SUFFIELD — The roar of jet engines echoes across the idyllic village of Suffield and washes over the otherwise peaceful athletic fields at Suffield Academy on a chilly, late November afternoon.
The practicing players from the school’s football team barely notice, of course. This happens interminably, every day, like clockwork as commercial flights launch from Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, a mere 5 minutes south down Route 75.
Yet, the sounds emanating from the airport serve as the perfect backdrop as Suffield Academy unleashes its own aerial assault on its scout team.
There’s an easy strike to Jaden Dottin, a 6-foot-3 four-star receiver who’s committed to Penn State.
There goes another, this time to 6-foot-4 senior and Syracuse commit Justin Barron.
And another to Will Rolapp, a postgraduate from Darien. And another to Khari Johnson, from Boston.
Suffield’s air traffic controller, in this case, is Tyler Van Dyke, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior specimen from Glastonbury who’s gearing up the Tigers for, perhaps, the program’s biggest game in at least five years.
Suffield Academy, the undefeated Central New England league champion for the first time since 2013, travels to face unbeaten Erickson League champion Avon Old Farms in the NEPSAC’s Kevin Driscoll Bowl Saturday at 1 p.m.
The winner can claim itself the overall New England prep school football champion. The game will be streamed live via Avon Old Farms.
In just a couple months, Van Dyke will be aboard one of those planes, bound for Florida where he will begin an anticipated career as a quarterback at the University of Miami. He’ll be enrolling in January.
Van Dyke has been working toward this moment for nearly his entire life, from youth and then freshman football at Glastonbury High School, to the last four years for coach Drew Gamere’s program at Suffield Academy.
Van Dyke, a full-time starter for the last two years, has thrown for 4,352 yards and 35 touchdowns against 15 interceptions over his career, including 1,969 yards and 17 touchdowns and five picks in this, his final season.
He’s rated as a four-star, pro-style quarterback by various recruiting services and collected more than 21 official offers from NCAA FBS schools. His biggest attribute, aside from his prototype frame, is his arm, which has drawn raves from scouts and observers across the recruiting landscape.
“He throws the ball exceptionally well, in fact as good as any high school football player I’ve seen,” said Gamere, a Suffield Academy graduate and now the athletic director who has guided the school’s football program since 2008. “Certainly, better than anybody I’ve coached.”
— Tyler Van Dyke (@Tyler_Van_Dyke) April 29, 2019
Van Dyke has also been a star basketball and baseball player. He was named Suffield Academy’s league pitcher of the year in baseball last spring.
“He’s a terrific football player, an outstanding student and community member,” Gamere said. “Physically, he’s 6-4. He’s a three-sport athlete, so he’s got the athleticism. And then there are the intangibles. He’s a terrific young man, an outstanding leader and, put all those things together you’ve got a young man who’s going to be successful at the next level.”
Van Dyke was first offered by former Miami coach Mark Richt last December. Though Richt retired soon afterward, Miami’s new quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Dan Enos kept on the Suffield quarterback.
Van Dyke said he felt a rapport with Enos — who’d coached Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama as an assistant there in 2018 — and agreed to make a clandestine visit to Miami, his second, in late April. That was around the same time former Suffield Academy and Clemson standout Christian Wilkins was selected by the Miami Dolphins with the 13th pick in the NFL Draft.
“Yea, I didn’t tell any coaches or reporters I was going down there,” Van Dyke said with a chuckle. “Just so I would not get asked any questions about it.”
There, Van Dyke met with the coaches, including new head coach Manny Diaz, and the Hurricane players. He had lunch with former Avon High School All-Stater Jimmy Murphy, now a star senior for Miami.
He was sold. Van Dyke committed just a few days after coming back to Connecticut.
“I love the people, the coaches, the atmosphere, the academics,” Van Dyke said. “It has all of what I wanted, so it definitely is the perfect fit for me.
“Obviously (Miami quarterback) Jarren Williams is really playing well for them right now. I just want to go down there, work hard, compete and do the best I can.”
