Islander leads Moses Brown to Division III Super Bowl
He started every game at defensive end, helped the Quakers finish the regular season 8-3 and led them to the Division III Super Bowl to take on Middletown.
He was also playing football for the first time.
Last winter, van der Wal took a mandatory physical education course with the head football coach, Lajhon Jones. Jones, a former pro with the San Diego Chargers, played high school ball at Warwick Veterans High School and went on to play college ball at the University of Rhode Island. Billy remembers Jones asking him to play football. “I feel like he asks everyone,” Billy said. “We’re a small school.”
Having played soccer in his freshman and sophomore years, Billy had chosen not to play as a junior, naming coaching changes as the primary reason. So he decided to take the football coach’s question seriously and he began to work out at school, lifting weights alone and with friends.
“Why not,” Billy said about joining the team. “All of my friends played.” He was intrigued by the sense of friendship that he had recognized among the football players before the season. He then witnessed it first hand as a member of the team.
“It felt like a team,” he said. “[Camaraderie] just comes with football because it is such a teamcentered sport. Football players always cared more than I’d seen in any other sport.”
Lacrosse season began and while he saw some playing time at midfield in every game, there was a deep bench. The lacrosse team won the state championship but Billy was beginning to look forward to the next fall and playing football for the first time.
As August rolled around, van der Wal was expecting to play wide receiver, and the first few practices indicated that he was “not so good” at that position, he said, and he began playing defensive end against the starting offense as part of the scout team. Billy was a lineman on the scout team, and he played against the first-team offense at practice in an attempt to imitate the next opponent’s defensive schemes.
While many of the Moses Brown starters played on both sides of the ball, van der Wal focused on defense; his dedication and commitment paid off.
The defensive line coach began to spend some extra time with van der Wal, teaching him pass-rushing skills and such techniques as “swim moves and rips.”
Although he primarily focused on a “speed rush,” he began to learn the value of a repertoire of moves and techniques and he learned how to be more physical. Billy’s coach told him to confront the offensive lineman directly and move him out of the way in order to pursue the ball.
van der Wal enjoyed playing football, and a few games into the season, “it clicked.” He began to find his ability to manage offensive lineman on his own terms. He said that it was the game against Narragansett where he realized that he could compete with the veteran players.
In the following game, the Quakers played Burrillville at home. van der Wal had two sacks and picked up a fumbled handoff to run 75 yards for a touchdown – about 60 days after he had donned a helmet for the first time. He described the run as instinctual: “I didn’t think about it.” Billy’s touchdown was instrumental in their 14-12 win over the Broncos that day.
Besides the two sacks against Burrillville, Billy shared sacks at Tiverton and North Providence and he had one each against Rogers and East Greenwich.
On Oct. 22, the Quakers dismantled the Middletown’s Islanders handily, according to Billy. The game could be characterized in part by the Quakers’ three touchdowns with fewer than 60 seconds coming off the game clock. This would prove to be a misleading result.
A successful 8-3 season allowed the Quakers to square off against the 8-3 Middletown Islanders for the Division III Super Bowl. Middletown had dismissed division leading Rogers in a 20-14 playoff match the week before.
“[We were] a little too cocky,” Billy said about his team. “We knew we could beat them.” Indeed the Quakers may have underestimated Middletown, as the Islanders started fast heading into the locker room at the half with a 14-0 lead.
The defensive game plan was simple, van der Wal said. The Islanders had one real weapon, Rico McCray, a “really good” senior running back. The goal was to key on him. The results were two touchdowns from McCray in the first half.
While the Quakers’ defense came to life after halftime – permitting only two second-half first downs – the offense never got rolling. The Quakers lost 21-0 – all three touchdowns coming from McCray, who intercepted a pass and returned it for the game’s final score – and van der Wal’s first football season was in the books.
As Billy considers his next steps, he is filling out college applications for Colby, Hobart and Syracuse, and he said that he might consider football as a walk-on or at the club level – at the right school.
If there are any regrets, he said, it is that he didn’t get to experience football a little sooner. Although, it’s better late than never.