Jose, California at the end of March to compete in the national championships.
Last weekend, Kaplan completed an impressive, three-performance run as a member of the cast of Spamalot, the Dramatic Society’s uproarious winter musical. “It was my first play ever,” Kaplan pronounces, as if even now he can’t believe he actually did it. “I knew Ms. Durbrow needed help, and Jake [Hescock] and Nate [Carter] told me what a great time they were having, so I joined,” he states matter-of-factly. “It wasn’t for an art credit; it was to get a new experience, one that I will probably never have again. I had a great time.”
Was it anything like playing on an athletic team?
“No question,” Kaplan is quick to respond, “teamwork is vital to both. It’s important to have everyone on the same page to be successful. But there’s a big difference.” Oh? “Nobody is looking to lay a hit on you in the theatre.” Tell that to the Dark Knight.
If Kaplan’s priorities were skewed toward hockey back in grade six, he can be forgiven now. He has long since established himself as an honors student here on the Hilltop. His strong math skills could take him in a number of different directions in college. Economics looms as one such possible direction.
Next year, Kaplan is likely headed to Sioux City, Iowa, to play junior hockey. He will be practicing with Sioux City over March break. The plan is to enter college and the world of Division I hockey in the fall of 2017.
More immediately there is a title defense to think about. The three-time New England prep champion Knights face The Gunnery in the opening round of the Elite 8 Tournament this Wednesday afternoon. Kaplan approaches the intense cauldron of playoff hockey with a simple approach. “Each day on the ice,” he shares, “I make sure that I’m always getting a little better. Then I try to carry that over to every aspect of life, becoming a better student and a better person.”
Whatever the scoreboard may show at the end of a game – and in Kaplan’s case, more often than not he has been on the winning side – his approach is that of a true winner.
- Procter Smith
There’s a story that LaTerrance Reed tells so matter-of-factly that it is possible that some people miss the sheer improbability of it, the utter preposterousness of it, the supreme illogic of it. It is a telling story, conveying, as it does, the scale of Reed’s imagination, the force of Reed’s will. For your consideration…
So it’s late spring 2014. Reed and his AAU team, I-90 Elite, travel from their home base in Buffalo to a basketball tournament in Boston. Nothing unusual to that: the team will play a series of such tournaments around the Northeast over the course of the April-to-August season. And there will be upwards of 30 teams competing in the same division as Reed’s team.
One of those teams, LOX, is based right there in Boston. The name and its meaning – an abbreviation for “Living Off X-perience” – intrigue Reed. The initial curiosity morphs into something else. Part of it is admiration for the free flow of the team’s play on the court and also for the calm approach the coach takes in handling the team. But there is something more. An affinity. He can see himself fitting into the system. See himself thriving in the system. See himself growing under that coach.
When he gets back to Williamsville, the Buffalo suburb he calls home, Reed goes on line. He finds contact information for Ms. Lisa, LOX’s founder and the mother of the head coach. He writes her that he wants to join the team. A skeptical Ms. Lisa lets Reed have his say, principally about how he proposes to make the arrangement work, given the 400 miles separating the two cities. Improbably, the young man’s determination wins the matriarch over. Maybe she believes he will give up on his own, once the absurdity of the logistics overwhelm him. Maybe she buys in to his vision that he and LOX are a perfect fit. Maybe the YouTube footage of his performance as floor leader at Canisius High School impresses her. Maybe – who knows?
Before you can say “Ted Williams Tunnel,” Ms. Lisa is arranging to pick Reed up at Logan Airport on a Friday afternoon – he has gone straight from his classes at Canisius to Buffalo Airport to grab a flight to Boston – and drop him off at the van that will take him, his new teammates, and the meals and clean uniforms Ms. Lisa has packed on the tournament trail. The arrangement is repeated for each of the five, weekend-long events where LOX appears in that 2014 season. Reed fits the team like a well-worn sneaker. His role is to score when needed, play D, and prepare to play any of the guard spots. LOX wins four of the tournaments.
Yes, that just happened.
Basketball has been central to Reed’s life since the age of five, when he started playing for a parish team in one of Buffalo’s inner-city church leagues. He showed talent early – not so surprising, perhaps, given that LaTerrance Reed, Sr., his father, played professional basketball in Germany, after a college career split between St. Lawrence University and Palm Beach-Atlantic College, following an outstanding high school career at Forest Hill H.S. in West Palm Beach.
If that name rings a bell in some readers’ memory banks, it’s probably because you recall hearing Jeff Ruskin share war stories from his years at Forest Hill as assistant principal. Reed, Sr. was a frequent guest in the assistant principal’s – i.e., chief disciplinarian’s and sergeant-at-arms’s – office, one of the “knuckleheads,” that is, in Ruskin-speak. Finally, one day that Reed, Sr. showed up again in his office, Assistant Principal Ruskin told him, “We’re going for a ride.” Out to the faculty parking lot they went, and ten minutes later they pulled up to Reed, Sr.’s house.
There, the two of them sat down for a talk with Reed, Sr.’s mother. “Your son has all the talent in the world,” Ruskin told Shirley Reed that day, “and it’s about to go to waste. He could play college ball, but he needs to grow up first.” Then he made his pitch: “There are schools in New England that have spots for post-graduate athletes, but they have to buy in to the discipline and the structure, and they have to take their studies seriously.” Ruskin knew whereof he spoke, not only for having placed other young-athletes-at-risk in prep schools but also for having gone that route himself as a talented – but wayward, shall we say – high school athlete himself back in the 60s.
Shirley Reed pondered a moment and then addressed her son. “You’re going to listen to this white man,” she stated, succinctly and decisively, “and go to school up north.”
And so it was that LaTerrance Reed, Sr. landed on the Hilltop in the fall of 1993 for what would be a transformative p.g. year at Salisbury.
Flash forward to 2014-15. It’s LaTerrance Reed, II’s senior year at Canisius. He has distinguished himself under the rigorous, Jesuit instruction of the classroom setting as well as under the bright lights on the basketball court. That senior year, in fact, he helped deliver to Canisius its first CHSAA (Catholic High School Athletic Association) State Championship in Class A after an undefeated season in the tough Monsignor Martin Athletic Association, where he collected the league’s Player of the Year Award. Down the stretch, Reed was at his best, with eight of his twelve 20-point contributions coming after February 1 and with 28 points in the championship game, solidifying his recognition as the tournament’s MVP. In the season’s aftermath, he added Western New York State’s Player of the Year Award to his other laurels.
Although a scholarship offer from Division-One Niagara was forthcoming, Reed had other thoughts: he had his heart set on following in his father’s footsteps to Salisbury for a p.g. year. “I felt I had some further growing up to do to prepare myself for college,” Reed explains. A devout Christian, Reed feels a responsibility not only to his family and to all those who have supported him but also to the Creator who gave him his talents. “I feel I am on the path to greatness,” he shares with the intensity of one who has a bedrock faith and who has seen the fruits of his labors and accomplished a great deal at a relatively young age. “I am doing what God expects of me with the God-given abilities and purpose He has instilled,” Reed continues, “and I want to fulfill the hopes and expectations of those who support me and enable me to be here [at Salisbury] by becoming a better man, better person, and better student-athlete. ‘To whom much is given,’” Reed concludes, paraphrasing Jesus’s words in the Gospel of Luke, “‘much is expected.’”
That includes giving back to the community. When he is home, Reed enjoys helping his uncle, who coaches a fifth-and-sixth-grade team. He has also volunteered at the Buffalo City Mission, a homeless shelter, where Reed has worked in the kitchen and helped with drop-offs donated to the shelter. At Christmas-time, he helps the St. Luke’s Catholic Church Association with its charitable works.
While Salisbury’s varsity team has struggled this season, Reed has only praise for his teammates. “I’ve never played with a harder-working bunch of guys,” Reed states. His 19-points-per-game average leads the team. He also averages 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
Reed continues to weigh Division I college offers for next year. He anticipates making a decision at the April signing day. The school’s marketing and entrepreneurship programs – areas Reed plans to pursue in college – will play a key role in the decision. “I will determine where I fit best,” asserts Reed, who cites history as his strongest and most interesting subject, “and where I will get the best education.”
Beyond that, there is the goal of emulating his father and playing basketball professionally overseas, if not in the NBA. More immediately, Reed plans on dedicating the summer to getting bigger and better in preparation for the rigors of college play. He has his support team lined up for a regimen of strength and conditioning work as well as skills development.
And he has vision. Court vision, of course, but also the unwavering vision of someone with the belief that dreams do come true.
Wrestling may not be quite as old as the hills, but as sports go? Try to name a more venerable sport. Go ahead. Try.
The oldest sport? It’s wrestling.
Just about everyone has heard of the cave drawings in France and the scenes of hunting depicted there. The cave drawings in France also depict – you guessed it – wrestling. These wrestling scenes have been dated from 15,000 to 20,000 years old and also appear later in Babylonian and Egyptian reliefs, where most of the very same holds are pictured that wrestlers still use today.
By these measures, the scenes of combatants wrestling during the Trojan War in Homer’s Iliad would qualify as relatively recent – a mere 3,000 years ago. And in the Ancient Olympics, which began several centuries later, wrestling was the preeminent sporting competition.
By now, you have probably guessed that the Student-Athlete of the Week is a wrestler, and so Nathan Monk is. This past weekend, the sixth former from Guelph, Ontario, took bronze in the 285-pound weight class at the Western New England Independent School Wrestling Championships, defeating opponents from Taft, Trinity-Pawling, Avon Old Farms, and Pomfret on the way to his third-place finish in the 17-school competition. Monk was the only Knight to medal at the event.
Not bad for someone who took up the ancient sport only sixteen months back.
Indeed, Monk’s season-record after last weekend’s tournament stands at 16-4, with eleven of his wins coming on pins. One of his losses was at the hands of Choate’s representative at 285, who happens to be ranked first in the United States among high school wrestlers in that weight class, the heaviest of the 14 competitive classifications.
“I came to Salisbury for the football and the academics,” explains Monk, who entered as a fifth former in the fall of 2014 and played both right guard and defensive tackle for the 2015 team that lost to Choate in the New England Championship Game last November. “During the football season, Coach Bunce encouraged me to give wrestling a try in the winter. My father supported the idea,” Monk continues, “and we both figured it would be good conditioning outside of football season.”
He got more than he bargained for, but that is a good thing. “I knew wrestling would be physically demanding,” Monk acknowledges, “but I had no idea how much physical preparation the sport demands. The art of wrestling,” he asserts, “is conditioning itself.” He offers a further comparison that puts the sport into stark perspective: “If you gave me a choice of two minutes of wrestling versus doing sprints, I’ll take the sprints any day.” Quite a testimony to the rigors of the sport. Or the “art.”
