By Bruce Wood
Listen closely and from time to time you will hear the whispers. There are well-qualified students, some will say with a shake of their heads, who are turned down by Ivy League schools because their spots are taken by football players.
By football players!
Is it true? Of course it is. There are also well-qualified students who are turned down in favor of artists and musicians and actors. Some are turned down in favor of other well-qualified students, all of which is as it should be at schools that value diversity of all stripes.
What you seldom hear the whisperers say is that thanks to football this Ivy League school or that got a well-qualified student, nay, a super-qualified overachiever, who added markedly to the vibrancy of the school. But it happens.
Read on and you'll learnmone such story.
Mother Winky, Class of '82. Father Peter, Class of '83. Grandfather John Stearns, Class of '49. And then there's Malcolm Stearns '08 - as in 1908 - his great grandfather. Throw in an uncle here or there and all totaled, nine members of Hussey's extended family have Dartmouth pedigrees.
With doting grandparents John and Winnie living in Hanover and all those Green roots, it should be no great surprise that while young Luke was growing up 3,000 miles away in Seattle, he was no stranger to Hanover and the Upper Valley.
"Seventeen summers of his life he spent in the farmhouse in Vermont and swimming at Treasure Island," in nearby Lake Fairlee, Winky Hussey says. "He's grown up around Dartmouth. It's been like a second home."
Like mothers the country over, Winky was always keeping her eyes out for activities to keep her three children busy when they were back East, and given the boy's athletic inclinations, the Dartmouth football camp was a natural.
Hussey would end up going to the Dartmouth camp each summer once he reached high school.
"I had been following football since I was probably 5 or 6, but I wasn't allowed to play until high school," said Hussey, who considered soccer his go-to sport until then. "The camp was just for fun and a chance to play the game."
At Lakeside School in Seattle Hussey was a pretty fair midfielder on the soccer pitch in the spring but it was football that eventually won over his heart. He was an All-Metro Mountain Division safety and honorable-mention quarterback, although he'll be the first to tell you that he wasn't exactly playing the game at the highest level. Far from it.
"It was unique experience playing football there," he said, unimpressed by his play at quarterback. "We were a really small team, undersized in number and in general bulk. I was heavier than most of my O-linemen."
In addition to starring in athletics, Hussey was a strong student at Lakeside, a top private school that usually sends about one quarter of its students to the Ivy League and can claim Bill Gates and Paul Allen, founders of Microsoft, as alums.
But for all his success in the classroom and on the gridiron, Hussey wasn't on the radar of Ivy League coaches following his junior season for a variety of reasons including Lakeside's less-than-distinguished football pedigree. Still only about 5-foot-9 at the time, he didn't have the kind of speed players that size usually need to garner attention. And most troublesome of all, an L4-L5 vertebrae stress fracture had cost him most of his junior season and precluded pulling together a highlight tape that might catch someone's attention. Anyone's attention.
Suitors, he'll tell you without rancor, were nonexistent.
"Whether or not I would have drawn any interest is another question, but the fact that I didn't have a junior year meant I didn't have anything to show," he said. "I couldn't feel slighted for not being recruited because I truly had nothing to offer."
But there was one school where the coaches didn't need a highlight video to get a feel for what he could or couldn't do.
When Hussey showed up for his final Dartmouth football camp in the spring before his senior year the coaches looked at him a little differently. He had grown to his current 6-foot size and there was something about the kid with the non-stop motor who kept coming back year after year that caught their eye.
It was former offensive line coach Cyril Brockmeier who finally pulled Hussey aside and quizzed him on his SAT scores, GPA and Dartmouth legacy. The coach explained that using the Academic Index the football team has to pick and choose potential recruits by how they fall in an upside down pyramid with the widest part of the triangle representing slots available for kids with the best academic credentials.
"Luke gold him his grades and scores and Coach Brock said, 'You're not even in the pyramid!'" Winky Hussey recalled with a laugh.
While the coaches weren't going to use a recruiting slot on him - in part because they were confident he would get in on his own and in part because they didn't need to hold a spot with no one else courting him - they did tell Hussey he would have a shot at a uniform if he was accepted.
And that was all he needed to hear to apply early decision.
"I knew I wanted to play football and if I couldn't do it at this level I was going to go to a D3 school and play there," Hussey said. "Football was that important to me. I felt like at the very least the coaches knew about me. I wasn't going to show up and they were going to turn me away at the door."
Which is why the football team has itself a lunch-pail linebacker and inspirational leader.
Despite having his sophomore season cut short by pain that required surgery on both his hips a month apart, Hussey made the transition from unrecruited 190-pound corner to 220-pound, All-Ivy League linebacker.
The winner of the Les Godwin Award last year as the player who, "through extraordinary perseverance, rose above personal disadvantage to contribute measurably to the team," Hussey also won the training staff's Hard-Nose Award. He has been called by his coach the most dedicated player he's ever had and the quarterback of the defense.
"He got beat up on the scout team several years ago and never complained," said Teevens. "He played special teams. He had a back, an ankle, a shoulder, a hip. It doesn't make a difference to him. He just absolutely loves playing football."
Football is why Dartmouth landed a summa cum laude engineering major with a 3.94 grade point average. It is why the Dartmouth community has a very special Peer Tutor who works with young kids in the Junior Solar Sprint program. It is why he is in Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society. And it is the reason why Dartmouth can claim a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy as the best football scholar-athlete in the nation.
"I've always had confidence in what I could do even if I wasn't the most impressive athlete to come along," Hussey said. "It definitely was a long shot for me here, but I felt like I could do it if I was given the opportunity. I'm thankful I got it.
"If you look back at the arc of my career, it has been a crazy, crazy ride. But it has been some of the best times of my entire life. I owe a huge amount of my success to the help of others both on the field and in the classroom - students, teachers, coaches and my family. They have all been great."
And the kid who admits he "took a leap of faith" thinking he could play football at Dartmouth hasn't been bad either.
A veteran writer and observer of Dartmouth athletics, Bruce Wood launched a web site in 2005, www.biggreenalert.com, specializing in Big Green football news coverage.