51 seconds were all that stood between Exeter’s upset football victory over undefeated Andover in the oldest high-school rivalry game in the country. With a fourth down at Exeter’s 15-yard line, Andover needed four yards to keep the drive alive for the ages. Quarterback Ian Maag ’14 stepped back, clutched and rocketed the football towards the outstretched arms of his most trusted receiver — 2013-14 Male Athlete of the Year Brandon Michel ’14.
The ball was thrown slightly above Michel’s head — high enough to make his defender celebrate before the play was over. But Michel, who had developed a habit of making big plays at the right time, leaped up and snatched the ball out of the air for a five-yard gain. Two plays later, Ryder Stone ’14 busted through the Exeter defense for the game-winning touchdown.
It was plays like the fourth-down catch that landed Michel the Athlete of the Year Award.
“It was very humbling to be voted Athlete of the Year, especially in my first year. It meant a lot to me, and being accepted on the sports teams I was on meant a lot as well. The transition here went so well for me that I was able to succeed,¨ said Michel, who entered Andover as a Post-Graduate.
It was no surprise that Michel, who checks in at 5’11” and 160 pounds, was the player who made one of the most crucial plays in a series of plays that Head Coach Leon Modeste affectionately calls ‘The Drive.” Michel finished the season with 379 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 22 receptions, in addition to 459 kick and punt return yards.
“Offensively, he’s a touchdown waiting to happen. He’s got great hands and great moves. And he’s fast enough that he can outrun people, and he can jump high enough that he can win those jump balls,” said Modeste.
After Stone, Michel had the second-most all-purpose yards on the team. Michel had 973 yards all-purpose yards on the year for an average of 108 yards per game. But Michel didn’t just make an impact on the offensive side of the ball — his coverage skills made him the team’s best cornerback.
Michel amassed 34 tackles and a team-high five interceptions and 20 passes defended.
“Personally, I look at it from both sides of the ball. I’m always going after the ball. If the ball’s in the air, it’s up for grabs. I don’t just see it as preventing them from catching it: I go after it myself,¨ said Michel.
“He took away the other team’s best receiver. That was the most important thing for our defense. With any team, if you can take away their big weapon, that makes them vulnerable. In the championship game [against Brunswick], he shut down their best receiver when we switched to man coverage, and that’s how we were able to get back in the game late,” said Modeste.
The wide receiver and cornerback’s knack for big plays shined during the Exeter game — not only did he convert the fourth-and-four, but he also halted an Exeter drive late in the first half when he intercepted an end zone pass to keep Andover ahead 7-6 at halftime.
“[Michel] showed up to practice each and every single day, never slacked off, never found his way to the trainers’ room. He just came with a smile on his face, and he loves to play the game. He never got cross or angry during the whole season, and he was a great role model for the younger guys out there. I told guys like [John] Simourian ’16 and Jumaane [Ford] ’16 that they should try to be like [Michel]. I said, ‘When you become full-time starters and big-time players, be like him,’” said Modeste.
Michel’s team-first mentality and leadership abilities helped him translate his freakish athleticism to the basketball court and take over as the eventual starting point guard for Andover.
Michel’s energy and enthusiasm stood out as he transitioned from a role player off of the bench into a regular starter.
“Offensively, his style of play was unorthodox. It wasn’t always pretty, but he got the job done. Defensively, though, he was one of the best players I’ve ever coached. His ability to get his hands on the ball was unbelievable,” said Boys Basketball Head Coach Terrell Ivory. “I had him come off of the bench for the first half of the season, and I made a mistake by not starting him at first. The truth is, whether he comes off the bench or not, he brings incredible energy to the game and his play keeps us going.”
Michel steadily improved as the season wore on, eventually establishing himself as the leading scorer and lockdown defender in the second half. All of his hard work culminated in a heroic performance against Exeter in which he scored floater after floater and stole pass after pass in a nail-biter of a game.
Despite the drama, Michel’s cool and collected mindset in that game exemplifies his attitude towards athletics.
“I took the Exeter game as any other game. Obviously, there was more hype and it was cool to play in front of a big crowd, but I was just thinking about how to get the win,” said Michel, who seemed to always balance control with energy during his play.
After being named the unofficial Most Valuable Player on Andover Football and Andover Boys Basketball by his coaches, Michel will be taking his talents to the football field at the University of Pennsylvania next year. After being the most sought-after recruit on the Andover team, at least within the realm of Ivy League schools, Modeste predicts that Michel will end up playing defense for the Quakers next season.
“[Michel] is humble — he always addresses you with a ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ and he’s very polite. He’s always smiling, and he loves to help other people out. He’s just a really nice kid. Walking down the path, you wouldn’t know that he’s Athlete of the Year because he’s just such a humble and good kid,” said Modeste. “[Michel] will definitely be missed at Andover.”
Michel said, “I’m going to miss the sense of camaraderie of [Andover Football], getting to build a family and go through the entire season with that family. For the school, I’m going to miss all that just on a bigger scale as well as the sense of pride that comes from being an Andover Blue athlete or an Andover Blue student. I wish I could have been here for more years to take advantage of it. This year was definitely worthwhile.”