“Going from move to move, technique to technique is artistic,” Monk expands on the idea. “Taking advantage of an opponent’s weaknesses, while utilizing one’s own strengths, is almost like a dance. The mental aspect of wrestling,” he offers in his thoughtful, articulate way, “is as important, if not more important, than the physical aspect.” Clearly, this is all part of the sport’s appeal to a cerebral young man who plans to pursue bio-medical science next year at the University of Guelph.
The wrestling team this winter has struggled with numbers. Most of its matches have unfortunately been determined by forfeits rather than by the outcomes of actual competitions on the mat. Monk struggles to account for the small number of participants. “Maybe guys are worried about injury,” he suggests, “putting their main sport in jeopardy. But actually, if you think about it, there is probably more risk of injury in rec basketball or hockey than there is in wrestling. In the first place, wrestling takes place in a small area. There is no chance to build up speed – a primary cause of injury in other sports. Second, there is only one other guy to worry about, not nine, say, like on a basketball court.”
Monk wonders if more students, especially athletes, would wrestle if the physical and mental benefits were better understood. “We need to show athletes how wrestling will help them in their main sport,” he asserts. “I know it has brought me numerous benefits as a football player, such as my footwork and mental toughness. Maybe if Salisbury produced a champion wrestler,” Monk muses, “that would create some excitement and attract more people.”
Although he had never wrestled before coming to Salisbury, Monk did participate in several other sports back in Canada: youth soccer, some basketball, a season as a bit of an enforcer for a house league hockey team in eighth grade. “I wanted to give it a try,” Monk says of his hockey experience while noting that, as a Canadian boy, he felt somewhat duty-bound, “and I had fun.” But another sport emerged to take up his time away from the football field: rugby.
“My father played rugby in high school and was spotted on a tour of Wales,” Monk recounts, “where he was actually offered an opportunity to move there to play for one of the top rugby clubs. He was intrigued by the offer but ultimately passed on it.”
The sport’s appeal is clear to Monk, who played three years in Canada for his high school team, the Centennial Spartans: “It’s rougher than football and lacks padded protection.”
But football remains Monk’s main sport. He took up the game around age 10 and moved through the ranks of the Guelph Bears Club from Tykes to Atoms to Bantams. By ninth grade, he had joined the Cambridge Lions, a select team that plays an eight-game, May-August season. Football was becoming an increasingly serious part of his life. He captained two Lions teams that won league championships. Over the next three years, he played for Centennial High. Monk also earned an invitation to an all-star try-out camp and eventually a roster spot to represent Ontario in the annual All-Canada Gridiron Border Bowl.
It was there, at the try-outs, that Monk was spotted by Salisbury’s head football coach Chris Phelps and was first introduced to the idea of American prep football. With his family’s blessing, he decided to give it a try. “Practices here are more intense,” Monk says of the move south. “There is a faster tempo to practices. Although there are some differences in the field dimensions and the rules between Canadian and American football, those adjustments were not too difficult.”
Nevertheless, Monk looks forward to returning to Canada and playing for the University of Guelph. “There are far more commonalities between the two countries than there are differences,” Monk has observed. “I have enjoyed my two years in the U.S. and am glad I had the chance to wrestle.”
Gracious, gentlemanly, and good-natured, Monk has been a fine ambassador for his native land in the classroom, on the field, and on the mat during his two years on the Hilltop.
Life is a high-i-way, I wanna ri-ide it all night long…
David Jankowski and his teammates on the varsity hockey team have been listening to a lot of Rascal-Flatts lately. For the past nine games, to be exact. The team has yet to lose in 2016, and that means the platinum-selling country band’s “Life Is a Highway” continues to provide the backing track for the post-game celebrating in the locker room.
Not that winning streaks are what Jankowski is about. “They’re a distraction,” the post-graduate from Dundas, Ontario, states without equivocation. “You try not to think about a winning streak. Each and every day, you have to start over, stay mentally focused, think about what you want to accomplish that day, that practice, that game, and not be distracted by sustaining the streak. When the team is focused and prepared, we put ourselves in the best position to have success on the ice. The younger players don’t always get that,” Jankowski observes, sounding wiser than his 18 years, “but the older guys are a strong influence. We make sure they stay focused on preparing and improving.”
Through all these cities and all these towns…
Rascal-Flatts could well be singing about Jankowski’s peregrinations through the labyrinth of Canadian youth hockey programs. At age three, he joined “Timbits,” Canada’s entry-level program named for Toronto Maple Leafs legend Tim Horton. From there, at age eight, he moved up to his first AAA team, the Hamilton Reps, and began to play the 60-game schedules that would quickly become routine. “I always had tons of energy,” Jankowski says, in recalling the rigors of a six-month season with games every three or four days, “and I always had a great time playing hockey.”
At age ten, Jankowski, a forward, began a three-year stint with Guelph before a return to the Hamilton club in his first year of high school, followed by 10th-grade year with the Cambridge Hawks. At the start of grade 11, Jankowski entered Stanstead College, a prep school in Quebec, where he competed against elite prep teams around Canada and made his first forays into the world of New England prep hockey, including games against such prep powerhouses as Kimball Union and Cushing. “Stanstead held its own,” Jankowski asserts. “They were definitely competitive games.” He also faced Mid-Western teams on Stanstead’s forays to tournaments in Chicago.
While here on the Hilltop, Jankowski joined the Mid-Fairfield team for the fall “split-season” league. Mid-Fairfield won the league tournament last November. Jankowski’s Mid-Fairfield teammates include a number of players on the Salisbury roster: Dayne Finnson, Jordan Kaplan, Cole Poliziani (whose father coached Jankowski at Stanstead), and Anthony Vincent. All five will compete for Mid-Fairfield in the National Championships at the end of March in San Jose, California.
Road so rough, this I know; knock me down, get back up again…
The rangy Jankowski and his Sarum teammates understand the particular challenge of playing for a program that has had the success that Salisbury has achieved. They know that the Salisbury game-date is circled on every opponent’s schedule. They have experienced again and again the special – and often very physical – intensity that other teams bring to their contests with Salisbury, “the target on our backs” that Jankowski and many of his teammates refer to.
So be it. “I wanted to play for a top prep program this year,” Jankowski affirms, “to widen my college exposure, and Coach Will’s reputation was a big factor in choosing Salisbury.”
It’s in my blood, and it’s all around…
The humble, team-focused Jankowski – his 16 assists lead all Salisbury players through 18 games – would probably not use the phrase himself, but if there is such a thing as “hockey royalty,” his family bloodlines certainly qualify. His brother Mark is a senior at Providence College, last year’s Division I NCAA Champions. Selected 21st overall by the Calgary Flames in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Mark Jankowski is the highest selected Canadian high school player in draft history. The Jankowski brothers’ father, Len Jankowski, played Division I hockey at Cornell, followed by a brief professional career in Denmark. Len Jankowski’s brother Ryan scouted for the Montreal Canadians and is a former assistant general manager of the New York Islanders. Currently, he serves as head scout for Hockey Canada. (Not to be left out of the narrative, Jankowski’s mother and two older sisters all figure-skated competitively.)
The pedigree does not end there. Jankowski’s grandfather, Lou Jankowski, played 130 games in the old six-team NHL with the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Black Hawks. Lou Jankowski was also a legend in the Western Hockey League, where he earned first-team all-star recognition four times, won the WHL’s MVP, and set scoring records. He also received the Fred J. Hume Cup, the WHL’s equivalent of the NHL’s Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, as the league’s Most Gentlemanly Player. The ethos represented in his grandfather’s career and especially in that spirit of fair play and respect for one’s opponents clearly lives on in the play of grandson David.
And then there is Uncle Red. Jankowski’s great-uncle is Red Kelly, one of the hockey world’s immortals. Six-time NHL First-Team All-Star at defense. Fixture on lists of hockey’s “Greatest of All Time.” Hall-of-Famer. NHL coach and long-time scout. And the only player in NHL history to win eight Stanley Cup Championships – four with the Red Wings, four with the Maple Leafs – and never play for the Montreal Canadians. Born in 1927, Red Kelly is still going strong at age 88.
I love you now like I loved you then…
Okay, so Rascal-Flatts did not have it in mind when they came to that lyric, but there is another love in Jankowski’s athletic life: baseball. Up until last summer, Jankowski managed to play the Great American Pastime, too, at Canada’s top levels. “It’s fairly unusual back home to play both hockey and baseball in the upper tiers,” Jankowski acknowledges, “but I have a couple of other friends who also managed to do it.” Managed an April-to-August schedule, that is, with almost no time off between the end of one hockey season and the start of the next. A middle infielder, Jankowski describes himself as a “contact hitter,” who has held down the lead-off or second spot in his teams’ line-ups, going back practically to age 4 or 5 when he began playing the game. He hopes to suit up for Salisbury this spring, but hockey commitments may make that difficult.
There’s no load I can’t hold…
Academically, Jankowski brings the same work ethic, sharp focus, and “all-business” attitude to the classroom that he displays on the ice. For the fall trimester, he distinguished himself by earning High Honors. He has maintained that record to this point in the winter, carrying A’s in all of his courses. His experience with AP Economics last year at Stanstead has inspired an interest in business management that Jankowski anticipates pursuing in college. He also expects to pursue the sciences, where biology is a particular interest.
While driving any highway “all night long” may not be the ideal way to reach a destination, there is something admirable in the spirit of commitment, passion, and determination that imbues such a plan. If “driving all night long” is what it takes to reach “the distant shore,” more power to Jankowski and his teammates.
Drive on, gentlemen.
This is the story of a boy who arrived on the Hilltop in the fall of 2012 with questions about his readiness to keep up with Salisbury’s academic regimen and nothing going on athletically. A boy who left Brunswick School in the second grade because he could not keep up. A boy whose educational testing indicated that he was “different” and who struggled to understand what that meant, asking his father at bedtime, Why? Why am I different, Dad?
He need not have worried about his academic abilities. Windward School, specialists in teaching dyslexics to manage their learning differences, had prepared Torrance Smith well – well enough to have earned either Honors or High Honors every trimester of his Salisbury career. Windward did not, however, have much in the way of an athletic program.
Turns out that need not have worried Smith, either. Although he had never seen a squash court before coming to Salisbury, this winter Smith captains the varsity squash team. Nor had he ever gripped an oar before the spring of 2013. Yet last June, he rowed for the Salisbury boat that traveled to Virginia, where it captured the National High School Rowing Championship, the first such title in Salisbury’s illustrious rowing annals.
