There was a time when Kurt Rawlings envisioned himself playing baseball instead of football.
During his middle school and early high school years, Rawlings played on some elite summer league baseball teams. His teammates were recruited to play college baseball, and Rawlings naturally assumed he would follow suit.
But during his sophomore year, Rawlings found himself being drawn more to his fall sport instead.
"I started to grow fonder of football and didn't like baseball as much. Through liking it more, I made up my mind to pursue playing quarterback in college," Rawlings said. "Playing quarterback means you're involved in every play and what you're doing really matters to the team's goal at all times. I love it."
Looking at Rawlings' play during the past two seasons, it's safe to say he picked the right sport.
In 2015, Rawlings quarterbacked one of the most dynamic offenses Maryland high school football has ever seen. That year, John Carroll finished 12-0 and averaged just more than 481 yards of total offense each game, as well as just less than 41 points a game.
Rawlings had an incredible individual campaign, throwing for 3,438 yards and 52 touchdowns to only three interceptions. He had at least four touchdown passes in each game, including the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association "B" Conference championship. During that game, a 35-14 win against Archbishop Curley, four different wide receivers caught touchdown passes from Rawlings.
His excellent season earned Rawlings a plethora of postseason awards, including All-Harford County, a consensus All-State selection and the Al Cesky Male Scholar Athlete scholarship.
Adding to the dream season for Rawlings was that he got to play for his father, Keith, who is John Carroll's head football coach. He had played for his father in previous seasons, but to have the standout year he did with his father on the sidelines made it that much more special.
"Most kids don't get to experience that with their father," Rawlings said. "It was a true blessing knowing him, not only on the field and seeing how he influences me throughout life, but seeing him change the lives of all the kids who go through his process. He's my role model as a coach and dad."
Rawlings also played the 2015 football season with the comfort of knowing where he was going to college.
From the outset of his recruiting process, Rawlings said his goal was to play football at the NCAA Division I level while pursuing the best education he could. With an impressive GPA to match his gaudy numbers on the football field, Rawlings began to garner interest from Ivy League schools during his junior year. The final two schools he was considering are on either side of one of the fiercest collegiate rivalries in the country: Yale and Harvard.
"It was kind of an easy process because I knew I didn't want to be anywhere else," Rawlings said. "After looking at both really closely, I knew I would fit in real well in Yale's community. I enjoy the school for what it is beyond football. I want to graduate, play football for great coaches and be a member of a program with a ton of tradition."
While the Bulldogs didn't have the season they wanted on the field, finishing 3-7, there's no denying Rawlings made an impact.
After appearing sparingly in the first half of Yale's season, Rawlings got his first real chance to show what he could do during the Bulldogs' seventh game of the season against Columbia Oct. 28. Rawlings entered the game at the beginning of the second quarter, after Yale's offense accumulated minus-6 yards in four drives during the first quarter.
The game changed as Rawlings threw for two touchdowns in the second quarter, before adding another one in the fourth. He threw for a total of 152 yards and also became the first freshman to throw a touchdown for Yale since 2012. The Bulldogs won their second game of the year, 31-23, and for his individual effort, Rawlings earned the Ivy League Rookie of the Week award.
Rawlings is quick to credit the victory to the defense for stopping Columbia's potent offense, but he couldn't deny it was exciting to contribute to the win.
"It sure was a lot of fun. I got to show the coaches they can trust me," Rawlings said. "Being able to go in and make the most of the opportunity really felt good."
Rawlings became the Bulldogs' starter for the rest of the season, including the season finale against his second choice, Harvard Nov. 19.
A matchup dubbed "The Game," Harvard entered as heavy favorites, chasing the Ivy League championship with a 7-2 record and having won the past nine contests against the Bulldogs.
Despite being a freshman quarterbacking the clear underdog on the road in front of 31,662 people, Rawlings felt no pressure entering the game. In his eyes, Yale had nothing to lose, which allowed him and his teammates to play loose.
With the game tied at 14 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Rawlings led the offense down the field in 14 plays. The final play of the drive was a 3-yard touchdown pass by Rawlings, which gave Yale the 21-14 lead for good.
Rawlings finished the day with 131 yards passing, 74 yards rushing and two touchdown passes. He also earned his second Ivy League Rookie of the Week award and became the first Yale freshman quarterback to beat Harvard since 1945.
More importantly though, the Bulldogs finally had bragging rights for an entire offseason over their biggest rivals for the first time since 2006.
"We knew we could be better than them. Everyone buying into that and going all out was cool to see," Rawlings said. "It showed the type of team we had, and that moving forward, we can do really great things."
The win has created a buzz around Yale's football future and with good reason. Some are saying this past season's freshman class is the best Yale has seen in a long time, especially on offense. The Bulldogs' top running back and wide receiver this season were both freshmen, and there's also a lot of promising offensive linemen in the class as well.
For his part, Rawlings finished the year leading the team with 754 passing yards and five touchdown passes. During the last four contests of the season, Rawlings averaged 174.75 passing yards a game.
Although Rawlings is excited about the contributions he made his freshman year, he admits he has a lot of work to do to fully excel in the fast and physical world of Ivy League football. It's a sentiment he shares with many of his young Yale teammates.
"Moving forward, having that experience I gained this past season should benefit me in the offseason -- working even harder to get better. The last thing you want to do is get complacent after having these opportunities as a freshman," Rawlings said. "We want to set goals to be the best class Yale has had in a long time. I think we can live up to those expectations."
Issue 228: December 2016