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Ten years ago, I reported a series of stories on the creation of a football program at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. I trailed the football team through practices and exhibition games during its trial season and again the following year, when the team began playing conference games.
Kyle Van De Giesen, a graduate of North Attleboro High School, was the college’s starting quarterback those two seasons. He looked as much like a quarterback as anyone could. He was tall, broad-shouldered, graceful and good-looking.
I didn’t spend much time interviewing Kyle. Every team has players eager for the microphone, but he was not one of those. Players who have as much talent and charisma as he had either become cocky and outgoing, or they retreat a bit into themselves, as though mistrusting the status the game has given them. Kyle largely kept to himself at practices, although it was clear he had many friends on campus.
In fact, he actually seemed unhappy on the field. My sense about him was that he was feeling a lot of pressure to perform on a newly minted football team destined to struggle. He had been urged to come to St. A's, where he would be a star player. His alternative would have been to go to a much larger program and be a backup. He might have enjoyed that more.
As it was, he was a far, far better player than the program could realistically handle, a strong-armed passer, agile and smart. He had a real feel for the game, and for the way plays developed, with a dozen details changing every second, and big players rushing at him and the pressure rising all the time. He usually could figure out what to do. But it seemed that emotionally, he was finished with playing.
I had never seen anything like it, and the coaches were baffled by his lack of enthusiasm. He quit the football team after that second season, choosing not to play as a junior, and I doubt he ever regretted his decision.
I was so sad to hear of his death — killed in a helicopter crash over Afghanistan on a day that took 13 other American lives — but not at all surprised to learn he had become a Marine pilot. It, too, is a role that requires intelligence and intuition and an ability to stay calm while conditions change rapidly.
Seeing Capt. Van De Giesen's face in the paper was a shock. He looked so grown up, in his Marine uniform, next to his wife, and yet so much the same. The last time I saw him, he was still basically a teenager, smiling and joking on the last day of practice. He was unusually animated and relaxed that day. At the time, I imagined that he was relieved to be putting the football season behind him so that he could get on with the business of being a regular college student.
Of course, his loss is felt keenly by his family and friends, by the entire community of North Attleboro, and by his former coaches and teammates at Saint Anselm. I hope his family knows that his loss also is felt by those like me, who knew him only in passing.
This program aired on October 28, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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