Two days after serving as the catalyst for the Yale football team’s 50-43 double overtime win against Harvard in the final game of his college career, Kurt Rawlings was sitting in his parents’ vehicle making the 4½-hour trip from New Haven, Connecticut, to their home in Bel Air.
And he was at a loss for what to do next.
“I have no idea,” the 22-year-old John Carroll graduate said Monday afternoon. “It’s weird when something has ruled your life forever — especially in college. You could never wander aimlessly through life because you always had to be ready for the next thing. There’s a lift or a team meal or a practice at 5:30 in the morning. So not having to set alarms for 4:30 will be nice. I’m looking forward to that a little bit. But I really have no idea where life will take me. I haven’t thought too much about it.”
Rawlings should be given time and room to enjoy the coda to his career. In four seasons, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound quarterback helped the Bulldogs capture Ivy League championships in 2017 and 2019 and will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in global affairs as the program’s all-time leader in every major passing category.
Rawlings ranks first in completions (583), pass attempts (926), completion percentage (.630), passing yards (7,638), passing touchdowns (60), efficiency rating (159.13), total yards (7,907) and total touchdowns (71). Named Monday the conference’s Offensive Player of the Week to tie the Ivy League record for honors in a single season, Rawlings is also one of 26 finalists for the Walter Payton Award, the Offensive Player of the Year in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision level.
But those individual accomplishments pale in comparison with the trust he earned from his teammates and coaches.
“The records and whatnot, they’re cool, but I’m just thankful to have had the opportunity and played that many snaps for Yale," he said. "They trusted me with the quarterback position.”
The Ivy League title capped a year in which Rawlings overcame challenges to his personal health and his mother’s. In the third quarter of an eventual 23-10 victory at Penn on Oct. 19, 2018, Rawlings was tackled from behind on a scramble and broke his right fibula when the defender rolled onto his ankle.
Yale finished the season with three losses in the last four games, but Rawlings was more concerned with his mother Kathy, who was battling triple-negative breast cancer, a particularly aggressive type that does not respond to hormonal therapy medicines or medication that targets HER2 protein receptors.
After being diagnosed in May 2017, Kathy Rawlings underwent 24 rounds of chemotherapy, 21 rounds of radiation, surgery and experimental drugs every three weeks. But she refused to give in to the pessimism usually associated with breast cancer.
“It’s not fun, but you think of chemo and you think of cancer as something that is just so incredibly horrible,” Kathy Rawlings, 53, said. “But it’s actually tolerable. There’s only a few days out of the week that you feel like you have the flu. … I was able to continue to walk, which really helped me not get really grumpy. It was just a mindset. You know you’re going to beat it, and you’ve just got to take each day and check that box.”
Kathy Rawlings’ last treatment was July, and she has been in remission since. During that time, however, she and her husband Keith Rawlings never missed one of Kurt’s home or away games.
“I actually did chemo on Fridays, and we have a van with a bed in the back,” she said. “After chemo, I would get in the back of the van and we would head to his games.”
Kurt Rawlings said he played every game for his mother.
“Other than her hair being gone, you would never have had an idea with the way she carries herself,” he said. “There was never a doubt in my mind that she would be all right. She went about everything with happiness, and she truly inspired a whole community of people back at home and a bunch of my friends and myself on how to find joy no matter what life throws at you.”
The improved health of Kurt and Kathy Rawlings has been a prayer answered for Keith Rawlings, 54, and elder son Keifer, 24.
“What’s pretty remarkable is here we are a year later from Kurt breaking his leg and my wife and his mom battling cancer as well,” Keith Rawlings said. “She’s recovered and has beaten cancer, and he has recovered, and he came back stronger than ever and just won an Ivy League championship. So we’re pretty thankful at this time of Thanksgiving for God’s blessing to bring her back healthy and bring him back healthy.”
Kurt Rawlings said before every game, he would scour the stadium to find his mother pacing the top row of the upper bowl and his father stationed behind the end zones his offense was trying to reach.
“It just makes you realize how lucky I am to have such a family that supported me every step of the way in my life,” he said. “They provided me with everything I’ve ever needed. Just knowing that you have two loving parents is all you need in life. And knowing that they would be at the games, there aren’t a lot of kids that can say that. So I’m so blessed to have shared these last few years with them and my brother as well.”
Keith Rawlings, who is considering returning to coaching high school football after stepping down from the head coaching job at John Carroll after Kurt’s freshman year at Yale, said Bulldogs head coach Tony Reno told him that several NFL teams have scouted Kurt, who could be in an organization’s training camp next summer.
The notion of playing in a league with role models like the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees and the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady is startling to Kurt Rawlings.
“I never thought it was a possibility,” he said. “I mean, I’ve always believed in myself and my ability, but that was never my end-all, be-all goal. I was just having fun playing the game. I’ll just trust God with everything in the coming months. I know He’ll put me where He wants me.”