Next fall, Smith will study and row at Columbia University. Move over, Gregor Samsa.
Smith attended Windward from 3rd through 8th grades. Brunswick had been a struggle. He had had to leave class every day to meet with a reading specialist. He liked the Starburst treats that she gave him, but he hated missing out on what his classmates were doing. Transferring to Windward excited him; he would be with others like himself, no longer identified as “different.” He figured on taking what Windward had to give him, learning how to manage for himself, and returning to Brunswick “in a year or two.”
After the first few weeks at Windward, though, Smith realized that it would not be that simple. He was there for the long haul. He settled in. He made new friends. There were no other boys from Brunswick at Windward. When it came time to mainstream, six years later, Smith knew that returning to Brunswick was not an option. He would need a school where he could continue to receive support for his learning difference. Salisbury’s Rudd Learning Center met that need. Smith credits his tutor of the past four years, Mr. Brent Barbato, for helping to make the transition from Windward and guiding his academic progress.
As a squash player, Smith was no natural. In third form, he played 3rds and saw competitive action only in a few exhibition matches. But that’s okay: he enjoyed himself. The following winter, he moved up to j.v. and played at #6 or #7 throughout the season. As a fifth former, Smith continued to rise through the ranks, playing #1 or #2 for the j.v. This season is his first as a varsity squash player – a tribute to Smith’s work ethic, coachability, and dogged persistence.
Those same traits have brought Smith even more remarkable laurels in his trajectory as a rower – though “trajectory” is not a word anyone would associate with Smith’s first season on the water. In third form, in fact, he did not even race. An off-water injury took him out of the boat for his scheduled start in the novice race against Brunswick. He would not get another opportunity that spring. Can we envision a much less auspicious start to a rowing career? No matter. “My [maternal] grandmother always said, ‘Rowing is a very healthy sport, Torrance,’” Smith recounts, explaining his original choice of a spring sport, “‘very good for the body.’ She was right. I liked that.” It turns out there was something of a pedigree there, too: several generations back, Smith’s grandmother’s grandfather had captained the heavyweight eight at Columbia. What’s more, Smith’s mother rowed in a four during her years at Pomfret. Not that Smith gave any indication that first spring that he had the blood of a rower coursing through his veins. Hardly. And not that it stopped various members of Smith’s family from suggesting that he could “row to get into college.” Sure. And while you’re at it, you can “write to produce a best-seller.”
The rowing coaches had little-to-no encouragement for Smith. “I was just another face in the crowd,” Smith says of that first season. Unbeknownst to anyone else, though, he had found inspiration. “Every day,” Smith recalls, “I would watch the first boat go out on the water. I would say to myself, ‘I want to be able to do that one day.’”
And unbeknownst to Smith, there was one coach who did see something. “One day,” Coach Christopher “Tote” Smith observed to fellow coach Toby Ayer, “that boy is going to make first boat.” The veteran coach and former Yale rower was directing Ayer’s attention to Torrance Smith.
In his fourth form year, Smith rowed fall crew. “I’m not sure why,” Smith says now. “I just thought I could get good.” In addition, he began to follow teammate Charlie Ryan to the erg room a few nights a week after study hall. Smith watched Ryan keenly. He learned to set personal goals and determined to bring his time for 5000 meters under 20 minutes. He kept at it throughout the winter.
Early that spring, the coaches put their rowers through a timed 2000-meter test. To everyone’s surprise, including his own, Smith pulled the fastest weight-adjusted time on the team. “For the first time,” Smith remembers feeling, “I really believed I could be a good rower.” He moved up to the second varsity boat. Once, when one of the oars in the first boat could not race, Smith found himself taking the vacated seat. “I was in shock,” Smith describes the experience. “I felt out of place. Like a child in a boat of men. The boat moved too fast for me to help at all.”
After a solid fall 2014 season that included his first experience in “head racing,” at the Head of the River Front, Smith continued to train hard during the winter. So hard, in fact, that he finished 10th out of 200 competitors at the World Indoor Rowing Championships in Boston that February – despite battling bronchitis at the time. [Ed. Note: Smith is registered for this February’s World Championships but faces a conflict with the New England Squash Interscholastic Tournament.]
Coming off his success at the Indoor Championships, Smith approached his third spring season with a full head of steam. During the Florida trip, he earned the #7 seat in the first boat. He would remain there throughout the season, as would the rest of the rowers in the first boat in their seats. “That’s pretty unusual,” Smith observes.
The coaches clearly knew what they were about: the first boat produced one of its best seasons in recent memory. In addition to winning the National Championship in June, Smith and his cohorts took 3rd place in the New England Championships and won the Reading Regatta in England, a week before racing at the Royal Henley Regatta (where they fell to defending champion Eton College on Day Two, by less than a boat-length).
Last summer, for the first time, Smith dedicated himself to rowing (and prep-work for the ACT). He rowed out of Greenwich Crew. Entering his sixth form year, he suddenly found himself running varsity cross country, in addition to doing fall crew. “Mr. [Tote] Smith requires rowers in the first boat to run cross country three days a week,” Smith explains, “except when it conflicts with training for the Head of the Charles.” Smith proved himself one of the stronger runners for varsity cross country, finishing in the top five in each of the four races he ran for Coach Michael Bienkowski.
At the 2015 Head of the Charles – the world’s largest two-day regatta – Salisbury’s four rowed to a 4th place finish, the Knights’ best-ever result, in a field of over 100 boats. “We finished 16th in 2014,” Smith comments. “To jump so many places from one year to the next is incredible.” Spring holds much promise.
In the meantime, there is more squash to be played. Quaile Dorm will continue to benefit from Smith’s attentions as prefect. Four years as a member of the Investment Club will come to a conclusion. And Smith will strive to maintain his record of academic excellence, final preparations for his studies at Columbia, where he expects to pursue a pre-business curriculum.
It is a long, long way from those troubled nights when the six-year-old Smith needed his father’s reassurances that his brain worked fine, “It just works differently.” To all indications, this was just what Torrance Smith needed to hear.
Throwback…Outlier…Old Schooler…Atavist…The RetroBro….
Call him what you will, the fact remains: Anthony Drouin belongs to a dying breed. The days of the “Triple-Threat” – the high-school athlete who stars in three varsity sports – are fast fading in prep sports’ rear-view mirrors. The Specialist now commands the driver’s seat, and the GPS is set for one direction.
Yet there sits Drouin on the locker room bench in the Flood Center, suiting up for the varsity basketball team as he has done without fail for the past four years. For the past two years, he has taken the floor at power forward for the opening tip.
For the past four autumns, the ritual has been the same. Improbably, Drouin, who had never played soccer in his life, made the Salisbury varsity team as a third former, suiting up without fail, game after game, year after year. After earning a few starts during his fifth form year, this past fall the sixth former’s apprenticeship ended; he emerged as a starter in the defensive mid-field.
And this spring will mark the fourth such that Drouin will have pulled his helmet and face cage over his head, picked up his long stick, and headed out to his defender’s position on the varsity lacrosse team.
If you guessed that Drouin is the only member of the Class of 2016 who will have played, by the time he graduates this June, twelve varsity seasons at Salisbury, you guessed right.
Before coming to Salisbury, Drouin also played competitive volleyball through grade school and made the junior varsity as a freshman at St. Thomas Aquinas in his hometown of Oakville, Ontario, where the bi-lingual Drouin grew up speaking Quebecois at school, English at home. And of course everyone in Oakville, including Drouin, played pond hockey. Drouin played youth hockey, too, through middle school. So many sports, so little time.
To be sure, both basketball and lacrosse particularly excited Drouin. “When I was 4 or 5,” Drouin recalls, “my parents got me a membership at the local YMCA, and I started playing [organized] basketball. I first fell in love with the game at home, going up against one of my older brothers.” That brother, the only other athlete among the six Drouin children, would go on to play basketball for the University of Western Ontario as a 6’6” power forward. (Drouin himself is 6’4” and change.) “He has been a very influential figure in my life,” Drouin says appreciatively.
A year after taking out the membership at the Y, six-year-old Drouin joined his first “travel team,” Oakville Vytus, and there he stayed through grade six. In middle school, he joined another travel team, Oakville Venom. (Another current Salisbury player, Spencer Cottrelle, was a teammate.) In addition to playing all over Ontario, these travel teams also went to tournaments in the U.S. Then in the summer prior to ninth grade at Aquinas, Drouin earned a spot on Bounce, the best program in Canada. He has continued that affiliation over the summer since coming to Salisbury.
And all along, there was also lacrosse. The same year as the Y membership, Drouin joined the Oakville Hawks and began competitive play in the local house league. When he turned 7, the travel team beckoned, and a year later he had moved up to Edge, the best youth lacrosse team in Canada. During his years at Salisbury, Drouin has played in summer lacrosse tournaments all over the Northeast – Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to name three – as a member of Sweet Lax. College coaches began to strike up conversations after ninth grade.
As a three-sport varsity athlete, Drouin does not have much free time. He is quick to point out, however, that the Specialists, too, have a time-consuming regimen. “We all face the same thing,” Drouin believes, “late nights, early mornings.” And Drouin defends the Specialists, saying, “They need the flexibility to pursue their sports out of season, and doing strength-and-conditioning or a rec sport gives them that flexibility.” As for himself, Drouin likes the variety and challenge of playing three different sports at a high level. “I don’t risk burning out on one sport,” he points out, also observing, as have many other multi-sport athletes, that cross-training enhances things like agility and hand-eye coordination from one sport to another. Drouin’s father has supported him every step of the way. “Whatever makes you happy” has been the senior Drouin’s steady mantra.
Drouin has gradually warmed to the academic challenges at Salisbury. Third form was a transitional year. Drouin struggled, though an academic prize for mathematics gave promise of things to come. In fourth form, things started to click. One trimester, he achieved the honors list. Then last year, he made two appearances on the honors list. Progress. Once again this fall, in his first trimester as a sixth former, Drouin maintained his position on the honors list.
On National Signing Day in November, Drouin committed to Connecticut College – for lacrosse. He also plans to try out for basketball, as a walk-on. Both the lacrosse coach and the basketball coach at Conn College have reassured him that the two sports are mutually compatible, should Drouin gain a spot on the basketball team.
Drouin’s plans for his course of study reflect the same purposefulness that his athletic intentions do. “I want to double-major [How apt! Ed.] in economics and agriculture,” he asserts. “Agriculture seems to have an important future. The world population presents some serious challenges.” Thoughts come in a rush: “A chance to do something socially conscious,” Drouin adds, “help find economically feasible solutions, make a change for the good.” He wants to help rid food of enhancers, get after Monsanto. A Red Cross Bloodhound here on the Hilltop as well as a Prefect, service is clearly important to Drouin. He has a big heart, and it is in the right place.
