CHESHIRE — As graduation approached last spring at Cheshire High School, Will Bergin pondered a decision about his future.
While the majority of his classmates made plans to leave town for colleges around the country, he ended up staying close to home and taking an extra year to attend school and play football at Cheshire Academy.
The prep route led to the Ivy League.
“It was most definitely the right choice,” said Bergin, who was still 17 upon graduating from Cheshire High. “My parents and I made the decision together. I felt that I needed another year to develop physically as a player and get ready for college.”
As a post-graduate last fall, Bergin used his time wisely to find a new home where he could grow on the field and in the classroom. The lineman considered offers from Cornell and Georgetown before accepting an offer from the University of Pennsylvania.
“I’m very excited; I can’t wait to go there next year,” stated Bergin. “When I toured the school, it felt like the right fit for me. I can’t thank my family, friends, and the CHS and CA staffs enough for their support.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of him,” said Cheshire football coach Don Drust. “He took advantage of a goal and worked as hard as he could to get there. He has created an awesome opportunity for himself.”
In mid-October, Bergin traveled with his father to Philadelphia to take a tour at Penn.
“It was two weeks after the school had given me a recruiting offer,” Bergin recounted. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t go in any buildings due to concerns over COVID. We looked at the football field and the indoor bubble where the team holds spring practice.”
Because of the pandemic, the Ivy League canceled its 2020 fall seasonr. When Penn last took the field in 2019, the football team posted a 5-5 record under head coach Ray Priore.
“I love their offensive style,” said Bergin. “It is gritty and hard-nosed.”
Bergin has quickly developed a bond with the Quakers. Along with his visit to campus, he has spoken to coaches and teammates over Zoom calls.
“I like my teammates already,” said Bergin. “I’m excited to play for an energetic staff. I love playing with emotion in football.”
While he has shined on both sides of the ball in Connecticut, the Quakers see Bergin focusing on the offensive end.
“The coaches said that they love the grit that I play with out there,” said Bergin. “I love playing offensive line. It is great to put your helmet down and drive.”
Cheshire Academy coach Dave Dykeman was ecstatic to hear that Bergin will keep playing football at the next level.
“I had the opportunity to watch Will two or three times in his senior year (at Cheshire High) and was impressed with him,” Dykeman said. “As a younger guy, I thought that he would benefit from a post-grad year before going off to college.”
Along with playing football, Bergin wanted to be challenged academically in college. In limiting his choices to Penn, Cornell, and Georgetown, Berlin felt he had targeted schools with strong reputations.
“It was very important to set myself up for the rest of my life,” explained Bergin. “My parents have always voiced the opinion that academics will get your farther than football. It was quite the honor to have those schools give me offers.”
By the end of this school year, Dykeman expects 12 Cheshire Academy seniors and post-graduates to compete in college football. Daniel Lopes (Villanova), Jaden Shirden (Monmouth) and Jonathan Velasquez (Williams) have already committed along with Bergin.
“It is the most rewarding thing to know that guys are doing things to improve their lives,” stated Dykeman. “We have players going to some of the best institutions in the world.”
Bergin started practicing with CA football last August, but he got to know players and coaches over Zoom calls starting in April.
“Our team became very close with limited communication last year,” Bergin said.
He feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to compete at CA. The CIAC cancelled 11-on-11 tackle football for Connecticut high schools in 2020. CA, being a prep school, decided to move forward with safety protocols.
“I think we were one of only five teams to play organized football in the state last season,” stated Bergin. “It was a great opportunity. I have to thank Coach Dykeman and Coach (Dan) Mehleisen for helping us get in three games.”
To lower the risk of COVID-19, each of the Cats had to wear a mouth guard or plastic shield in practices and games. During game weeks, players, coaches and trainers were tested for COVID-19 and then quarantined on weekends.
“I wore a visor and mouth guard,” said Bergin. “It was hard to breathe at first, but everyone was willing to do anything to play last year.”
The Cats opened the season with two losses to Salisbury — 28-23 on Oct. 10 and 35-14 on Oct. 17 — before rebounding to win 21-14 on Oct. 31 at Canterbury.
CA planned to play more games, but in November the state put a pause on organized sports through Jan. 19 of this year.
“I was happy to get in some games and make friends on a new team,” Bergin said.
Bergin played right tackle on offense and also competed at almost every position on the defensive line. Unlike at Cheshire High, he was playing against athletes from multiple states.
“I handled the transition pretty good,” recalled Bergin. “The game speed was definitely a little faster than what I was used to in high school.”
Bergin has been a lineman since picking up football in fifth grade. He grew up competing alongside fellow 2020 Cheshire High graduate Sean Cangiano, who has joined the team at Trinity College.
“Sean is one of my great friends,” Bergin said. “We worked side-by-side for my whole Cheshire career and made each other better by doing things like drawing double teams.”
While enjoying his fall season at CA, Bergin said no experience will compare to growing up playing football with his local friends. After becoming a varsity starter as a sophomore, Bergin joined classmate Jason Shumilla as Cheshire football’s first-ever junior captains. They led the 2018 Rams with senior Elijah Allston and Tim Krutz.
“Being a junior captain was quite the honor for me and Jay,” reflected Bergin.
With a young lineup three years ago, the Rams finished with a 3-7 record, but Bergin felt that experience motivated the program to have a resurgence. In 2019, Cheshire went 8-3 and reached the Class LL playoffs for the first time in a decade.
“We knew that we were capable of doing a lot more going into that season,” said Bergin, who captained the 2019 team with Shumilla for a second year in a row. “We bonded great as a team.”
Bergin enjoyed sharing the breakout season with his senior teammates.
“We worked so hard when nobody was watching and left everything on the field when the lights were on,” Bergin explained.
On the offensive line, Bergin helped pave the way for classmate Jake McAlinden to run for 19 touchdowns. On defense, Bergin earned 51 tackles and three sacks.
Among his honors as a senior, Bergin received All-Walter Camp Football Foundation First Team, All-Class LL, All-Southern Connecticut Conference Tier II, and All-Record-Journal honors.
He credited his teammates and coaches for Cheshire’s success. After playing four years for Drust, Bergin feels the coach made him into the player he is today.
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have this opportunity to play football at the next level,” said Bergin. “He taught me about the character and work ethic you need to be successful.”
“I think being a two-time captain speaks to his leadership,” said Drust. “You can see his work ethic and skill on the field, but Will did a lot of things to make us better.”
A versatile athlete, Bergin also helped Cheshire baseball win the 2018 Class LL title. The next year, he contributed to an SCC crown, but Bergin decided to give up the sport to focus on football.
“I’ve worked hard to get to play in college and it is nice that I’m going to have that opportunity,” said Bergin.
In leaving Cheshire for Pennsylvania this fall, Bergin hopes that the health situation improves to the point where he can have in-person classes and a full football schedule.
“I want to strive for success,” Bergin said. “I’m looking to balance my time and attack academics and football.”