Plenty of high schoolers, even from nearby towns, will go on to play football at college next year; that’s no surprise. But what makes this year’s graduating class at Williston especially exceptional is that the five college-bound athletes are headed to five different remarkably high-caliber programs, competitive both on the field and in the classroom.
Headed to Ivy League schools, Princeton and Columbia, respectively, are Michael Polk and Xavier Thibault. Polk, from Long Beach, California, sat out the majority of this year’s season due to a knee injury suffered in the second quarter of the season opener. After several months recovering, he is healthy now, and will play wide receiver for the NCAA Division 1 Tigers.
“Williston (specifically Coach Beaton) put me in touch with coaches and helped get my foot in the door which eventually lead me to getting my offers,” Michael wrote in an email. He said he’s unsure what course of study he wants to pursue at Princeton; he’s leaving his options open.
“I’m waiting till I get there and have a chance to dive into an array of subjects, and hopefully throughout that process I’ll find what I want to study,” Michael said.
Williston’s Head Football Coach Tommy Beaton had high hopes back when he was in the process of getting Michael to come east to play.
“I recruited him knowing he’d have the potential to play at the level he’s going to,” Beaton said.
Along with Princeton, the Ivy League consists of Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, and Columbia, where Xavier Thibault is headed.
Xavier is set to play defensive end for the Lions under the direction of Head Coach Al Bagnoli. Xavier, a 6’5”, 240-pound senior from Quebec City, Canada, who also serves as a Senior Class Representative and takes three AP classes—Calculus BC, Statistics, and French—plans to study either medicine or engineering.
Braeden Heald, from West Des Moines, Iowa, is off to play wide receiver at Division 1 football as well, as a Wildcat—again—but this time for Northwestern University, just outside Chicago. Northwestern is a member of the elite Big Ten Conference, which includes powerhouse programs such as Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue, and Wisconsin.
Braeden said in an email that he feels this year at Williston “better prepared me athletically (not to say it hasn’t academically) in a way that my body has matured and developed into a better athlete.”
“As far as the college search,” he continued, “Williston opened any possibilities and opportunities for me and that is ultimately why I landed where I did.”
Braeden said that “for the longest time,” he has wanted to take the pre-med path, “so I will certainly study biology.”
Noah Clack and Brandyn Jones round out the impressive crew of Williston’s college-bound football players. Noah, a linebacker from Waterford, Connecticut, is headed to Bowdoin. Brandyn, from Springfield, Massachusetts, is off to play cornerback for Tufts. Both are part of the Division III New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), along with Amherst, Bates, Colby, Connecticut, Hamilton, Middlebury, Trinity, Wesleyan, and Williams.
Noah said he’s been able to thrive at Williston by devoting himself fully to whatever he’s supposed to be doing—but not trying to spread himself too thin.
“At Williston I learned that time management is really the key to finding success in any given situation,” Noah said. “When it’s time to focus on academics, I put all of my attention towards making myself a better student. When I’m on the field or in the weight room I am only thinking about football.” Noah plans to study economics at Bowdoin.
Coach Beaton is proud of the dedication, both athletically and academically, that both Noah and Brandyn demonstrated at Williston.
“Both kept growing as students and athletes over their years here,” said Beaton, who served as Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator at Tufts for six years prior to coming to Williston. “They took advantage for every opportunity Williston had to offer.”
Williston’s Athletic Director, Mark Conroy, couldn’t be more impressed by the achievements of the five athletes.
“Two to the Ivy League, two to NESCAC schools and one to the Big Ten is highly unusual,” said Conroy, who, prior to Beaton, coached the football team for 17 years. “These are arguably the most competitive academic [and] athletic leagues in the country. I dare say that this college placement success would stack up against any school in NEPSAC [New England Preparatory School Athletic Conference] circles. It really is remarkable.”
Coach Beaton summed up the achievements of his players in a way that praises their all-around sportsmanship and strengths.
“It’s our goal,” he said about getting his players placed at high-ranking academic institutions. “It’s the thing I tell all of our guys: to use football to get in to the best academic institution possible. I tell them that when I’m recruiting them.”
Added Beaton, “If you want to play big time football just to get a full scholarship, this isn’t the school for you. But if you want to use football to set yourself up for the future, that’s what we’re trying to do here.”