LaSpada resurrects college football hope
Two years ago, Nick LaSpada still had the biggest of dreams.
The National Football League didn’t seem too far away for the Billerica High junior quarterback who had already been named Gatorade Player of the Year and had just completed a season in which he combined to run and pass for 40 touchdowns.
Harvard would be the stepping stone.
Then came all the fatigue, the diagnosis of a hole in his heart, the blood clots, and the six months without contact sports. The colleges were turned off. No more Harvard.
After a full recovery and a postgraduate season playing wide receiver and safety at the Taft School in Connecticut, LaSpada created the beginning of a new dream last week.
He committed to Bates College, where he might get another chance to play quarterback, and he is now more hopeful of a government internship than an NFL apprenticeship.
“In five years?” LaSpada said, paused, and then continued. “I’d like to be getting a master’s, hopefully at Bates, out there for an internship that will set me up for a job outside of college. Two years ago [my dream] would be the NFL. But there’s a reality after everything that happened. There’s a lot going on. I’ve had plenty of time to think. It’s good and it isn’t. You think too much. It is what it is.”
Where the coaching talk used to be of LaSpada’s cannon of an arm, or his mobility and vision on the field, the conversation now turns to his potential outside of football.
“He’s just an exceptional kid,” said Taft coach Tyler Whitley . “We couldn’t have asked for a better postgrad. He has a 91 average, which is exceptional. He’s involved in campus.”
But LaSpada can still play. He helped Taft go 6-2 this fall against some of the best prep teams in New England.
He showed up in August knowing that he would no longer be playing quarterback. The presence of four-year player Tim Drakeley was enough for LaSpada to realize it would not even be necessary to try.
“I knew, being on my team for four years, there was no way they’d take him out and put someone else in,” LaSpada said. “You just had to accept that fact.”
While Whitley still found ways to work LaSpada’s arm and vision into the game plan — he threw a few completions on this season, including a 65-yard touchdown on a wide receiver reverse play that was later called back due to a penalty — he was officially on the third string.
At safety though, he was still at home.
“I think he was the quarterback of the defense,” said Whitley. “He was a natural at safety. [At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds], he’s prototypical size. He can run. He’d hit you. He’s a good tackler. It worked out perfectly. He had three interceptions. He’s such an athlete.”
Suddenly all the colleges were after him again. Any of the NESCAC schools would have benefited, Whitley said. Some even wanted him to play quarterback, though LaSpada has not taken a snap at the position in more than a year.
He finally settled on Bates, where he showed his high school film to head coach Mark Harriman, and believes he’ll have a chance to win the quarterback job, though safety is still the position where he is most coveted.
Still, it is strange to think Harvard, and others, pulled out on the LaSpada sweepstakes following the health issues. He has fully recovered.
Did the dream have to die that quickly? Why didn’t Harvard help to save it?
“I just can’t answer that question,” LaSpada said. “But I think it’s too many health setbacks and it’s just a few little concerns. It’s because the football was helping with the academics, and once they started looking away for football, they started looking at other things.”
LaSpada will spend next summer in a self-prescribed throwing program, launching footballs with some friends who are former quarterbacks in an attempt to surprise at Bates camp come August.
But the most important date will not come until early September.
It is not the beginning of the 2013 NFL season that LaSpada cares about that month.
Classes start on the first Wednesday.
Ex-Patriot had a friend in Gloucester
Jim Whalen, a star tight end for Boston College and a member of the Boston Patriots 1960s All-Decade Team, had a loyal friend in fellow Gloucester resident Robert Aptt.
Whalen, who died at his home Dec. 18 at age 69 after a long illness, was driven to his sales job at Home Depot in Danvers by Aptt for several years because of his health issues.
“Jim loved to tell stories of his football days, usually at Cameron’s restaurant and with the fishermen who gathered at the House of Mitch, both in Gloucester,’’ recalled Aptt.
“Jim would bring them Patriots souvenirs and autographs when he’d come back from fund-raisers at Gillette Stadium, and they’d give him haddock and lobsters right off the boat.’’
Whalen, who previously resided in Lynnfield where he coached Pop Warner football, wore No. 82 at Boston College and with the Patriots. His son, Chris Whalen, who lives in Manchester by-the-Sea, wore that same number while playing football at Assumption College.
Whalen starred in three sports at the former Cambridge High and Latin School.
Globe correspondent Marvin Pave contributed to this report. Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.