| The Finish Line
The Finish Line, a special section of The Real Deal, is a series of first-person stories written by recently graduated student-athletes, reflecting on their Lafayette experience.
September 13, 2014. That was the first time I had the honor of meeting Dr. Wilbur Oaks ‘51. Although new to the program as a wide-eyed freshman, I had heard of the legacy of Dr. Oaks before even stepping foot on College Hill. Whether it be his sheer love for Lafayette or his incredible dedication to attend each game, the man was a mainstay in most of Coach Bohn’s pregame talks.
On a Saturday afternoon burdened by thunderstorms, Saint Francis Brooklyn came to Easton as we were looking to avenge a 1-0 loss to Cornell earlier in the week. Given the recent defeat, Coach Bohn felt bringing the energetic 85-year-old to the sideline would give us extra motivation to perform well against an undefeated team at the time.
Before kickoff, Coach asked me to do him a favor, and at this point in my career I was the third-string goalkeeper behind two seniors and was a “work-in-progress” for future seasons.
He said, “Brad, I need you to hold this umbrella over Dr. Oaks’ head because the man will never sit under the bench cover.”
Of course, I complied, and to this day, I have never been so grateful to speak with a Lafayette Alum. For the game’s entirety, Dr. Oaks kept the conversation about me; asking questions about where I was from, what I hoped for during my time at Lafayette, and future aspirations. Even given the downpour while wearing his nice suit, shoes, and hat, “Oaksie” still had the constant urge to hold the umbrella over me to better my welfare over his.
He was the kind, caring and gentle man that everyone spoke so highly of, and following his halftime speech to the starters, Dr. Oaks came to me and said, “Brad, you’ll get your chance. Don’t worry.”
That chance came exactly a month later when I was given an opportunity to play in a non-conference game against Buffalo. The outcome was a 1-0 win for the team and the greatest game of my life with nine saves. It was the chance Dr. Oaks was talking about it, and he was right, it finally came to fruition.
As I was walking off the field, I looked up towards the stands to see Dr. Oaks standing atop our stairs shaking each of my teammates’ hands. When it came my turn, he shook my hand and pulled me in for a hug.
He looked at me smiling and said, “See? Even the youngest players can make a difference. You’ll have your ups and downs, but always play with your heart, not your head.”
On June 13, 2015, Dr. Oaks passed away.
His family, the men’s soccer team and Lafayette College lost an incredible man who was more than just a fan of the College, but someone whose legacy has continued through the lives he touched.
Prior to the beginning of my junior season, a monument in Dr. Oaks’ honor was installed near the entrance of our field. This beautiful gesture was a constant reminder that whenever I stepped on the field, I’d think about those words he said to me after my first collegiate game.
For more first-person accounts from Lafayette student-athletes, check out the Finish Line stories in The Real Deal.
For full coverage of this weekend's graduation ceremonies, visit the Commencement home page.
My career has been nothing short of incredible, but like many careers, it can be characterized through countless ups and downs.
During my sophomore and junior seasons, I was graciously awarded a place on the Academic All-Patriot League team, but in both tenures, the years ended in heartbreak. I missed most of the Patriot League games in my sophomore year with a severe concussion, and in my junior year, I was at the center of two mistakes in back-to-back games, costing us a spot in the Patriot League Tournament.
Heading into my senior season, there were reservations about my playing ability, position as the team’s starter, and if I could rebound following the heartbreak the season before. It was not until the first practice in Oaks Stadium and seeing the monument that I realized Dr. Oaks’ advice years ago had been oh so true.
I needed to make an adjustment for the team’s good and my own sake as well.
For the remainder of the year, my thought process heading into games and practices revolved around that moment three years ago on those steps.
As the team walked out to games, I wanted to be in the back of line, so I could touch the monument last. Prior to games, I had the initials, “BO,” written on my wrist tape as a symbol of Billy Oaks and all the good he did for me and our program.
The season did not finish like we had all hoped, but for the first time in my career, barring all the injuries, I felt I played a complete season.
Whether it was playing with my heart over my head or ignoring all the ups and downs that had plagued my career, I was forever grateful to have played in Oaks Stadium for the last four years.
This week, I graduate from Lafayette College.
It has been long, tedious and filled with plenty of 6 a.m. practices.
Even with that, I would never take back the memories of attending and playing soccer with such amazing people.
As I leave this school, I still hold on to Dr. Oaks’ message to me and the team, “You’ll have your ups and downs, but always play with your heart, not your head.”
Even though he passed away three years ago this June, his optimistic spirit has continued to impact my life and our program’s philosophy.
To my family, teammates, coaches, the athletic department, the Moyse Family, the Linville and Oaks families and the entire class of 2018: Thank you for all you have done for me over these four years.
As always, #RollPards.