Saturday Afternoon Lights
By Paul Sweeney
Linebacker Brian Danshaw, A11, brings a Texas-sized work ethic to the gridiron and the classroom
As a linebacker for the Colleyville Heritage High School football team in Texas, every game was like Homecoming Day for Brian Danshaw, A11.
He played Texas 5A football, regarded as one of the country’s top divisions in high school football. The Colleyville Heritage Panthers regularly count on 10,000 fans to cheer them on at home games, and are idolized by children in the community, located outside Dallas.
“It’s an electric atmosphere,” says Danshaw, who graduated from Colleyville Heritage in 2007. “There’s something about coming out of the tunnel, and you have 10,000 fans screaming for you. There’s a big thrill when you make a play. It’s a huge moment.”
Now Danshaw is a standout linebacker for the Jumbos, one of more than a third of the team from outside the Northeast, and he’s also busy applying to medical school. While playing at the Ellis Oval is certainly a different experience from high school, it’s just as satisfying, he says.
An “A” in Football
Born in Washington, D.C., Danshaw moved to Texas when he was three. His first sport was hockey, and he learned how to hit as a defenseman on the ice rather than on the gridiron. He started playing football in seventh grade, and like everyone else in Texas became caught up in it.
High school football in Texas has been immortalized in Friday Night Lights, the book, movie and television series that depict an almost religious devotion to the sport. Danshaw says Friday Night Lights is true to life, and that high school football’s impact in Texas reaches far beyond the field.
“You were looked up to in the community,” he says. “It made you realize that you had a bigger role to play than just football. You were having an influence on younger kids approaching high school, and you wanted to represent yourself as a positive role model.”
As the saying goes, there are only two sports in Texas—football and spring football. In fact, it’s a year-round commitment for players that runs from preseason, regular season, hopefully post-season and then to off-season workouts, spring football and seven-on-seven state tournaments during the summer.
“Football is like a class in Texas,” Danshaw says. “It’s not something extra that you attend. Football is a designated credit at the end of the day.”
During his senior season in 2006, Colleyville Heritage made a run into the state quarterfinals and played three times at the Dallas Cowboys’ Texas Stadium. After battling a knee injury for most of the season, a healthy Danshaw emerged in the playoffs with outstanding play at inside linebacker.
Most Texas high school football players aspire to play Division I college ball. Danshaw played with and against several players who are starring at the NCAA Division IA level this fall. Greg McElroy, quarterback of #1-ranked Alabama, played for the rival Southlake Carroll Dragons. Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder, considered a Heisman Trophy candidate entering the 2010 season, was Danshaw’s teammate.
Hitting the Books, Too
But Danshaw’s goals were different. He wanted to use football as a path to a good academic school. He attended football camps at Yale, Princeton and Penn, and was initially spotted by Tufts’ former defensive coordinator John Walsh.
“When I visited Tufts in January of 2007, I knew it was a great fit—academically, athletically and especially socially,” Danshaw says. “The team welcomed me with open arms during my visit. That made a lasting impression on me.”
In fall 2007 Danshaw became a Jumbo. He had only been to Boston once before, and it took him some time to adjust. The passion for college football in the Northeast didn’t match what he was used to in Texas, but that was the least of his concerns. He was more focused on holding his own on the field.
“[The game] was just so much more physical up here,” he says. “It was something I had to keep up with. At home in Texas everyone was doing a spread offense. You didn’t have fullbacks like [former two-year Tufts captain] Kevin Anderson come hit you right in the mouth.”
Danshaw was more than equal to the toughness requirement. During his freshman season, he earned New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Rookie of the Week honors for his play in a 35–20 victory over Bates. He’s been a key member of the team ever since, and in the 2010 season opener against Hamilton, he forced a fumble with a hit.
A bio-psychology major, he’s been successful in the classroom as well. He’s thinking he’d like to become a surgeon.
Having so many football players from outside the Northeast adds another positive aspect to the team, Danshaw says. “Having kids from all over the nation further proves the fact that we can work and play as a team no matter where we come from or what our backgrounds are,” he says. “We’re all together in this, whatever the externalities. I feel it’s one of the most important things we can experience, developing a brotherhood that will last a lifetime. You’re all together, as one, regardless.”
Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.