October 26, 2013

Amazing Athleticism

By Bridget Schirripa
Special to GoHolyCross.com

The chance to play college sports is not one many athletes get. Even fewer have an opportunity to play at the NCAA Division I level. And even less of these elite individuals dedicated their time in high school to more than one sport. It takes an extremely athletic, focused and dedicated person to spend time on different sports. Senior wide receivers Mike Fess and Kyle Toulouse are just that. Not only does their success on the field at Holy Cross display this, but also their participation in highly competitive varsity programs in high school highlights their pure athleticism and extreme focus.

Toulouse and Fess share a unique experience. Unlike so many others, the two did not think they wanted to play college football until late in their careers, each dedicating time to other athletic interests. While football was always a sport that each played during his high school years, neither imagined playing at the college level.

For Toulouse, baseball was the sport he always dedicated the most time to as a youth, spending countless hours on the diamond and summers at tournaments. As his senior year in high school approached, and decisions about college needed to be made, Toulouse realized that football would present him with the chance to leave home and experience a new part of the country. Describing his decision to play football, he recounted that both Holy Cross' strength and its New England location influenced him. "Holy Cross has a great reputation both academically and athletically," said Toulouse. "It really was about getting away from Virginia and seeing other places for me." His desire to leave the Virginia area led Toulouse to focus on football and weight training. All the hard work paid off when he received the offer he had been waiting for. "I did not plan to play college football until my senior year of high school. I was set on playing baseball in college, and then I did really well in my senior football season and got an offer from Holy Cross," explained Toulouse. With this offer he was able to leave Virginia and see another part of the country, an experience he will never regret.

Sports have been a part of Fess' life since he was a child. His father was a high school basketball coach, and as Fess recounts, "I remember going to his practices in diapers." When he reached high school he dedicated his time to both football and basketball, although basketball was always his favorite. But as Fess matured, he realized it was football that would allow him to compete at a higher level. His junior year football season proved to be very successful, leading him to make the decision to dedicate his time to the game. When asked what ultimately caused him to play football in college, Fess did not describe his success, but highlighted the relationships football creates. "The camaraderie that comes with football was one of the reasons why I choose to play," said Fess. During his time at Holy Cross, Fess has once again found this fellowship that football fosters. While he has gained camaraderie amongst his teammates on the field, he also appreciates the community Holy Cross establishes off the field, a quality that attracted him to the school in the first place.

Even though Fess and Toulouse never thought football would be a part of their college experience, it is clear the game has had an important impact on their Holy Cross careers. When asked about their favorite Holy Cross moments both remembered football stories. For Toulouse, winning the Patriot League championship in his freshman year (2009) is a moment he will never forget. "Freshman year, to win the Patriot League championship was pretty exciting," said Toulouse. "The team had been close the two years prior, and winning it that year was a pretty awesome moment. I also got to play in the game, so it was a big wave of excitement all at once." While Fess does not recall a specific game or moment, he claimed his first semester freshman year will always leave an impression, during which he built the lasting team relationships that he still holds today. During that season he also found the camaraderie he desired, which has shaped his Holy Cross years.

These moments are not all Toulouse and Fess will remember from their college football years. Both told of the crucial lessons they gained from football and coach Tom Gilmore, emphasizing how these are skills that they will maintain throughout their post-graduation life. Toulouse will always remember to never take anything for granted. His countless injuries from football and the hard work it has taken to get back on the field have shown him that it is important to play every game like it's your last. Fess stressed that teamwork is what he learned from the game. "Learning how to push each other and work together," said Fess. "Each man doing his job is what football has taught me." The skills coach Gilmore has taught them are also crucial and can be carried into their off field lives. "Coach Gilmore taught me that everyone has their own story and it is important to understand that," said Toulouse. For Fess, Gilmore's words, "never be satisfied," have kept him pushing himself and his teammates to become the best they can be on and off the field. Both athletes believe football will play a role in their post-graduation life even if they are not directly involved with the game. Toulouse hopes to return home to Virginia and attend law school in the upcoming years, while Fess dreams of working in the front office of an NFL team. For Toulouse and Fess, the game will continue to play a role in their lives through the lessons this grueling and demanding sport has taught them.

It is clear that for Toulouse and Fess, football has made a huge impact on their lives and time at Holy Cross. Both athletes are ready to give it their all as they finish out their final season as Crusaders, a dream that has become a reality over the past four years.

This story originally appeared in the October 26 edition of the Holy Cross Game Day Program, for the contest between the Crusaders and Lafayette. To order a copy of the program, click here.