Sywyj carries on his brothers' legacy most impressively at Seton-La Salle High School
From the time Nick Sywyj was just a toddler, he can remember being a fan of Seton-La Salle High School and its sports teams.
Now, in the waning days of his senior year there, Sywyj will conclude a four-year high school career that saw him excel on the football field, pick up the sport of lacrosse in just one season, and become the class valedictorian.
For Sywyj, his fondness for Seton-La Salle began under the Friday night lights that played such a big role in his childhood.
“Ever since I was 3 years old I never missed a game,” he said. “I had two older brothers (Andy and Steven) who played before me, and just going back to Honus Wagner Field over in Carnegie every Friday night was always Rebel football.”
Sywyj carried on his brothers' legacy of Rebel football when he began at Seton-La Salle, quickly becoming a starter at linebacker, running back and on special teams by his sophomore year.
The three-year starter led the Rebels defense with three interceptions last season, and helped lead the team to a 9-2 overall record (7-1 in the Class AA Century Conference), as well as a WPIAL quarterfinal-round playoff appearance.
Sywyj, who will be attending Notre Dame to study engineering while also attempting to walk on to the Fighting Irish football team, enjoyed playing both positions — linebacker and running back — at Seton-La Salle.
However, he especially relished his role as an inside linebacker.
“Our offense has been pretty potent throughout the three years (I started). We always scored a lot of points and it's always good getting into the end zone,” Sywyj said. “But I think defense is more of my natural thing. At inside linebacker I would be calling the defense out and just telling everyone their responsibility.”
Greg Perry, Seton-La Salle's head football coach agreed, citing Sywyj's intelligence as an important factor.
“I think as a linebacker his natural leadership ability, rallying his teammates around him, knowing all the calls that needed to be made on the defense (were key),” Perry said.
“He's a very smart, cerebral type of kid. He was an extension of the coaching staff on the field because he was so cerebral about the game.”
After the football season ended, Sywyj wanted an activity to compete in during the spring season. He turned to lacrosse.
Picking the game up at a rapid pace, the senior started at the long stick midfielder position, and helped spur the Rebels to a WPIAL Division II championship.
Sywyj played an important role in the team's 8-3 semifinal win against Baldwin, becoming the only defenseman all season to score a goal for the Rebels.
According to Seton-La Salle's lacrosse coach, Brian Yates, for Sywyj to pick up the sport so quickly in just one season was “mind blowing.”
But that isn't what impressed him the most about Sywyj.
Said Yates: “I just thought, this guy is a star football player in his senior year, it's the last couple months of school, and he wants to go play a sport that he's never even tried before and compete against guys who have been playing for years.
“It just struck me, the humility and the confidence that you'd have to have to do that. It's rare. That's really what impressed me about him as a young man more than anything.”
Outside of athletics, Sywyj carries a 5.0 weighted grade-point average while taking four advanced placement and one honors class during his senior year.
“It's definitely an honor (to be valedictorian),” Sywyj said. “It definitely goes to show all the hours I've put into the books as well, not just on the field.
“Sometimes they say (your) senior year is super easy, but for me it got harder every year.”
Sywyj certainly will look back fondly on his experiences at Seton-La Salle — experiences both on the field and in the classroom that he will take with him going forward.
“I couldn't have had a better high school career,” he said. “Athletically, all four years of football were awesome. And then the lacrosse season, we won a WPIAL championship my first and only year — that was memorable.
“Academically, it prepared me well for college and just the real world.”
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.