Has Drouin missed out on something as a result of all this, missed an opportunity to excel, like the Specialists? Arguably. He can see the evidence around him, the progress that others have made, concentrating on one sport.
But it’s not as if Drouin is insisting that the world is flat. He can see the world for what it is: Specialists rule. But he has more than made a place for himself in that world. And who knows? Maybe his success shows that there is still room for the ol’ Triple Threat after all. It’s nice to think so. Regardless, Drouin is happy right where he is.
- Procter Smith
Forget the image of the duck, placidly coasting along the water’s surface while below, out of sight, his webbed feet churn furiously. The Hilltop boasts an updated version. Anthony Vincent, too, may seem phlegmatic on the surface, but underneath his calm exterior, twin turbines drive this quiet and unassuming sixth former to levels of academic and athletic success that are virtually unprecedented.
Consider. Now in his fourth year at Salisbury, Vincent has achieved High Honors in every one of his ten trimesters on the Hilltop. Over the same span of time, the native of Wilton, Connecticut, has been a four-year member of the varsity hockey team. No other student in the School has achieved the dual distinction of uninterrupted High Honors standing while performing as a four-year varsity athlete. Currently, Vincent carries six courses, among them Economics, Calculus, and AP Environmental Science. As of this writing, five weeks into the winter trimester – and the hockey season – he is carrying A+’s in all six.
Consider. Last year, three members of the Class of 2015 graduated with three New England Prep Hockey Championships apiece to go along with their Salisbury diplomas – the first student-athletes in New England prep hockey to achieve that distinction since the start of post-season tournament play in the late 1970s. Over that four-decade time span, Vincent is the only player in New England to achieve prep hockey championships as a freshman, as a sophomore, and as a junior. This year, his teammates elected him a captain.
People encountering his reserved, well-mannered, and humble demeanor for the first time can be forgiven if they sell Anthony Vincent short. He is not one to draw attention to himself, much less to his extraordinary accomplishments.
What is the well-spring of these accomplishments?
Vincent discovered hockey one afternoon as a five-year-old. He happened on a friend playing in a peewee hockey game at a local rink. He had never seen anything quite like it. To Vincent, his friend seemed to be having the time of his life. “Something sparked,” Vincent explains. He had, in fact, never even skated before. He joined the team. He learned to skate. “I liked the social part, I liked the competition, and I loved winning puck battles,” he recalls of those first few weeks in the sport that would become his greatest passion.
By age eight, Vincent’s skills earned him a place on the Mid-Fairfield Blues, the club he would play for up to his entrance to Salisbury. “Almost every member of the team went off to prep school,” Vincent notes. And what is it like to face them now on opposing teams? “It’s great!” Vincent states without hesitation. “It makes the competition even more intense. But off the ice,” he adds, “we’re right back to being friends.”
Leading the Mid-Fairfield Blues throughout Vincent’s years of youth hockey was Marvin Minkler, a coach whose powerful influence on Vincent and other boys is inestimable. That influence goes a long way toward explaining Vincent’s remarkable achievements both on the ice and in the classroom. As Vincent tells it, “Coach Minkler instilled the message that doing well in school would help us succeed with hockey. He would have us print out our report cards for him. If he saw a weak grade, he would communicate his concern to our parents, work with them and with us to figure out the problem, and help develop a plan for improvement. As a coach, he did not want players distracted by school issues. I learned that doing well in school is the best way to ensure that, whenever I go out on the ice, my only focus is hockey.”
Clearly, Vincent learned that lesson well.
But Minkler’s influence is reflected in other ways, too. With Salisbury’s recent focus on positive and negative images of masculinity, particularly the potential for positive and negative role-modeling by coaches, Vincent’s further observations about Minkler are particularly timely. “I think Coach Minkler, through hockey, has taught me a lot about what it means to be a man,” Vincent states, “as well as reinforcing things that my father and mother always emphasize. Not only doing well in school but overcoming adversity, being tough when situations require it, being resilient, pushing limits, mental as well as physical, not backing down on the ice or in the classroom but instead tackling challenges rather than sitting and sulking.”
Minkler’s influence does not end there. The way he used the idea of family to build a close-knit team made a deep impression on Vincent. Building relationships and supporting teammates, particularly through difficult stretches, has been integral to Vincent’s approach as a member of the Salisbury varsity team, even more so in his role as captain. “Of course captains set an example for teammates to build off of,” Vincent points out, “but it’s just as important to help a teammate when he’s down, support him by finding a way to turn something negative into a positive. Being the ‘alpha male’ is not as important as helping everyone to work together. Supporting each other’s strengths and talents,” Vincent asserts, “builds a stronger community.”
It turns out that Minkler also taught Vincent how to eat. “My mom was a big influence on teaching me how to ‘eat healthy,’” Vincent says, “but hearing Coach Minkler talk about the same things and explain how it could make us more effective hockey players had a huge effect." (And, yes, Vincent has only praise for Salisbury’s dining services and the healthy food choices they make available to the community in the dining hall.) By the way, Vincent himself has become quite adept in making bread, often alongside his mom, and in curing protein-rich beef jerky.
As with most top prep athletes nowadays, Vincent’s sport is a year-round endeavor. He has been a member, for instance, of a “split-season” (i.e. fall) team that includes Salisbury teammates Dayne Finnson, David Jankowski, Jordan Kaplan, and Cole Poliziani. From September to mid-November, the team played two games every weekend. Last fall, they won the regional tournament, earning the right to compete in the national tournament starting on March 31 in San Jose, California.
Summer means hockey camps, such as the National Hockey Training Camp at Berkshire School (Sheffield, Massachusetts) and the Harvard Hockey Camp (Cambridge, Massachusetts). Next summer, Vincent has been invited to work as a shooter at a camp for hockey goalies. Like many top players, he also has a trainer as well as a network of players around home who get together to train or play several times a week throughout the summer.
As a number of top Salisbury players have done in recent years, Vincent hopes to play junior hockey after he graduates, deferring college until fall 2017. Ideally, he will end up at a college with a strong pre-business program along with a Division I hockey program.
Level-headed as ever, Vincent makes no predictions about this year’s prep hockey playoffs and Salisbury’s prospects. He and his teammates, he assure others, know that past records mean nothing - well, except to opponents who “act like they’ve just won the Stanley Cup if they beat us,” Vincent muses. The team focuses on approaching each game the same way, striving to accomplish the same set of goals that will ensure the best chance for success each time they take the ice. It is a formula that has worked awfully well for Head Coach Andrew Will’s hockey teams during his tenure at Salisbury. And it is a formula that Anthony Vincent has applied better than most in his career as a hockey player and a student.
- Procter Smith
It is no secret that this is an era of increasing specialization among high school athletes. While some Old Schoolers may lament this trend and, with it, the increasing rarity of the still-venerated three-sport athlete, sixth former Kendrick Jolin is all in. A three-year starter at point guard for Salisbury’s varsity basketball team and one of this year’s captains, the Montreal native decided at a young age – some would say a very young age – that basketball would be his sport. He has never looked back.
And with the stakes being what they are – a four-year college scholarship; more and more opportunities after college to play professionally all over the world – who can blame young athletes and their families for focusing on one sport? Through 4th grade, Jolin also played soccer and was, by his own accounting, “a serious youth soccer player.” But by 5th grade, basketball had become his passion. Exit soccer. “I loved soccer,” Jolin recalls, “but it became too time-consuming to allow me to do everything I wanted in order to improve my basketball skills.”
Jolin began playing organized basketball during the winter in 3rd grade. In 5th grade, he made the West Island Lakers of Montreal’s Inner-City League. He quickly caught the attention of youth league scouts and received a “special release” to switch from the Lakers and the I.C.L. to the renowned Parc-Ex Knights of the elite Montreal Basketball League. Now, as a member of the top program in the city, he would have the opportunity to get more intensive skills training and more individual coaching.
And so, at age 10, begins the life of the specialist. As a specialist, Jolin became part of a twelve-month program: a playing season that began in September and concluded with playoffs in March, followed by off-season workouts up to six times per week from April to August. While the workouts were not all mandatory, players serious about improving their skills, such as Jolin, attended every session they could.
By 9th grade, Jolin added another significant piece to his basketball resume, earning a coveted spot on the roster of Brookwood Elite, an A.A.U. team based in Montreal. Brookwood plays an intensive spring and summer schedule, focused on showcase events across the United States. “We used to cram into vans for 16-hour drives,” Jolin recalls. “Only recently did the A.A.U. start to provide coach buses.”
Brookwood has become something of a feeder for prep schools in the U.S. Currently, according to Jolin, there are six members of the ten-man roster for the U17 team playing in American prep schools, and the numbers are increasing across all of the age divisions. (Brookwood also has U14, U15, and U16 teams, each with a ten-man roster.) “It’s a highly evolved system,” Jolin elaborates. “Prep coaches are coming to Canada from the United States to recruit. The trend began slowly during [fellow Canadian and future NBA Hall-of-Famer] Steve Nash’s career and took off over the past five years. [Canadian] Andrew Wiggins was the number one pick overall in the 2014 NBA draft and went on to win Rookie of the Year. In 2015, Anthony Bennett was the number one pick, making back-to-back years that a Canadian was the overall top choice.”
Because college coaches and their staffs are focused on their own teams during the basketball season, it is all-but-impossible to see potential recruits in action. This can be a sticking point for athletes of Jolin’s caliber, not just in basketball but in many of the sports at which Salisbury’s premier athletes excel. “The only way to be seen,” Jolin points out, “is to play [with his Brookwood Elite team] at showcase events, which start in the spring.” Typically, that means getting special permission to miss classes in order to travel to these events and be seen by the college coaches. Therein lies an essential paradox in the life of the elite high school athlete: in order to get into college with the financial aid needed to pay for college, the elite athlete must leave school for a few days at a time and miss classes.
“Brookwood plays on the Adidas Circuit,” Jolin states to illustrate the particulars of the situation. “The key showcases are Indianapolis, Dallas, Atlanta, and Las Vegas.” Last year, Jolin’s fifth form year, three of those events occurred during the spring trimester. The conscientious Jolin presented his travel needs to his form dean early in the trimester “so that there would be no surprises later on,” he explains. “Getting to Dallas, for example, required my leaving early on a Thursday morning, getting to the airport to fly to Dallas, playing a series of games with my A.A.U. team [Brookwood Elite], and returning to campus Monday morning or early afternoon.”
