Bedford brothers aim for the same goal as players for UNH football
Although they lost their final game of the regular season to Towson, 64-35, on Nov. 17, the University of New Hampshire Wildcats travel to Gibbs Stadium in South Carolina for a second-round FCS tournament game against Wofford, Saturday, Dec. 1.
Jimmy and Andy Vailas, brothers who hail from Bedford, are part of the team’s successful regular season and push into the playoffs.
Jimmy, 23, is the hulkier of the two. He is a backup defensive end, but would normally start on three different special teams packages.
“It first starts with Jimmy,” head coach Sean McDonnell said. “He’s got a combination of being a student-athlete and a leader here.”
Earlier in the season, Jimmy injured a disk in his neck and has since had soreness and numbness. McDonnell is eager to get Jimmy back on the field.
“Jimmy is just a terrific football player who works extremely hard at what he does,” McDonnell said. “Even though he’s not a starting-star, he’s probably one of the leaders in his junior class. Kids look up to him for all sorts of direction.”
Jimmy has had an up-and-down season, starting his first career game, but also being sidelined with the neck injury.
Andy’s sophomore season has had it’s own peaks and valleys.
He narrowly lost the starting quarterback job to redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich to start the season, but found an opening when Goldrich went down with an injury in the second game.
“Andy went in and just took off and had a great, great run for about four or five games here,” McDonnell said.
Goldrich has since come back from injury, but Andy hasn’t left the spotlight. He splits snaps at quarterback, and has gotten consideration to play other positions, like he did in high school.
McDonnell said Andy’s versatility allows him to play multiple positions, but for now, the coaching staff prefers to keep him at quarterback to confuse defenses with different packages.
“I love playing quarterback, but if that’s not where the team needs me then I’ll play wherever else I need to play,” Andy said. “Some people say they don’t enjoy [splitting time at quarterback]. I think it’s nice to be able to mix things up and try new things.”
Andy’s currently playing through an injury of his own - a sprain in his AC-joint - but is still finding ways to contribute, McDonnell said.
“Andy’s something else,” he added. “Unbelievable personality, upbeat all the time – he is a funny kid.”
Jimmy and Andy - who also have two younger brothers, Tommy and Mike - followed similar paths to UNH. For both, sports have been a staple in their lives since they were young.
They played baseball, basketball and hockey as kids, their mother, Mary Anne, said. But football was always the primary sport throughout the athletic family.
“Football is in the family blood,” said Mary Anne. “Their dad was a big football player.”
Their father, Nicholas, isn’t the only athlete in the family. They have uncles who played in college as well, and Andy added that his mother’s side of the family is also athletically-inclined.
He and Jimmy said football has helped the family in all phases of life.
“They think hard work and passion – things you pick up in football – help them succeed in life,” Jimmy said of his uncles. “I think for us, Andy and I and even my younger brothers, we’re starting to learn that.”
So, football developed into a passion for the two. They started at West High School, but left for Bishop Guertin and played there under Tony Johnson.
Jimmy spent a year at Kimball Union before heading to UNH. Andy did his extra year at Philips Academy before joining the Wildcat family.
Although the two began high school before Bedford High School was available, they both said they would have enjoyed playing football in their hometown.
They went to several Bulldogs games this fall to watch Mike play, including a contest against their alma mater, Bishop Guertin.
“We talked about how fun it would be to play for our town and to win a couple championships,” Andy said. “There’s quite a crowd at the Bedford games and people just like to see their town succeed. It would’ve been nice to play with, not only all our friends that we’ve grown up with, but different people that moved in.”
Although Jimmy and Andy are focused on UNH football at the moment, they both recognize life after their college careers are over.
Andy is a communication major with a business minor, but isn’t sure what exactly he wants to do with his pending degree yet.
Jimmy is studying health care management and policy, but like his brother, has yet to make up his mind of where he’s headed post-graduation. He worked at an internship with Portsmouth Regional Hospital over the summer, and is currently looking into grad school.
They couldn’t represent their town on the gridiron in high school, but the brothers are proud to represent Bedford and New Hampshire at UNH.
Mary Anne said she is asked about the two all the time by people they grew up with. They ask how Jimmy and Andy are doing or just to mention they saw the two on television.
Football has taught them a sense of humility and selflessness, she said. As evident now while they push through injuries, the sport has also shown them things in life aren’t always pain-free.
As the Wildcats prepare for their showdown in Spartansburg with Wofford, Jimmy, Andy and their teammates have a single focus.
“Our ultimate goal, obviously, is to win the national championship,” Jimmy said. “I believe that, with this team, I think we can do it.”