George Boston, ′13, isn’t the first person many would have expected to play for a Division I football team.

When he started high school in New York City, he couldn't play football because the school only had a track team. In fact, the school didn’t have a lot of things. Boston knew if he wanted to attend college, he was going to have to make some changes.

“We didn’t have enough books,” he says. “We didn’t have the right facilities. Our gymnasium was called the great room because it was an auditorium. We had to play basketball with poles in the middle of the floor. I remember telling myself, I know I’m not going to go anywhere if I stay here.”

Boston had already spent several summers participating in an academic program at Asheville School in North Carolina. He decided to apply for the private boarding school and immediately joined and lettered in three sports. “That’s really what changed my life, going to this school,” he says.

The summer before Boston enrolled at the University of Richmond to major in leadership studies and sociology, he participated in Bridge to Success. The transition program prepares first-year students for the demands and expectations of the University’s academic program.

While on campus, he met with then head football coach Mike London about walking on to the team. On the heels of the Spiders’ national championship, London mentioned the competition would be steep.

“I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’m going to have to try out for a team,’” Boston says. “I’ve never had to do that before.”

So Boston got to work. He spent the rest of the summer lifting weights and working out. Then one day, he got a phone call that the coaches wanted him to join the team at training camp. “I had it in my head that I was going to do whatever it takes to get on the team,” he says. “I was just really happy and excited to be a part of something great.”

Being at Richmond isn’t all studying and football, though. Boston also balances the demands of being a Bonner Scholar. He’s focused much of his time mentoring students at Bonner Center for Civic Engagement sites throughout the city, including Overby-Sheppard Elementary School and the Boys and Girls Club. He also spent a summer back at home as an intern at the Boys Club of New York and a local independent school.

The kids listen to him. It helps that he takes a slightly different tack than they’re often used to hearing—after all, he has the experience to back it up.

“My story lets kids know that you can do it,” he says. “You can do well in academics and you can excel on the playing field. A lot of adults discourage kids from those athletic aspirations, but I chose to encourage them because they can use that to better themselves, to get better grades. If athletics are an incentive to go out and get A’s, then let that be an incentive.

“I think that it’s important that I help them in a way that they know I’m not looking down on them—that I empathize with their situation because I’ve been in their shoes and I understand what it is to come from somewhere where the odds are stacked against you. I just want them to know that they can do it.”