Given such circumstances, there is little wonder that the form dean showed hesitance to approve Jolin’s series of requests. “It’s good that the School upholds academic standards,” Jolin carefully agrees, “but there is a certain misperception that the time away is for ‘pleasure.’ The fact is that competition for college scholarships is pretty cut-throat, when you come right down to it. Participation in these showcases can make or break the opportunity to attend college. The coaches [at Salisbury] understand the importance of the showcase tournaments and have supported my participation. I wish I felt a little more support from others [i.e., other faculty] here. I think a change of attitude would help me and other athletes who are trying to get into college.”
And lest readers think of athletic factories and educational malfeasance when they hear of high school athletes such as Jolin parlaying success in their sport into college acceptances, think again. Yes, it is true that Brookwood alums have attended such basketball powerhouses as the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (NBA-player Khem Birch) and Baylor (Kenny Chery, currently playing professionally in Europe). And the shooting guard in the starting line-up for Cleveland State this winter is Daniel Levitt, a teammate of Jolin’s since U15’s (and, coincidentally, as a star at New Hampton School the previous two years, a protégé of Salisbury head coach Harlan Dodson).
The colleges pursuing Jolin, on the other hand, are not likely to show up in the weekly AP rankings or the NCAA’s investigative reports: coaches from Bowdoin, Hobart, McGill, M.I.T., and the University of Chicago have all shown interest. None, apparently, has taken exception to Jolin’s missing school to play at a showcase. And, yes, Jolin’s academic credentials make clear that he is more than capable of meeting the challenges posed by such a shining constellation of colleges. Where other athletes jockeying for inside position in the admissions sweepstakes might be more protective of their G.P.A.’s in selecting their courses, Jolin is absolutely fearless; his academic schedule the past two years has included six Advanced Placement courses. The results? He has achieved the High Honors List in all seven trimesters of matriculation here on the Hilltop.
For anyone who has taught Jolin, that record is as unsurprising as it is impressive. The careful preparation and deep reflection that he brings to a classroom establish a tone of intellectual rigor and respect. “I enjoy reading and writing,” Jolin states simply, “and have a passion for it. Whatever I decide to do in college, I will continue to take English courses, no matter what.” His course of study in college may well involve mathematics. “I would probably be good at actuarial work,” Jolin shares, “but in an ideal world, I would like to write fiction.”
Part of his preparation for a writing career includes seeing the world. Jolin hopes to do that, through basketball, following his undergraduate years. “I would love to play professional ball,” he enthuses, “especially in one of the European leagues. See the world through basketball.”
This year, the basketball team made a slow start, losing the first three games of the season. When asked for an interview, Jolin was confused and supposed there had been some mistake. “You do realize,” he said to the interviewer, in his polite and soft-spoken way, “that we haven’t been doing very well.” After Jolin’s being reassured that he had been carefully selected, his reservation became the starting point for the ensuing conversation. What do you do as a player and team member, as well as a captain, when things are not going well?
“First of all,” Jolin responded with the serious reflection that is one of his chief characteristics, “the main goal is to make sure the team is doing well. My own sub-par play is not important if the team is winning. Then,” he continues, “talking is the most important thing: talk to the coach, talk to [co-captain and fellow three-year starter] Anthony [Drouin], talk to the other starters. What are they seeing? What do we need to do to fix the problem? Don’t dwell on the losses,” Jolin emphasized, “focus on solutions.”
Back-to-back wins this past week may not indicate that the team is past its early-season problems but does certainly suggest that Jolin’s approach is helping take the team in the right direction - that plus a focus on leadership. “I’m a really competitive guy,” Jolin admits, “and it can be a challenge for me [as one of the captains] to bring others to that same level of intensity and energy. I am learning to be more emotional, bring emotional energy that teammates can feed off and lock into.”
“Still waters run deep” would aptly describe this multi-talented young man. If stirring those waters with some turbulence will help the team, then you can be sure Jolin will work on bringing his emotional i.q. in line with his already formidable basketball i.q. and traditional i.q.
- Procter Smith
Edgars Treijs loves… tennis. Yes, tennis. You heard that right.
“I never played before I came to Salisbury,” the sixth former from Linkoping, Sweden, enthuses. “In fact, I was originally going to take crew last spring.” A number of Treijs’s varsity hockey teammates had told him of crew’s benefits for various muscle systems as well as for the cardiovascular system. It made sense, but Treijs felt tennis offered benefits that crew did not, most notably footwork. “Coach [Kirk] Hall really emphasizes footwork, particularly in his stop-and-go drills. It has helped my skating tremendously,” he explains, in what must be one of the more unusual compliments the junior varsity tennis coach (and School Chaplain) has received.
To be sure, Treijs found additional rewards in the tennis program. It wasn’t just about furthering his skills as a hockey player. “I had no idea how much fun tennis is,” he says now. Although still a relative newcomer to the game, he calls tennis “one of my favorite sports.”
For visitors to Salisbury’s website, Treijs’s is one of the most recognizable faces in the Hilltop community: his warm smile beams from the top right corner of the School’s main page as he looks up from taking notes on American history. While he is modest about his role as a “poster boy,” his strong academic record makes him an apt representative: Treijs has earned a position on Salisbury’s Honors List in each of his four trimesters here.
Treijs is best known, though, as a returning veteran on the reigning New England Prep Hockey Champions. Notwithstanding such success, the transition from club hockey in Sweden to New England prep school hockey did not come easily. Last year, in fact, was probably the most challenging Treijs has experienced in his emergence as one of the top schoolboy hockey prospects in Sweden.
“We play on bigger rinks in Sweden,” Trejis explains. “While we have an Olympic-size rink here at Salisbury, most of the schools we play have much smaller rinks. At first, I kept skating into the boards,” he admits, with no trace of exaggeration. “With the bigger ice surfaces in Sweden,” he continues, “the emphasis is on controlling the puck, possession, passing. It’s a slower game.”
The speed of prep school hockey took Treijs by surprise and was one of his most difficult adjustments – not that he couldn’t keep up but that he simply wasn’t used to the pace of play. “Prep hockey has a lot more back and forth,” he goes on. “The game keeps moving, and there is a lot more hitting.”
Basic strategies could be radically different between the two hockey cultures as well. Setting up in the attacking end and working the puck around was what Treijs had been trained to do back home. “Here,” he says, “there is a lot more dumping the puck into the attacking end. Swedish coaches teach us not to dump the puck!” In turn, many aspects of the Knights’ offensive system are built around dumping the puck and therefore unfamiliar to Treijs before last season.
It was a lot to adjust to. And the adjustment did not stop when Treijs left the ice. On top of the adjustments to prep hockey, there were changes in the academic expectations. “Homework” was a concept new to Treijs. “Homework is not assigned in Swedish schools,” he states. But Treijs learned to balance hockey with his studies – a more formidable challenge than one might suppose, as he plays in a Sunday league during the fall and spring in addition to the varsity season and to his two other sports commitments here on the Hilltop.
In fact, though, both the homework demands and the opportunity to play in the Sunday league made Salisbury more attractive to Treijs. “I liked the idea of combining schoolwork and high-level hockey,” he says without reservation. “In Sweden, my club team [Linkoping Youth Hockey] played a 25-game season and traveled to numerous tournaments,” he points out, “so we ended up playing 40 to 50 games. The chance to play ‘split-season’ games on Sundays meant that I would not have to give up playing time to come to Salisbury.”
Treijs’ team, the Connecticut River Hawks, includes several of his Knights teammates: Nathan Ellis, Henry Girardi, and Chad Soule. The Hawks made it to the semi-final of the recently completed fall tournament, won by the Mid-Fairfield team that features Salisbury players Dayne Finnson, Dave Jankowski, Jordan Kaplan, Cole Poliziani, and Anthony Vincent. “We beat them in the regular season,” Treijs wants readers to know.
Treijs enters the 2015-16 season as a different person than he was a year ago. “I have a system in place for homework, which I didn’t a year ago,” says Treijs, belying his effective academic performance during his fifth form year. In addition to having a clear idea now of what to expect in prep-style hockey, Treijs has continued to work hard on improving his game and not just here at Salisbury. “Every time I go back home,” Treijs notes, “I work with a private instructor who is a speed-skating specialist.” And what might that involve? “He uses light sensors and computer schematics to identify ‘perfect’ blade placement,” Treijs, who started skating when he was four, informs a fan. “We also use parachutes.” Parachutes? “Yes,” Treijs goes on, “small parachutes, to focus on getting lower to the ice and increasing power.”
Homework systems, light sensors, parachutes, a year of prep hockey under his belt: it all adds up to a more confident Edgars Treijs entering the new season. “I’m in better shape,” he asserts, “faster and stronger.” He has also had the benefit of insider tips from NHL players Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim Ducks) and Cody Hodgson (Buffalo Sabres), both of whom train at the same facility Treijs uses in Sweden. “They’ve helped me with my shooting and skating,” enthuses Treijs, adding, “and they’re fun guys to be around.” With a goal and an assist in the opener last Wednesday against Taft, Treijs was awarded the game’s “1st Star,” a performance he has followed up with three more goals in the ensuing games with Williston and Millbrook. He leads the team with four goals, indication that his improved confidence and his skills development are paying early dividends for the team.
Next year, Treijs expects to play for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League, the team that drafted him at the end of his sophomore year in Sweden. Former Salisbury teammate Mike O’Leary is a current Fighting Saint. Treijs anticipates playing for two years in the USHL and then transitioning to an American college to prepare for a career in business and to play Division I hockey. If an NHL opportunity comes along, so much the better.
Whatever the future may bring, language will certainly prove no impediment. Treijs’s fluency in spoken English is striking; it is hard to detect traces of his native Swedish language. In part, that is a tribute to a Swedish educational system that requires all students to take English class from the time they enter first grade. But Treijs cites a further influence: American t.v. shows. “‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Family Guy’ are very popular back home,” Treijs points out, “and neither of those shows uses [Swedish] voice-overs. Watching those shows and listening to the spoken English, you learn so much from hearing language.”
Treijs’s uncanny ability to find unexpected benefits in unconventional places – from the tennis court to Quahog, Rhode Island – is a trait likely to carry him far in his future pursuits, both on and off the ice.
John Seter is settling into his dorm room as a new student at Cardigan Mountain School, a repeat eighth grader in need of some serious academic rebooting. He knows, of course, the reputation Cardigan’s ice hockey program enjoys: the all-boy junior prep school in Canaan, New Hampshire, has produced a raft of prep and collegiate stars as well as boasting NHLers Deron Quint and Ben Lovejoy. Hit the books, play high-level hockey, then get into a good prep school. Sounds like a plan.
