Among Dartmouth Football Awards, One Noses the Others Aside

Thursday, November 19, 2015
Hanover — The Dartmouth College football team hands out an array of awards at its banquet each spring. There are 18 to be exact, honoring obvious contributions such as the squad’s best player and hardest worker and more subtle characteristics, such as zest for life and manners. All are publicized by the athletic department and posted on its website.

What may be the program’s most coveted annual honor, however, flies under the public radar. It is a tribute along the lines of an inside joke, but it’s earned through a literal combination of the cliched blood, sweat and tears.

The Hard Nose Award will be bestowed upon an unlucky but plucky senior late this afternoon on the Memorial Field turf. Mike Derosier, the team’s head athletic trainer, will give a speech explaining the selection criteria and lamenting how hard it is to pick only one recipient.

A wooden plaque will be uncovered, displaying the winner’s name and uniform number and an engraved pewter tankard will be presented to him. The recipient will make a speech, which, depending on his personality, may be humorous, heartfelt or a combination of both. Said linebacker Garrett Wymore, the 2012 choice, somewhat tongue in cheek: “I’ve always striven to have a hard nose and a soft heart.”

How treasured is the HNA? Recent winners Chase Womack (2013) and Pete Pidermann (2009) have it listed on their resume pages, along with a law degree, financial capital certifications and various other real-world skills and achievements. John Gallagher, the 2011 winner, told Derosier not long ago that the tankard is his most prized possession and that it’s displayed in his office at Nike, where the native Oregonian is employed.

“At least twice a year, guys come in the training room and want to show their friends and family their name on the plaques,” said Derosier, in whose lair a series of the boards are displayed, each showing about a decade’s worth of winners’ names. “They’re from Phoenix or wherever, and maybe their buddies don’t think they’re so tough now, but they want to show them that they once were.”

Derosier, along with assistant trainers Caleb Crowell and Bethanie Brann, chooses the winner with no official input from coaches, players or other staff members. It’s a career achievement award, earned over the four or five years a player is in the Dartmouth program, and the criteria is rather nuanced. To wit:

∎ A winner must overcome a major injury or a series of injuries, yet return to play a significant role on the field. Sorry, scout team warriors, we salute you … but you’re out of the running.

∎ The recipient cannot disregard the training staff’s rehabilitation instructions and efforts, nor hide ailments in the name of grit. You have a concussion and keep playing? That’s just stupid, and you’re probably disqualified for the HNA. Likewise, faking injuries or embellishing their severity in an attempt to build one’s HNA resume will get your candidacy kicked to the curb.

∎ Lobbying, politicking and beseeching, either on your own account or on behalf of a friend, is undignified and futile. A related violation is attempting to smear a contender by spreading scurrilous rumors that his injuries haven’t been as severe as one might think.

“We reward the tough guys who show the mettle to get back and play at a high level,” said Derosier, who previously worked at Princeton and is in his ninth season with Dartmouth’s gridiron gang. “I don’t know of any other collegiate athletic team where the trainer gets to choose an award recipient.”

Derosier hasn’t bestowed the HNA upon a kicker, punter, quarterback or receiver since he took over the selection duty eight years ago from predecessor Scott Roy. That’s not to say those positions haven’t had tough players, but the high-contact roles assumed by linemen, linebackers, running backs and tight ends lead to more injuries.

The last six winners include a guard, a cornerback, a defensive tackle, a tight end and two linebackers. The 2013 co-recipients, Womack and Elliot Kastner, were both troubled by foot injuries that kept them out long enough they were able to successfully petition the Ivy League for an extra season of eligibility. Gallagher played with a mean streak despite seemingly being held together with braces and athletic tape. Luke Hussey, the 2010 winner and an outstanding engineering student, overcame hip surgery and shoulder, back and ankle injuries that caused others to marvel that the undersized linebacker was able to run, let alone menace foes.

Wymore, a linebacker when he won the 2012 award, now works in capital investment consulting in San Francisco. Soft-spoken and with a sly sense of humor, he wouldn’t have struck many on the Dartmouth campus as a tough guy, but he withstood myriad knee injuries, a separated shoulder, a high ankle sprain and hamstring problems. This is to say nothing of the typical mashed fingers, headaches, deep bruises and aching joints that plague most starting players. Wymore shrugged it all off and was a contender for a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship his senior year, during which he grew an ironic mustache that caused him to resemble a Mexican bandit.

“I definitely spent a lot of time in the training room, so I knew I was qualified,” Wymore said of being in contention for the HNA. “You look at some of the older names and realize there are a lot of guys there who brought real spirit to the program.”

Wymore’s still displaying his hard nose on Bay Area rugby fields. He suffered another knee injury in that sport a few years back and said that when the joint bends these days, a snap like a piece of wood being broken usually sounds.

“You just can’t give up bashing your face into other people overnight,” Wymore said with a laugh. “But I don’t know how much more of a shelf life I have in sports. My parents think I’m crazy.”

The inaugural winner in 1970 was the legendary Giff Foley, a celebrated campus wild man and defensive lineman who was once laid up in the college infirmary after a tobogganing accident but smuggled in a lady friend to spend the night. A U.S. Marine who earned a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts during the Vietnam War, Foley attended Harvard Business School and became an executive and air show pilot. He was killed while performing a stunt in a vintage military aircraft over the Niagara River in Buffalo on July 1, 1990. His widow, April, later became U.S. ambassador to Hungary.

So who’s in the running for this year’s Hard Nose recognition? The smart money is on running back Kyle Bramble, who has twice overcome reconstructive knee surgery and is his team’s second-leading rusher.

“That’s hard to beat, because it entails a full lifestyle change,” said senior quarterback Thomas Militello, recalling how Bramble had to hobble around campus on crutches the past two winters.

Other contenders are linebackers Will McNamara and Eric Wickham, who regularly limp through the week but somehow shine on Saturdays, and running back Brian Grove, who’s endured a series of injuries to one shoulder that have left the joint a battered mess.

“It’s a nice identification for the guys who have endured abuse, and (the award) is very well-respected by the players,” said Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens. “Toughness is something I really value, and this is a neat little fraternity of guys and they all know who each other are.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at or 603-727-3227.

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