Van Dyke came to Suffield Academy after spending a season playing on Glastonbury High School’s freshman team. He said he’d always been bigger than most of his peers, which made excelling in football easy for him. He was approaching 6-foot-2 by his freshman year and felt he needed a bigger challenge.
“I was always bigger, faster and taller than everybody else,” Van Dyke said. “So during my youth games I would just dominate. Nobody could tackle me. When I got to Glastonbury, even though it was freshman football, I still felt like nobody could stop me. That’s when I thought this could happen, that I could realize my dream of playing at the highest levels.”
Van Dyke comes from a well-known athletic family. His father, Bill Van Dyke, played football, basketball and baseball at Muhlenberg College. His mother, Amy, played volleyball at Cheshire and at Muhlenberg, as well.
Van Dyke’s grandfather is Bill Leete, who played quarterback at Vermont, coached at Hofstra and, ultimately, became the athletic director at the University of New Haven during its heyday as a football program. He was responsible for hiring the Chargers’ star-studded head coaches: Mark Whipple, Tony Sparano, Chris Palmer and Pete Rossomando.
Van Dyke says his grandfather is one of his biggest supporters and influencers. “He’s a huge inspiration to me,” he said. “He’s given me advice during my recruitment and comes to every one of my games.”
In his first couple of seasons, Van Dyke split time with Jackson Bischoping and took over the job full time as a junior.
“It was great for Tyler,” Gamere said. “He wasn’t thrown into the fire. He got to progress, learn and develop. He took over full time and had a great junior year, but he’s taken it to a whole different level this year.”
Armed with his Division I-caliber receiving corps, not to mention the addition of Mozi Bici — the 2018 New Haven Register Player of the Year from Greenwich, who’s been a force on both sides of the ball — Van Dyke and Suffield Academy have gone 8-0 — the program’s fifth undefeated regular season under Gamere — and will play in its 11th NEPSAC Championship Bowl in 12 seasons.
The Tigers are also bolstered by the additions of Sam McCarty, a 6-4, 270-pound postgraduate and All-Stater from Southington, Aidan Michaud, a 6-4, 305-pound senior and Windsor’s Kechaun Bennett, a 6-4, 220-pound junior on the front lines.
Among Suffield Academy’s biggest victories this season was on Oct. 26 against Choate, which had dominated the CNE and New England prep schools for the past five seasons. The Tigers took an early 23-0 lead and held on to win, 29-21. Van Dyke threw for 310 yards in that game — the best single-game yardage of his career.
“We knew coming in we had some talent,” Gamere said of this year’s squad. “The senior class is really about six or seven core guys and some decent underclassmen. For us this year, it’s been a perfect mesh of guys that were returning, who we knew would lay the foundation for a successful year, and then add some really good postgraduates who have helped our program.”
But now comes unbeaten Avon Old Farms, which is led by junior quarterback Tyler Phommachanh (Stratford), whose older brother Taisun is now a quarterback at Clemson; receiver Josh Tracey (Bridgeport); safety Marco Scarano (Berlin); athlete Xavier Copening (Bridgeport); WR/DB Wyatt Wilson (New Canaan, Air Force commit). The Winged Beavers also boast a three-star tackle in Jaedon Roberts and Nehemiah Thompson, a 6-foot, 215-pound star tailback from San Fernando, Calif., who’s taken the prep school circuit by storm.
“We’re in for a major challenge this week,” Gamere said. “Avon has great talent and depth. This is what you want in a final game. We’re excited to be a part of it. ”
The Winged Beavers rallied to beat Brunswick and the Salisbury School (both 35-28, and both in overtime) to clinch their spot alongside Suffield in the Bowl championship game.
“Avon obviously has some great players,” Van Dyke said. “(Phommachanh) can make plays with his feet and, if nothing’s there, he can escape the pocket and create something. We’ll have to make sure we stay with their receivers down field. I think our offense will be fine, especially with all the weapons we have out there.
“It would definitely be special, winning this. Creating these bonds with all the guys on my team, all of them are my friends, and winning with them… They’re my brothers. It would be very special.”