So there’s Seter, organizing his desk, when a boy from across the hall appears at his door and asks him if he wants to take a break, toss a football out in the quad.
What’s the point? Seter wonders. After all, he doesn’t play football. Hasn’t played a down of football in his life. Fall in the hills and forests of New Hampshire? He’s looking forward to mountain biking, one of Cardigan’s fall sports options.
“Well?” the boy from across the hall says, breaking Seter’s reverie.
“Sure,” Seter responds, for no particular reason, and the two head to the grassy area outside the dorm, where other boys are tossing footballs, cradling lacrosse balls, winging Frisbees.
Seter can practically count the number of times in his life that he’s so much as even held a football. It’s not many. But he looks okay out there, chucking the ol’ pigskin around with the other boy. Looks okay enough, in fact, that when Steve Harris, Cardigan’s varsity football coach, happens by, Seter catches his eye. Harris pauses, regards, then calls to Seter: “You going to play football for me this fall?”
Seter doesn’t know what to make of this, what with mountain biking and all. Hockey and lacrosse are his sports. He doesn’t need football, has never given it a thought. The next day, though, he’s fitted for pads and joins the other candidates out on Marrion Field.
And just like that, a quarterback is born. Three weeks later, he makes his first start. It actually happened that way.
After two years learning the position even as he was learning the game playing for Cardigan’s varsity, Seter found himself on quite a trajectory - a trajectory that landed him at Salisbury School, where he continued to learn the game as back-up q.b. on last year’s varsity and where this year he has lined up under center to lead the Knights to a perfect 8-0 record after last Saturday night’s regular-season finale, a 51-20 win over Avon. In the process, Seter has completed 53.2% of his passes for 1,110 yards and 6 TDs. Most importantly, Seter’s effectiveness has kept opposing defenses off-balance in their efforts to keep Salisbury’s powerful running game in check. Seter and his teammates will play for the New England Championship next Saturday afternoon at 1:00 against Choate Rosemary Hall on Wachtmeister Field.
Seter’s trajectory has been propelled by repeat visits to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, arguably the foremost program in the country for developing football talent. Started in 1978 as the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, IMG added programs in other sports over the years, with football entering the curriculum in 2010. The first directors of IMG’s football camps were Hall-of-Fame Coach John Madden and former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke, who last February left IMG to take over as quarterbacks coach for the NFL’s St. Louis Rams - but not before taking Seter under his wing.
Seter made his first trip to IMG after his 8th grade year at Cardigan. Though only 5’7” at the time, Seter quickly caught Weinke’s attention. Now 6’4” and calling signals for the top-ranked prep team in Western New England, Seter has proven Weinke uncannily prescient with his sharp performance this fall here on the Hilltop - a performance made all the more remarkable for the fact that Seter had tendinitis in his throwing arm and was sidelined for the first two months of the past summer. By the time he started throwing again in early August, he had missed all of the showcase camps for high school football players. He did not start throwing hard until three weeks prior to reporting for pre-season.
Over the past three years, Seter has earned the privilege of dropping in at IMG anytime he has the chance, and he has taken full advantage of that opportunity. In the process, he has shared field time with the likes of Tim Tebow and Geno Smith, both of whom are among the NFL quarterbacks who train at IMG during the off-season.
Obviously, Seter could have accomplished little of this without the support of his family. In addition to providing their son with outstanding educational opportunities and making those trips to Florida possible from their home-base in Darien, Connecticut, Seter’s parents have also given him something else: an athletic pedigree. His father was a member of the University of Michigan’s men’s basketball team that won the 1989 NCAA Championship. He was also on one of the most storied teams of all time: the “Fab Five,” who, as an all-freshman line-up, carried Michigan to the NCAA Championship Game in 1992 and made a second trip to the final as sophomores in 1993.
On the maternal side, Seter’s grandfather was a collegiate golf star at Michigan State and faced golf-legend Jack Nicklaus in tournament-play during the Golden Bear’s college days at Ohio State. According to Seter, his grandfather still has serious game. “He’s 75 now and still shoots below par.,” Seter states with evident pride. “I don’t know how he does it. He routinely beats me, even though he only drives 140 yards now. Of course, he also beats me all the time in H-O-R-S-E, bowling, ping-pong - you name it. He’s been a great role model,” Seter attests.
Seter’s grandparents, who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, make their home in Michigan, where Seter himself was born and where he returns every summer for family vacations. Seter finds ample consolation for the defeats on the golf course and elsewhere at his grandparents’ restaurant, Rosalie’s Roadside, in Hillsdale, Michigan. “It’s the best restaurant anywhere,” Seter raves. “I can never get enough of the cheese bread, wings, and fries.”
A three-varsity-sport athlete last year as a fourth former, Seter is a throwback in an era of specialization where the three-sport athlete is an increasing rarity. He looks forward to once again playing both varsity hockey this winter and varsity lacrosse this spring. “I’d really like to play football or hockey in college,” Seter says.
With his academics rounding into form, Seter is likely to receive considerable attention. “Cardigan straightened me out,” he affirms, “and my grades here at Salisbury have been steadily improving.” He would love to follow his father’s footsteps into commercial real estate and expects to pursue a pre-business curriculum in college.
They say “Opportunity knocks.” Four autumns ago, an unfamiliar face knocked at Seter’s dormitory door. Seter answered, and the opportunities haven’t stopped since.
Born Texas. Grew up Texas. Loves Texas barbecue. Been playing Texas football since age four.
So what is post-graduate Tylor Cook doing in the foothills of New England? One thing he’s not doing is missing the Cowboys. “The Atlanta Falcons are my team,” he is quick to explain. “My father is from Georgia.” And then adds, with characteristic politeness, “You’re not a Cowboys fan, are you?"
Before his arrival from Dallas for pre-season football back on September 8, Cook had never seen Salisbury School, never set foot in New England. He took solace, though, in the surroundings. “It reminds me of South Carolina,” he says, “where my mother is from. We go back there to see my grandparents. They live in a small town like Salisbury, and the woods and hills and friendly people around their home are a lot like here.”
Cook certainly adjusted quickly to other surroundings: the familiar white grid on the turf field. “Many of the fields in Texas have the artificial turf,” he confirms, “including Richardson and Dallas Christian, where I played my high school ball.” Indeed, Cook practically grew up between the out-of-bounds lines. A football coach’s son, he was coached by his father from ages 4 to 12. What was that like? “It was great,” Cook is quick to assert, “except for game film.” How so? “Well,” Cook continues, “our team, the Lake Highland Wildcats, would watch game film, and my father would critique everyone, and then we’d go home and watch the game film again,” he emphasizes, “only this time focused just on me. I mean over and over! That was kind of rough.” And how does Cook feel about that rigorous football education now? “It was great!” he attests. “I mean, it’s amazing how much I learned.”
Those lessons have been paying off. Cook made the Richardson High School varsity as a 10th grader and saw time at running back and slot on the offense, outside linebacker on defense, and kick returner for special teams. In his junior year at Richardson, a school of some 2500 students, he added punt returns. On a team that went 5-6, Cook earned 1st Team All-City recognition as well as District Honorable Mention. Unhappy with the direction the program seemed to be going after consecutive losing seasons – “The members of the coaching staff were not on the same page,” he says bluntly – Cook transferred to Dallas Christian Academy, a much smaller school, for his senior year.
“The year started rocky,” Cook recounts, “with a blow-out loss to a higher-level school, and the offense was basically a quarterback-option, where our quarterback carried the ball 15 to 20 times a game.” Where did that leave Cook? “I blocked for him,” replies Cook, who took fewer than 10 carries a game.
Given the numbers Cook has put up this fall on the Hilltop – 1,222 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns – his relegation to blocker may seem hard to believe. “Don’t forget,” Cook is quick to point out, “I was the new guy at Dallas Christian.” When the quarterback was sidelined with an injury four games into the season, however, "the new guy" became the main option by default. Over the remaining nine games, Cook upped his rushing total to over 1,800 yards to help the team to an 11-2 record. Dallas Christian would win three more games in the playoffs before losing in the state championship game. Cook was named District Most Valuable Player while earning All-State designation at running back and, to his surprise, District Honorable Mention at safety. “I wasn’t expecting that,” he says with an easy laugh.
By the time he was 7, Cook had already played in a game at the old Cowboy Stadium. As a high schooler, he played in games at Eagle Stadium - the controversial 60-million dollar stadium that is home to Allen High School and that sells out every one of its 18,000 seats before the start of the season. Last year’s Gatorade High School Player of the Year, Kyler Murray, quarterbacked the Allen Eagles against Cook’s Richardson team before he headed off to Texas A & M. Prior to sustaining an injury this past weekend, Murray had started the last two games for the Aggies. Let’s just say that it’s been a different experience for Cook, playing in the Erickson League this fall.
While the playing venues in the Erickson League remind Cook that he’s not in Texas anymore, “the game on the field is still the same,” he observes. “I could have gone to junior college this year,” he further states, “but that would have cost me a year of college [football] eligibility. What appealed to me about coming to Salisbury were the opportunities to strengthen my football skills - get bigger, stronger, and faster - as well as strengthen my academic skills, while maintaining my eligibility to play four years of college ball.”
Cook presents himself as a secure and confident young man. He credits Salisbury with helping instill those qualities. “Focusing more on school work this fall has matured me,” Cook reflects. “My grades are really improving.” Among colleges that have shown past interest in Cook are Tennessee, Texas-El Paso, and Arkansas State. After the current football season, he expects to see that interest expand to other colleges. He plans to major in biology and work in the medical field.
Cook has no illusions about his accomplishments on the football field. “I would never have done what I’ve done this fall without my linemen,” he says appreciatively. “Big Jamil, Big Dirks, Condell, Monk, Hayden” - and, clearly not wanting to leave anyone out, he quickly adds - “Eric, Max, Jesse, Nate, Jake, Kyle. Without those guys, all those yards and TD’s would not be possible. Those guys do the hard work.”
In the past two months, the horizons have expanded for Cook, whose twin sister is a track star at Prairie View University. And while he looks forward to the year ahead at Salisbury, dire warnings about New England winters notwithstanding, he also can’t wait to get back home. “A true Texan,” he responds to a question on how to identify that uniquely American icon, “loves Texas barbecue.” He has a closing tip for visitors to Dallas: “It’s a little outside the city, but it’s worth the trip. Spring Creek Barbecue. Can't wait to get back there. Best rib plate around.” Clearly warming to the subject, Cook adds, “I like to have mine with some barbecue sausage, the house beans, slaw, maybe some mac-cheese. Oh, and don’t forget the extra sauce.”
