By Charles Moore '10
Not many high school athletes can say they have played in front
of 25,000 screaming fans in an NFL stadium. Then again, not many
high school athletes have played in what has been dubbed “The
Greatest Game in Minnesota Prep Bowl History.” Senior Jon
Charest (pronounced Shuh-REST) is one of those lucky few
With two minutes left in the fourth quarter of the 2005 state championship, trailing 24-21, Charest’s Wayzata High School decided to go for it on fourth and four. Charest stood on the sideline as a defensive lineman, already having done his duty by recording a sack. All he could do was watch and hope. Luckily, what he witnessed was his running back run the ball past the first-down marker, all the way down to the two-yard line. One play later Wayzata punched the ball in for the go-ahead touchdown. The game was capped off by Charest’s defense coming back on to the field and stopping Cretin-Derham with an interception on the one-yard line.
“It was unbelievable,” says Charest. “The crowd was loud. The entire lower level of the Metrodome was filled. The game didn’t even start until about 10:30 p.m. because back then they played all the state championship football games on the same day and the first two games went into overtime. I rode home a state champion as the sun was rising.”
You might think a kid who played for the same high school football program as Marion Barber (Dallas Cowboys), Dominique Barber (Houston Texans), Ben Hamilton (Denver Broncos) and James Laurinaitis (St. Louis Rams) would have dreams of college and professional football from day one, but that was not the case for Charest. It was not until the end of Charest’s junior season, when Wayzata lost the state championship game, that he decided college football might be in the cards for him.
“It was really after that first state championship game that I said to myself ‘OK, I could do this for four more years,’” says Charest. “I talked with my coach [Brad Anderson] and he basically said, ‘You’re taller than most defensive lineman in college football, I think you are going to need to be recruited as an offensive lineman.’ I had played defensive line all of high school because our offensive line averaged 300 lbs., which was just absurd for a high school.”
Perhaps the reason Charest was not so focused on football was because of all the other interesting activities in which he was involved. As a Boy Scout he was able to go backpacking through the Rockies and canoeing through the wilderness of northern Minnesota. After years of dedication, he eventually earned the rank of Eagle Scout, completing a 100-hour service project where he rebuilt a set of stairs travelling from tennis courts down a steep hill at a local middle school.
“I basically went to the local middle school and said ‘What do you need done?’ and that’s what their principal came up with,” says Charest. “It’s funny because you come to Yale and it seems like everyone is an Eagle Scout or everyone was captain of their high school team, but back home it’s a pretty big deal.”
When Charest was not roughing it in the wilderness or grinding it out on the football field, he could be found at his local Target working in the dairy department. Target’s “milkman” worked eight hour days, unloading pallets of dairy.
“It was great during the summers,” says Charest. “I’d get to work out in the mornings and then work the evening shift. The cold fridges of the dairy department felt great in the heat of the summer.”
When it finally came time to think about college, Charest had quite the decision to make. With the ability to play at a state school and the majority of his high school classmates choosing to attend schools like the University of Minnesota, Charest looked at schools like Iowa State. But once the Ivy League started calling, Charest’s mindset shifted.
“Iowa State was advertising the fact that their team’s average GPA was a 2.5 and that just wasn’t something I was excited about,” says Charest. “Once schools like Yale, Princeton, and Columbia contacted me, I pretty much forgot about the state school route.”
Charest visited Princeton first and had all but made up his mind to play defensive line for the Tigers, when Anderson told him to visit another school and think about it for a while. It is a good thing he did.
“The second I got to Yale, all thoughts of Princeton disappeared,” says Charest. “The residential college system was what really drew me here, plus, I mean come on, it’s Yale football. You can’t beat a tradition like that.”
Charest came into Yale as an offensive lineman and played on the JV squad freshman year. During his sophomore year, Charest got in some varsity time with the field goal unit and by the time junior year rolled around, it looked like Charest would see significant time on the varsity offensive line. He played in the first four games of the season before suffering a scary season-ending injury. While on the line for a field goal, the defensive lineman who lined-up opposite Charest made helmet to helmet contact, causing a disk to rupture in Charest’s neck.
“It was pretty scary,” says Charest. “I had partial paralysis in my left arm for a couple weeks. Initially, we didn’t know how long I was going to be out, but we did know I would regain control of my arm. I wasn’t sure I was going to return to football, though. It was the kind of situation where I told myself, if I didn’t make it back for spring ball, I was done. Luckily by week eight of my recovery it became pretty clear I would be back.”
And come back he has. Charest looks to feature heavily on the offensive line in a season which he says “would be a big disappointment if Yale does not win the Ivy League and beat Harvard.” The excitement in his voice as he talks about this season is evident; something he says has 100% to do with Tom Williams, Yale’s new Joel E. Smilow ’54 Head Coach of Football, and the new mindset of the program.
But even if the Bulldogs don’t manage to win the Ivy League Championship, life will go on for Charest. The molecular, cellular and developmental biology major wants to take a year off after college and then apply to medical school. His dream has always been to work in genetics. Charest worked this past summer in a Yale research lab translating research in German, which he speaks fluently after spending a summer during high school in a foreign exchange program.
“That program was great,” says Charest. “The European school system is different, so I basically finished my junior year at Wayzata and then went over to Germany and finished out the last month of their school year. I lived with a family in Germany where the mother was a professional Italian chef. It was fantastic.”
For now though, Charest is focused on football. For the first time in memory, the Yale team is waking up before sun rise to practice and watch film three days a week. And while practicing at sun rise is not quite the same as riding home a state champion at sun rise, the plan is that – as the sun sets on his Yale football career – there may be just one more championship in Jon Charest’s sights.