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Wayne Valley grad Will Kearney finds a perfect balance between football and academics at Wesleyan University

Will Kearney said football was his first love. Inspired by his father having played at Franklin & Marshall, the second he was old enough to play tackle football he had his parents sign him up. To help him stay active and more athletic, Kearney also wrestled and played lacrosse through middle school.

“Wayne (New Jersey) is my home and I lived there my entire life, it is a great place to play sports,” said Kearney. “There are a ton of competitive people that love getting after it whether you play football, lacrosse or soccer. All the sports programs at the youth level are tremendous and do a great job of building character.”

“There are two Pop Warner teams in Wayne; Wayne PAL (Police Athletic League) and Wayne Boys Club. I was playing for the Boys Club and played with kids that ended up on Wayne Hills so it’s interesting. You are teammates throughout elementary school and middle school, but when you get to high school you are rivals. It’s hard to put into words but something very special.”

Attending Wayne Valley High School, Kearney played running back and linebacker. In his senior year (2015), Kearney rushed for 713 yards and scored 12 touchdowns while on defense registering 82 tackles. The Indians went 9-2, winning a first round playoff game against Morris Knolls 34-14 before losing to Old Tappan in the second round.

“An absolute amazing experience with kids who you grew up with and some of my best friends in the whole world,” Kearney said. “A great coaching staff led by Coach (Roger) Kotlarz. Every time I’m home for the summer I run into him when I’m at the field working out and preparing for the next football season. The school has done a great job of adapting the underdog mentality because we get overlooked with so many schools in Wayne with PCTI (Passaic County Technical Institute), DePaul Catholic and Wayne Hills. It just adds fuel to the fire and gave us a little more juice when working out.”

“My senior year we went 9-2, first team to reach the playoffs in 5 to 10 years and bringing that winning program and culture back. Playing in the playoffs in North Jersey is a great environment, you weed it down to the best teams’ in your group and any team can beat another one on a given day and it’s all about playing with more heart, who leaves it all on the field and harnesses that emotion into productivity.”

“A big road win on the road and I have to tip my hat to the student body because they filled up cars and cars with people and appreciative of all the friends’ outside of football that were able to come and made us play with a little more juice. A game away from reaching Met Life Stadium but we lost to a really good Old Tappan team but I don’t have any regrets and thankful for that experience.”

When it came to selecting a college to attend, Kearney said it was his goal to use football to get into the best academic institution so he could be successful after college. Looking at a couple of Ivy and Patriot League Schools, it ended up with already establishing a relationship with Head Coach Dan DiCenzo of Wesleyan University who he met at a Harvard football camp and made Kearney decide to visit the campus.

“When I first visited here, I thought this would be the place with a perfect mix of a high level of football and academics with great alumni, coaches and culture within the program,” said Kearney. “Coming into my freshman year, I was super excited and nervous at the same time but worked really hard to put myself in the best shape possible as we got into camp and transitioning to college football. The senior class was absolutely amazing helping adjust to college life so smoothly and really grateful for that and still in contact with them to this day. My coaches at Wayne Valley did a great job of preparing me for the next level and making sure what I was doing on defense and understanding being a student of the game as a whole.”

Displaying durability on the field the past four years with playing the majority of games, Kearney put up solid number in his junior year in 2018 tallying 45 tackles, two sacks, one fumble recovery and two interceptions. This season Kearney is enjoying a breakout season, leading the team in tackles with 53 including a season and career high 18 against Middlebury. Wesleyan current record is 6-1.

“I played running back and linebacker in high school but here at Wesleyan I play linebacker,” Kearney said. “It’s the heart of the defense, playing the pass and run and I love the position so much because it’s instinctual and playing it for a long time. Being a leader, communicating, running and making plays.”

“Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers is the definition of the student of the game and you can tell he watches a ton of film because he is a very instinctual player and does everything right. I’m a Giants fans but loving watching the Panthers play and historically love watching Lawrence Taylor highlights. Football is a very interesting sport because you practice more than you play. I look back at the off-season programs and training year-round and the more work you put in the more confidence you have going into a season.”

“Matt Coyne, the linebackers coach and someone who I have gotten close to since my sophomore year and really cares about the program. He coaches after he graduated and at other places and came back here. He genuinely cares about the players and program and always goes above and beyond about making sure everything is going well with the players both personally and academically. I have been learning from him the past two years’ and looking forward to keeping that relationship going beyond school.”

“Coming into my senior season I knew that I had nine more games to leave it all out of the field and pushed myself harder, got my runs in and working out with other athletes. Now as a senior and got older I made it a point to welcome in the freshman and be the best leader and role model for the younger guys. We’re bringing in a lot of talent and football players from all over the country and our coaches go a great job of finding players from California, Texas and rest of the country. We also have a lot of pride with the North Jersey players and stick together. I played against Dave Estevez when he was at River Dell and how electric of a player he is and when we got him I was so stoked.”

Not only is Kearney enjoy his time on the football field but the support from the students at Wesleyan, town of Middletown, Connecticut and family. “Middletown is a great community and here on game day is an electric environment,” Kearney said. “We play on the oldest continuous field in all of the country and right in the middle of campus. Students will be walking by and come to the game, there is support from the parents and families of coaches and players and alumni. Our last game we played against Tufts under the lights and can’t put into words how electrifying that was to see all of our fans, family and friends supporting under the lights and get the big win.”

“I have immediate as well as extended family that have shown tremendous support with a lot of them living in North Jersey to come see me play in high school and college and sometimes driving four to five hours to see me play and when I’m walking off the field come up to me and give me a big and truly blessed to have them in my corner.”

Majoring in Economics, Kearney is one step ahead the rest of the pack having lined up a job after graduation next year with a company called BlackRock. “This past summer I worked there and had an offer to return there next summer and got the job through one of my teammates,” said Kearney. “He helped me fill out the application and prepare for the interviews.”

“Coach DiCenzo and our athletic director Mike Whalen have done a great job getting support from the administration throughout the years and growing relationships with the professors, The coaches take great pride in making sure we stay ahead of the game, doing out work and there is constant communication between our professors and coaches to keep us on point.”

In the end Kearney had this message to other athletes looking to follow the same pathway, “Try to do the little things right at all times even when no one is looking and all on you. It’s important to have integrity and even when you are pushes by coaches and buddies important that you get out of bed and go to work out when no one is looking and go above and beyond to push yourself in order to be successful at the next level.”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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