That sounds like a feast fit for a king and is certainly well-deserved for a young man who has given so much to his team and school this fall - and who aspires to so much more in the next two weeks and in the months ahead.
You are Jesse Conners. You come from Pittsford, New York – the Empire State’s football heartland, where Pittsford High School is a perennial contender for the Class AA State Championship. In fourth grade, you join the Pittsford Panthers maroon team. Football becomes central to your life. That first year, your Panthers win the youth league championship. You are hooked. Two years later, you win another championship.
In eighth grade, you start at quarterback for the high school’s freshman team. As a ninth grader, you make the j.v. team, where you are a two-way starter at wide receiver and defensive back. In tenth grade, you graduate to the varsity and appear on special teams until a back injury cuts your season short. But you rehab, and the next season you start at wide receiver and free safety. Many of your teammates are guys you’ve played with since elementary school. Your team is good. Your grades are good. Life is good.
You notice, though, that the college scouts who mill around the Pittsford lacrosse games are nowhere in sight during football season. When your brother, a star on the lacrosse team, commits after ninth grade to the University of Virginia and its top-ranked lacrosse program, you realize that if you want to achieve your dream of playing football at the college level, you will have to prove yourself in a higher-profile program.
Salisbury School in Connecticut, the 2012 New England football champions, catches your attention. Many graduates, you learn, are playing for D-I and strong D-III programs. “Exactly,” you think to yourself excitedly. You make note that, in 2013, a Salisbury grad was drafted in the first round by the Indianapolis Colts. “Nice,” you think, but law school is your ultimate goal….
Jesse Conners is now a sixth former at Salisbury, a two-year starter for the varsity football team. Last year, he gained All-Erickson League recognition for a Knights team that struggled to a .500 season. This year is a different story. Yes, through six games the team is unbeaten at 6-0, outscoring opponents 243-71 in the process. And Conners has been a big part of the narrative, helping to spearhead a defense that has three shutouts. “This is a much more focused team,” Conners states, “more focused on teamwork than last season. We’ve added some great personnel, but the biggest surprise, to me, has been the improved attitude of the returners. Guys have really stepped up.”
But that is only part of the story for Conners. The summer before he entered Salisbury in 2014, his game plan received a major and unanticipated shake-up.
“I was already hearing from a few colleges,” Conners reports with characteristic modesty, “and had six camps lined up for the summer where I’d be seen by a bunch more. I thought I was all set.” Then came the game-changer. “A Division I college coach approached me at the first camp,” continues Conners, who at that time topped out at 6’ and 190 pounds, “a highly respected man in the college game. He told me if I expected to play in college, it wasn’t going to be at wide receiver. I didn’t have the right build. I would have to switch positions.”
Switch positions? After settling in at wide receiver? And just months away from his first season at Salisbury, a season that was supposed to provide his college showcase? Seriously? “He told me my position was outside linebacker – a position I had never played before.” And by the way, you’re going to need to grow another couple of inches and put on another 30 pounds for college.
Instead of having the summer to show his skills to recruiters and start taking offers, Conners faced the daunting prospect of learning – and growing into – a new position. Clearly not one to waste time standing idle or anguishing over the vagaries of fate, Conners set to work.
“It wasn’t the scenario I’d prepared for,” a serious Conners understates, “but I knew I still had time. I realized I was better off knowing what that coach told me. Still, I was slated to play wide receiver and free safety for Salisbury, and I wasn’t going to be ready physically to transition to the new position. I realized the coming season would probably not provide the game film I needed to send to colleges.”
Despite what he aptly characterizes as a “bumpy year-and-a-half” coming into his senior year, Conners had been taking care of classroom business from the day he arrived on the Hilltop. He made the Honors List all three trimesters last year and has maintained that standing through the mid-trimester this fall, with a demanding schedule that includes two AP courses: AP Calculus and AP Biology.
He has also taken care of the physical requisites for outside linebacker, entering the 2015 campaign at a formidable 6’2” and 220 pounds. “I’m evolving into the new position,” the personable Conners says, his passion for the game, his excitement in mastering his new assignment, both apparent. “Sure, it was tough to give up wide receiver, especially after the all-conference recognition last year, but there’s no point in being stubborn. That’s not going to help anyone. And I can still contribute offensively at end.” Indeed, Conners' 242 receiving yards leads the team.
Eleven more camps this past summer gave college recruiters a chance to see the work-in-progress, but coming into the season, Conners had yet to play a down at outside linebacker. “College coaches like to have their rosters set a year ahead,” he explains, “meaning by the end of the summer they have positions and players determined for the following year.” Obviously, that has put Conners in a somewhat anxious position, but he seems unfazed. “Schools have been patient,” he reassures an interested fan. “They’re looking at the game film from this season, and the [recruiters’] calls have picked up.”
And with good reason, to gauge by his team’s performance this fall. Conners’ contributions to the football team’s success do not always show up in the defensive game stats: outside linebackers are not part of the blitz, do not pick up sacks or have as many chances for tackles. But Conners is doing his job, containing opponents’ receivers, forcing them to the inside, “setting the edge.” He is also second on the team with 32 tackles and tied for most interceptions with three. With ten years’ experience under his pads, years spent playing different positions on both sides of the line of scrimmage as well as on special teams, Conners has a high football IQ. The interest of colleges such as Princeton, Villanova, and Holy Cross attests to that. He anticipates making a decision in December.
Graciously, Conners mentions that there is one area he has not had a chance to talk about. What might that be? “My sister,” he responds, a warm smile showing a big brother’s evident pride. “She’s a competitive figure skater. Two weeks ago she took first place in the Eastern Regionals.”
Surely that pride is reciprocated, and in her breaks from training sessions and home-school classes, Miss Conners is following the Salisbury football team’s march through the 2015 campaign: two games remaining, the increasing likelihood of a playoff bid, and with it a return to the 2012 mainstage. “We’re focused on winning each game,” the level-headed Conners makes clear, a cautionary tone in his voice.
It has worked so far – even when life’s shifting circumstances have necessitated significant adjustment to the sights.
- Procter Smith
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. Thy Fates open their hands.
So pronounces Malvolio in Act Two of Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night." Anticipating, perhaps, the improbable emergence of Salisbury varsity soccer goalie Neil Howland? Howland’s is a story as old as the Taconic Hills that frame Salisbury’s playing fields: the unsung figure – a “benchwarmer,” in sports’ parlance – who is “thrust” by unexpected circumstances, seemingly by the devising of the “Fates” themselves, into a situation where, suddenly, all eyes rest on him, all hopes sit on his shoulders; “greatness” – even for a brief, shining moment – suddenly, improbably, looms close at hand. The modest sixth-former from nearby Millbrook, NY, would be the last one to indulge in such grandiosity, but his story deserves telling. Readers may form their own conclusions….
As the varsity soccer team’s #3 goalie at the start of the 2015 campaign, Howland fully realized he might never enter a game all season. “I was just happy to be on the team,” he says, in his unassuming way.
It was a familiar enough position for Howland. As a fifth former, he had made the varsity as back-up goalie to starter Henry Dresser-Kluchman ’16. Dresser-Kluchman had also started ahead of him in the net when the two played on the junior varsity as fourth formers. Before that, as a third former, Howland was a member of fourths soccer – as a striker, no less. He only converted to goalie the next year.
This fall, newcomer Bjarne Neumann ’16 emerged as the top varsity goalkeeper, relegating Dresser-Kluchman to back-up and Howland to after-thought. Little did he suppose that Fate was aligning the tumblers. But early in the season, Neumann went to the sidelines with a season-ending injury. Dresser-Kluchman returned to his old starting role. Howland moved up in the standings.
Then at Deerfield, Dresser-Kluchman came out with a serious hand injury, and Howland suddenly found himself pressed into service. “Seeing our second goalie have to leave a game was a shock,” Howland recalls. “Subbing for Henry that afternoon, I was flustered.”
The next game, against The Gunnery, was Howland’s first-ever as a starter. That game, a 6-0 win for the Knights, also marked the unveiling of a new defensive alignment, with co-captain Daniel Amo ’16 forsaking the frontline to become the linchpin of the new scheme. A stirring tie with Hotchkiss followed, but then two straight losses hardly seemed a harbinger of great things ahead, especially with powerhouse Brunswick coming to the Hilltop, sporting an unblemished 9-0 record.
But behind the scenes, Howland was gaining confidence. As the starting goalie, he became the focus of drills with goalie coach Bert Nascimento, no longer standing by in his more accustomed practice-role as an onlooker. “Coach Nascimento had me focus on my quickness and reaction time,” Howland explains, acknowledging the need to strengthen those areas.
Others rallied around Howland. “Bjarne and Henry both came down when they could to help out,” Howland says appreciatively, quick to credit his fallen teammates, “and it didn’t hurt to face two of the most powerful shot-makers in the league – Daniel and Theo [Quartey ’17] – every afternoon in practice. After I became the starter, I took a lot more shots from them, and that’s been a big help.”
In addition, Howland acknowledges, he is blessed with one of the greatest assets a goalie can possess: a short memory. As soon as he walks across the touchline and off the field after a game, win or lose, Howland’s focus begins to shift to the next game. No dwelling on the past.
Still, Brunswick? With Coaches Russell, Brown, and Nascimento putting a new wrinkle into the defense to limit the potent Brunswick offense’s incursions into the attacking third and with Howland coming up with clutch saves when the Bruins did penetrate, the Knights found themselves with a 1-0 lead at the intermission, thanks to a goal by Quartey. Howland’s key save in the first half required a dive to his left to tip a rising shot from outside the 18 up over the crossbar.
Howland came up big on another shot from the 18 in the second half. The struck ball caromed off a Salisbury defender on its way to the net, but Howland managed to shift direction, dive to his right, and make the stop. With less than ten minutes left, Howland made his signature save of the day. When the Knights lost control of the ball in the midfield, Brunswick immediately countered, moving the ball to the right wing, carrying into the box, and closing in on Howland. A point-blank blast from the 6-yard-line seemed marked for the back of the net, but Howland shot out his right leg and deflected the ball with his foot out of harm’s way to keep the visitors off the scoreboard. “I got lucky on that one,” Howland says. “There’s no time to think on a shot like that. It’s all reaction.”
Minutes later, Brunswick left the field, its perfect season spoiled. Unlikely hero Howland and his teammates, meanwhile, celebrated the team’s biggest victory of the season or, arguably, of several seasons.
