He took a roundabout route to get there, but Sheriden Lawley has achieved his dream of earning an NCAA Division 1 football scholarship.
The 6’5″, 260-pound lineman graduated from W.J. Mouat Secondary in 2013, but he was lightly recruited by stateside schools at that time. So he originally committed to play for the McMaster Marauders, an elite Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) program in Hamilton, Ont. which already had a pair of former Hawks on the roster in defensive back Allan Dicks and linebacker Jake Heathcote.
Lawley, though, couldn’t shake his desire to test his skills south of the border.
“I was content with McMaster,” he said. “But I felt like I was good enough to play Division 1 football, and I didn’t want to live with regret, thinking ‘What if?'”
After evaluating his options, which included playing a year at a junior college in the hopes of attracting Div. 1 interest, Lawley decided to take a postgrad year at a prestigious prep school, The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.
Located five miles from Princeton University, the school’s famous alumni include the likes of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, pioneering pollster George Gallup, current NBA player Joakim Noah, and a host of politicians.
Lawrenceville’s annual tuition is in the $55,000 range, but Lawley was fortunate enough to land a scholarship.
“It’s the most expensive prep school in America – it’s pretty crazy,” he marveled.
Lawley turned in a terrific season at Lawrenceville, earning all-conference honours on both the offensive and defensive lines. He was also an all-state honourable mention on defence.
That drew interest from recruiters, and Lawley ended up committing to the University of Connecticut Huskies, and signed his national letter of intent on Wednesday.
The Storrs, Conn. school is best known for its basketball teams – the Huskies men’s and women’s hoopsters have combined for 11 national titles. But with new head coach Bob Diaco (the former defensive co-ordinator at Notre Dame) on board, Lawley is confident the football program is on the rise.
“I just felt like UConn was the perfect fit,” he said. “I really wanted to be in a college town – I thought that would be a cool thing. And it’s close enough to the city.
“But probably the most important thing was the coaching staff. You could tell he (Diaco) really wants to win and bring them as close to a national championship as he can.”
T-BIRDS LAND FOUR ABBY PLAYERS
Lawley is among eight Abbotsford football players who have nailed down university scholarships in recent weeks, and more signings could be on the way.
Mouat’s record-breaking running back Maleek Irons, as previously reported by The News, committed to the Ohio University Bobcats in December and signed his letter of intent on Wednesday.
Six others are set to play CIS football next year, including four who will suit up for the UBC Thunderbirds.
Rick Hansen Hurricanes twin brothers Alex and Brandon Ho, Robert Bateman Timberwolves running back Ben Cummings, and Mouat offensive lineman Levi Hua are ticketed for the Point Grey campus.
Brandon Ho was the B.C. AA defensive player of the year last season after spearheading a stingy Hansen defence with 66 tackles and nine sacks, and he’ll play on the defensive line at UBC.
Alex Ho, who was tops in AA with 2,594 passing yards, joins former Hurricanes star Greg Bowcott on the T-Birds’ quarterback depth chart.
“We wouldn’t admit it to each other, but I feel like we both always wanted to go to the same school,” Brandon said with a chuckle.
Hua played on both sides of the line for the Hawks, and was a AAA all-province selection on offence.
Cummings, meanwhile, racked up 1,544 rush yards, the third-most in AA. He had NCAA interest from Nevada, Dartmouth and Montana, but elected to sign with UBC.
“I liked the campus, I love the coaches, and I’m really close to home with my family,” he said. “And I really feel the UBC program is on the rise, and we can win a Vanier Cup soon.”
Two others are headed east to play university football.
Jake Firlotte was Mouat’s top pass-catcher last season – he led the AAA league with 14 receiving touchdowns from his tight end spot, to go with 33 receptions for 718 yards.
He’s headed to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., where he’ll play defensive back, according to Hawks head coach Denis Kelly. The Golden Gaels have had success with recruits from Mouat, with kicker Dan Village and QB/receiver Justin Chapdelaine excelling for them in recent years.
Another elite receiver who will make a full-time transition to defence is Bateman’s Daniel Mills, who is headed to Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B.
Mills was an Eastern Conference all-star as a receiver, but like Firlotte, he’ll play defensive back at the CIS level.
“I’ve always enjoyed defence more,” Mills said. “I do love running with the ball and making plays, but the interceptions and the big hits is what makes me most excited about football.”