By Tom Pedulla—
Will Kelly and Dylan Nelson provide shining examples of the level of student-athletes Sleepy Hollow High School wants to develop in abundance in the future.
Kelly, the first four-year captain in the history of the lacrosse program, joined Nelson in leading the team to a 15-0 regular season. Kelly piled up 36 goals with 28 assists while fellow midfielder Nelson registered 26 goals with 15 assists.
Their ability to combine athletic with academic excellence has Kelly bound for Swarthmore while Nelson will continue his studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these two young men,” said first-year Athletic Director Michael Arias. “They are both the definition of a student-athlete and are tremendous ambassadors for our lacrosse and athletic program.”
Arias went on, “It’s a product of a lot of hard work done in the classroom and on the field that has given them the opportunity to play at the next level in college. We hope all of our underclassmen take notice and that the number of college athletes coming out of our programs continues to grow from year to year.”
Kelly and Nelson all but willed a turnaround of the lacrosse program. The team was badly overmatched and went 1-15 in Kelly’s freshman year. The rebuilding effort gained momentum when Nelson transferred from Iona Prep before his junior year.
Kelly said of going 1-15 as a freshman: “It definitely looked a little bit darker back in those days, but we just kind of stuck together and powered through it.”
Extreme adversity helped Kelly develop into an extraordinary leader. “It was definitely a learning process my freshman year,” he said. “But it set me up well for my sophomore, junior and senior seasons to kind of lead the program to where we are.”
Gary DiVico, who shares coaching duties with Jonathan Villanueva, ranks Kelly and Nelson among the finest players he has overseen in his 29 years as head coach.
“They are teachers on and off the field,” he said. “They are better people than they are players. They are great kids.”
It was not uncommon to see either young man refining his skills even when there was no practice. “They do things on their own to make themselves better,” DiVico said. “They’ll go on the field and shoot by themselves and practice on their own.” The midfield position requires great stamina; both were superbly conditioned.
Kelly, in addition to playing two years of varsity football and one year of varsity basketball, rose to the position of school president as a senior. He is a member of the National Honor Society and volunteered at the Tarrytown-Sleepy Hollow Food Pantry, among other activities.
“He has intangibles you can’t teach,” DiVico said.
Nelson distinguished himself while taking many of Sleepy Hollow’s most demanding classes. He also was All-League in football and made time to volunteer to shop for groceries for homebound elderly during the pandemic. He also has devoted time to Special Olympics, distributing water to participants and timing track events.
Nelson said of balancing academics and athletics: “It’s been pretty tough. People don’t realize you get home from the game, and you’re tired physically and mentally. There’s a big mental aspect to the game that people don’t think about. And then you’ve got to start writing all these papers. It is a struggle to balance, but you do it because you love it.”
Nelson eagerly awaits his time at MIT while recognizing he will be challenged as never before.
“There is nothing more you can say about MIT as a school,” he said. “You get to learn from some of the best people in the world and be around some of the smartest people in the world. I’m just excited to learn.”
Kelly intends to major in political science at Swarthmore and wants to use his leadership skills to help others upon completion of his studies. Nelson is determined to learn everything he can about the world of economics and finance.
It is important to Kelly and Nelson that they be remembered for laying the foundation for future lacrosse excellence at Sleepy Hollow.
“That is the dream,” Kelly said.