Howland, son of Colleen and De Forest Howland ’78, has shown the same determination in the classroom that he has evinced in his emergence on the soccer pitch. An honors student as a third former, he slipped in his second year at Salisbury. (“A really bad year,” he characterizes that experience now.) Last year, a new-found focus and dedication to his studies restored the luster to his academic record, as he achieved the honors list all three trimesters.
These traits are reflected in Howland’s golf performance as well. A two-year member of the Salisbury varsity, with an 8-handicap, he finished 7th this past summer in the Millbrook Golf and Tennis Club’s championship, the highest finish among all junior members competing in the 36-hole tournament.
Elon, the University of Richmond, and Loyola-Maryland head Howland’s college list. He looks forward to “a little bit warmer weather” and plans to pursue studies in business. Howland adds a final thought about the remaining games on his team’s schedule that could also serve as a mantra for his development as a student-athlete at Salisbury: “Having a game plan is key. If we follow the game plan, the way we did against Brunswick, we should be successful.”
The opportunity to achieve greatness can certainly be thrust on one at any time; Neil Howland’s example illustrates, though, that seizing such an opportunity and achieving greatness is also in the planning.
A three-year old boy plays in front of a deteriorating apartment building in Akweteyman, Ghana. Around his neck is a loose-fitting cord. Dangling at the end of the cord, on the sidewalk just ahead of him, a soccer ball occupies his full attention. He thinks it is the best gift he has ever received: a reward for doing well on an exam. A painting and drawing exam.
Joyfully, he pushes the ball this way and that, teaching himself to dribble. He loves the outdoors, playing in the open air, a relief from the confines of the small apartment where he sleeps nights on the floor with his brother and two sisters. The old black-and-white t.v. in the corner sits, silent most of the time. The boy’s father does not allow his children to operate it or the apartment’s other luxury – a radio – when he is not there.
One afternoon, the boy balances the ball on his small foot. Another afternoon, he flips the ball up from one foot to the other, misses, tries again, misses. Eventually, he will master the juggle that he sees older boys do. But not now. Not yet. After all, he’s only three.
At age eight, the boy is invited to join his first team, Club Goldfields in the town of Sunyani. He is the youngest boy on the team. Over the next six years, he will always play up a year, always be the youngest team member.
At age nine, he comes to the attention of Right to Dream, an organization founded in Africa seven years earlier, 1999, by a British social entrepreneur “to provide,” according to the organization’s website, “children from extreme poverty with the opportunity to build a better life for themselves and their families.” During the four-week try-outs at Right to Dream’s campus in Accra, Ghana, the boy glimpses a world he has seen only in the fuzzy images on the old black-and-white. Nights, he has his own bed to sleep in. For the first time in his life, he eats not one, but three meals a day.
The boy is rejected – a disappointment, yes, but not a great surprise. After all, there are only five spots available in Right to Dream’s program. And there are over 1,000 candidates for those spots.
A year later, now ten, he has another chance. Again, he finds himself one of 1,000 candidates. At the end of the four-week audition, he braces himself. When he hears the director call his name, “Daniel Amo,” he understands that the life he has lived up to that moment has ended. The promise his new life holds, he can only imagine.
In his third year at the Right to Dream Academy, 2009, twelve-year-old Daniel travels outside Africa for the first time in his life. His team plays a tournament in Norway, followed by tournaments in The Netherlands and Belgium, then Manchester, England. Back in Ghana at the Academy, his every need is taken care of. He thrives in the rigorous academic program that aims to prepare the 90 enrollees for high school and college study abroad. A number of the boys coming out of the program will eventually play professional soccer: over 20, at last count.
At age 15, Daniel is offered the opportunity to leave Ghana and attend Salisbury School in the United States. Humble, grateful, he does not hesitate to accept. As a Third Former, he is a starting attacker for the varsity team. This year, he serves as a captain. When Coach Chris Russell approaches him prior to the Hotchkiss game, looking to shore up a porous defense, and asks him to move to the back line, Daniel’s response gives the true measure of his character: “Whatever helps the team, Coach.”
Asked for his observations about the Salisbury soccer program over his four years on the Hilltop, Daniel is unequivocal in his praise: “Every year, there has been improvement in the program, even if the record doesn’t show it. The work ethic, the skills, and the spirit of the team have grown stronger every year I have been here.”
At the Right to Dream Academy, students learn to set goals for themselves, academically, athletically, and socially. Clearly, Daniel has learned those lessons well. His acceptance to the University of California at Santa Barbara testifies to that fact. Part of one of the great state university systems in the United States, UC Santa Barbara offers a standout program in engineering, Daniel’s area of concentration. It also offers a Division I soccer program. And on a campus that has no football program, UCSB’s soccer stadium swells to crowds of 16,000 for home games. The school has one other thing going for it. “When my guardian at Right to Dream asked me about colleges,” Daniel explains, “I immediately told him, ‘I want someplace warm.’” Go figure.
Daniel has one more dream beyond college. He wants to play professionally, specifically in Italy’s Seria A league. With the ability he has shown in the classroom and on the soccer pitch here at Salisbury along with the support of a world-class organization specializing in bringing dreams to life and his own belief in the power of dreams, he would be well-advised to add a course in Italian to his program of studies over the next four years. Down the line, it will likely come in handy.
- Instructor in English, Procter Smith
Click here to learn more about the Right to Dream Academy and it's relationship with Salisbury. As part of their promotional video RtD students Daniel Amo '16 and Theo Quartey '17, along with Headmaster Chandler and Dean of Faculty Rhonan Mokriski discuss the advantages of being connected with the RtD Academy.
A big reason for the Salisbury Knights football team’s fast start this season – they are undefeated through the first three games – is defender Kyle Tuttle '16 (#32). A post-graduate from Jupiter, Florida, Tuttle is the centerpiece of a defense that has pitched two shutouts in the early going. He leads the team in most defensive categories, including tackles (17), assists (17), and sacks (6).
Tuttle sat down recently to talk about his years at Jupiter Christian Academy, a small Christian school that plays Division 2-A in Florida’s eight-tiered high school system; his reasons for taking an additional year of high school at Salisbury; and his goals for college and beyond. He impressed his interviewer with the thoughtfulness and depth of his remarks. Clearly, he is a young man who has given careful consideration to where he wants to be a year from now as well as ten years from now, the part that football can play in that process, and the opportunity he has at Salisbury to help him achieve the goals he has set.
Tuttle made the Jupiter Christian varsity as a sophomore and by junior year had established himself as a starter at middle linebacker. Of Tuttle's three years in the program, the team enjoyed its greatest success that junior year, recalling its glory days of winning back-to-back state championships in 2007 and 2008. Tuttle’s team reached the regional finals before losing to a Belle Glade H.S. team that starred running back Kelvin Taylor. Taylor moved on to Florida State, where this year, as a sophomore, he is the starter at running back. Another highlight of Tuttle’s high school experience was playing in an all-star game last year alongside Lamar Jackson, now starting at quarterback as a freshman at the University of Louisville. A Pop Warner player from the age of six, Tuttle has seen many of his youth football teammates go on to D-I schools, a number to such in-state national powerhouses as Florida State and the University of Florida.
At 6’1” and 175 pounds, Tuttle did not get much attention coming out of Jupiter Christian. A personal trainer and a new dietary regimen later, however, he arrived at Salisbury checking in at 6’3” and 195. “Before next fall,” Tuttle asserts, “I think I can put on another half inch, and I’d like to add 25 pounds.” He obviously knows what it will require to take his game to the next level – and not just on the field and at the training table. He is equally determined to succeed in the rigorous curriculum Salisbury offers and to improve his standardized test scores to pave the way for a college major in one of the sciences.
“Throughout high school,” Tuttle shares, “I’ve been drawn to the science field, especially anatomy, physiology, and endodontics.” Endodontics? “It’s a branch of dentistry,” Tuttle explains, “basically concerned with root canal surgeries.” (Indeed, a quick internet search reveals that endodontists typically perform 25 root canals per week.) “I interned for two summers with my grandmother,” Tuttle continues, “who is an endodontist in Fort Myers [Florida].” So he knows what he is getting into and is ready to undertake the demands of dental school and the specialized training beyond to become an endodontist.
And how did Salisbury School come to Tuttle’s attention? “My high school coach’s son is a Salisbury graduate,” Tuttle responds. That would be Coach Bill Powers and son Will, who went on from Salisbury to study at Princeton, where he had a four-year career as a running back for the Tigers. “I got to know Will and learned a lot about Salisbury from him. I realized quickly that a p.g. year could provide me with the opportunity to grow physically and mentally and open up a much wider range of college possibilities.”
Tuttle is getting appreciative looks from such standout Division I-AA schools as Lafayette, Lehigh, and Coastal Carolina. “I think I could also succeed at one of the schools in the MAC [the Mid-American Conference, which competes in D-1],” Tuttle adds, “such as Eastern Michigan.” He likes the discipline of the academic program here and feels the block schedule is ideally suited to helping him organize his time and complete his daily assignments for Physics, Pre-calculus, Civil Rights, Modes of Written Expression, and Digital Media.
Determined to take full advantage of his p.g. year, Tuttle has also joined the Salisbury choir. He is particularly excited, though, about a year-long project he has undertaken for Digital Media. “I’m going to be filming the changing seasons,” he enthuses. “I’ve never been in New England before so I’ve never seen leaves change color or snow on branches. I’ve heard things can get boring around here in the winter,” he acknowledges, “and I figure getting out and filming will be a help.”
Thinking ahead appears to be a hallmark of this young man’s character. When asked about upcoming opponents, he fairly brimmed with the names and numbers of key opposition players, the offensive sets Salisbury could expect to see in the weeks ahead, and opponents’ records against schools-in-common on their schedules. “As soon as I found out I’d be coming to Salisbury,” Tuttle explains, “I started finding out everything I could: talking with Will [Powers] about his memories of Salisbury football, signing up for HUDL [a video-hosting service directed toward professional, college, and high school football – and other sports’ – coaches and players], and looking at every game clip I could find on YouTube for Salisbury and its opponents.”
Is there a difference between the high school game in Florida and here in the world of New England prep schools? Tuttle sees one. “In Florida,” he answers thoughtfully, “ the game is about speed, and the approach is more like a job. Here, there’s a stronger sense of family and camaraderie, rivalries and history. I’m really enjoying those parts of playing football at Salisbury and looking forward to facing traditional rivals such as Kent [this Saturday] and Avon.”
And we in the Salisbury community, Kyle, look forward to watching you and your teammates in the weeks ahead and to following your pursuits in the coming years – avoiding if at all possible, however, any non-social visits to the endodontist’s office.