Tyler Hebert on the field for Stonehill. (Bob Blanchard)
He's a soccer star, hip-hop artist, Rhodes candidate
By Lenny Megliola
Globe Correspondent / October 7, 2010
It's a useless exercise wondering where it began for Tyler Hebert. The fascination, really, is where it might take him.
The choices are as eclectic as they are possible. The Stonehill College senior could become a big shot on Wall Street, a hip-hop artist, an economist, or a mover and shaker in Washington. For sure, he's a Rhodes Scholar candidate. This past summer, he completed an internship at the Pentagon. And just for kicks, he plays soccer on the side.
"Whatever he does, he'll truly make his mark,'' said Craig Almeida, the dean of academic achievement at Stonehill, in Easton.
"I can't say enough about him,'' said Jim Reddish, the men's soccer coach at the college.
"Sometimes,'' said Hebert's father, Garry, "I can't believe he's my kid.''
Hebert was a prolific scorer on the pitch at Sacred Heart High in Kingston, netting 103 career goals (and 81 assists), earning Globe All-Scholastic, as well as Mayflower League MVP honors, as a senior.
"I didn't know I'd be any good, that I'd get that many goals,'' said the 5-foot-10, 175-pound midfielder from Rockland. "I just remember giving it my all on the field. The goals kept coming.'' A straight-A student from the first grade on, he was named national male athlete of the year by SportQuest in 2007. "That kinda surprised me,'' said Hebert.
His goals in life are tempered by humility, which stems from his spiritual family. "I go to church every Sunday. It keeps you grounded,'' he said.
Garry Hebert refers to his wife, Michele, as "the praying princess.'' "She spends a lot of time in church alone, praying for people a lot less fortunate than ourselves,'' he said.
None of this has been lost on their son. The need to help others runs deep with Hebert, a quality that rates highly with the administrators at the Rhodes Trust.
Hebert sees life through a lens in which every door is open with possibilities. How are you going to know unless you cross the threshold? In his senior year at Sacred Heart, the club soccer team he played for disbanded. He went out for track instead.
"I didn't want to waste any time that I had,'' he said. To him, wasted time was a sin. At the state track meet, he was a double winner in the 800 meter and triple jump. He was the point guard on the basketball team.
"I loved it,'' said Hebert. The decision-making element of the position fit him.
After considering Harvard, Amherst, Dartmouth, and Williams, he chose nearby Stonehill, which offered a full scholarship based on academic and athletic achievement. His brother, Derek, ran track for the Skyhawks, graduating in 2008, and enjoyed the experience.
"He's my best friend,'' said Tyler. Even though Derek is four years older, "he included me in everything growing up. He's had a tremendous influence on me in sports.''
It didn't take long for Hebert to realize that Division 2 college soccer was going to be a challenge. "It was a lot more physical than high school,'' he said. "Different level. Different style.''
In his freshman year, he scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Bryant, which moved up to Division 1 the following season. It might have been his first collegiate season, but Hebert's leadership didn't go unnoticed. "He picked everyone else up,'' said Reddish. "He wasn't shy. He raised the level of expectations.''
An injury, suffered during a practice session his sophomore year, changed everything, however.
"I was shooting the ball, something I've done a thousand times. I felt a pop,'' said Hebert, believing initially that it was a groin pull.
"I jogged off the field, and took it easy for a couple of weeks.'' He returned and played through the pain. After the season an MRI revealed that he had suffered a torn labrum.
After surgery, "he came back last season in a different role,'' said Reddish. "His body had changed. He had some hamstring problems.''
It was all too clear to Garry Hebert. "Tyler was known for his explosive first three steps,'' said his father, who is entering his fourth season as men's hockey coach at Stonehill. "The injury took the edge off that.''
His style was physical and nonstop. It was the only gear he knew. Now he had to tone it down, be cautious. In preseason last year, "I felt some pain, the same type, and thought: 'Not again. How's that possible? What's going to happen if I shoot again?' I had the same problem with my Achilles. I changed my stride, trying to compensate [for the pain]. It passed. I was able to play the rest of the season.''
In last week's 4-0 win over the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Hebert came off the bench and, watching his lightning dashes up and down field, it was hard to imagine that he was even quicker once. Earlier this season, his goal beat American International, 4-3.
His passion does not end with soccer, and this is where it gets interesting. Rhodes Scholar candidate meets hip-hop artist. It speaks of his "well-roundedness,'' said Almeida, who recommended Hebert for the prestigious scholarship to study at Oxford University.
"I've been writing lyrics since I was 11,'' said Hebert. "I take my music just as seriously as my schoolwork and athletics.'' Under the name Solar Wind, he has 79 videos on YouTube and dreams of "getting in front of 20,000 people and performing.''
His hip-hop is "not about misogyny, or the cars or money you have. That's hip-hop's reputation, but it's not at its essence.''
Almeida said that Hebert is "smart and gifted, but he doesn't fall back on that.''
"He still pushes himself, and pushes incredibly hard. He's like a duck in water. On the surface you see the calmness, below the water line his feet are going madly.''
A finance major with a minor in political science, Hebert says it would be a "terrific opportunity to go to Oxford and continue my education.''
When he was in the first grade at South Shore Christian Academy in Weymouth, "I was a little behind the class in reading,'' he recalled. "The teacher, Mrs. [Gloria] Knox, called me out on it. I took it as a challenge, and never looked back. I worked hard as I can to learn as much as I could.'' His college grade average: 3.95.
From January to May, Hebert interned at the Pentagon, after a six-hour interview. And he wasn't just an observer: "I wanted to do something productive.'' He worked on a finance and budget plan for the Army, and its bases in Korea. It was a paying job. "I needed to be a quick learner, and analytical,'' and he felt that the generals and colonels "valued my opinion.'' No doubt he was the first hip-hop artist that had the ears of folks at the Pentagon.
Garry Hebert didn't care for hip-hop until he heard his son's lyrics. "They're inspirational and moving,'' said the elder Hebert.
With Tyler and Derek both soccer standouts and a father deeply involved with hockey, sports was always on the front burner when the boys were growing up in Norwell, Hanover, and, for the last five years, Rockland. "My dad was an unbelievable coach and mentor,'' Hebert said. His father starred on the ice at the University of Vermont and is the founder of the World Academy of Hockey, which teaches power skating and skills.
When Hebert was young, his teachers told his father, "You have a gifted child on your hands.'' They were on to something. "He was always reading,'' said Garry. "He wanted to learn everything.''
He's 21 now, and nothing has changed. He grabs at whatever is out there with both hands. He's living a full life, playing and singing and learning. Always learning. "I'm trying to fit in eating and sleeping. They've been my last priorities. But I see the light at the end of the tunnel.''
What it's shining on, where it all takes him, isn't quite clear yet. But Tyler Hebert will figure it out.