Yale freshman Dwight Angelini has found a ray of hope, if not sunshine, inslate-gray New England after being caught in the eye of an emotion-charged legal hurricane last winter and spring.
The former Harvard-Westlake High soccer player lives in a dormitory in Yale’s Old Campus, takes philosophy, English and Italian classes and starts at fullback for the Bulldogs.
It’s a prosaic existence compared to Angelini’s recent past, but he doesn’t mind. He is sick of making headlines.
New Haven, Conn., is “always gray,” he said. “I miss the sun and I miss L.A. But it’s going pretty good. It’s like starting over.”
The sense of renewal Angelini feels, journeying 3,000 miles from the scene of his crime, extends to the soccer field as well.
“I’m enjoying soccer again,” he said. “All through high school, I just hated it.”
That feeling intensified at the end of his senior season, when his life careened out of control because of his actions on the field.
Angelini faced assault and battery charges for kicking an opponent in the head during a match last winter--believed to be the first time in California history that criminal charges were filed against an athlete for on-field violence.
After being arrested, kicked off the team and suspended from school, he watched many of the numerous colleges recruiting him back off.
“Everything was up in the air,” he recalled. “Who would take me? I didn’t know because (college) coaches weren’t allowed to talk to me.”
California, Pennsylvania and Yale, to his great relief, accepted him, and he chose Yale.
Charges finally were filed, three and a half months after he kicked Ryan Herrera in the head in a Feb. 3 match against Notre Dame. Angelini later was sentenced to six months’ probation and ordered to perform 40 hours of community service.
At last, he thought, he could focus on his future and stop thinking about the violent mistake in his past.
“I was more or less drained,” he said. “It was good to get away from it.”
For the most part, he has. Other than a recent article published in a student tabloid called “Rumpus,” Angelini has endured few reminders of the fateful kick and its aftermath.
But the incident is neither forgiven nor forgotten.
The Herreras remain bitter about the kick--which was captured on videotape--and the lingering effects it has had on Ryan. The Notre Dame senior missed the rest of last season, and though he played in club soccer matches since then and plans to play for Notre Dame this season, he says he still suffers from neck pain and occasional headaches, generally after physical exertion.
“I can’t believe (that my neck still hurts),” he said. “Some people say, ‘No, no,’ it can’t be true, but it is. It’s scary.”
The Herrera family filed a civil lawsuit a month ago against Harvard-Westlake, the prestigious Studio City private school, alleging negligence.
“Dwight can tell you, ‘Yeah, I’m glad it’s behind me,’ but it’s not behind us,” said Ryan’s mother, Gloria. “Not yet. I will never be able to forgive him for what he’s done.”
The episode still lingers for former Coach Barclay Mackinnon, who was suspended for a week after the incident. Because of the traumatic season and its aftermath, he has taken an indefinite leave from coaching and his post as a school administrator.
“I thought that given everything that went down, it would be best if I weren’t in the picture for the whole lawsuit,” he said. “It would be best for the Herreras, for Dwight, for the school and for me.”
He was replaced as coach by Rick Commons.
Angelini’s kick also jolted Mission League rule makers. Starting this season, any player who accumulates two red cards for physical, violent acts will be suspended for the remainder of the season. Against Notre Dame, Angelini had received his third red card in three matches and his fourth of the season.
Clearly, the kick and its peripheral damage have not been forgotten by anyone involved, but Angelini goes on with his life--a life that revolves around soccer.
A star midfielder at Harvard-Westlake, he accepted a switch to sweeper without complaint, satisfied to help the Bulldogs and play wherever he could. The 6-foot, 175-pound freshman from Granada Hills has impressed Coach Steve Griggs with his poise and skill.
“He’s already a big factor in every game--as a freshman--and we’re playing a top schedule,” Griggs said. “He has a chance to be one of the better players in college as he becomes more experienced and more mature.”
Angelini, 18, already has reaped one benefit from the change of scenery, rediscovering a love for the game he said has been missing for years.
“I used to play for myself and my own enjoyment,” he said. “It just got way too serious. I started playing for the fans. And the scouts were there, so I wanted to show them I was the best, by trying to score goals, doing everything for myself instead of just playing the sport.”
Talk of sportsmanship may ring hollow coming from someone with his notorious reputation, but he insists he has learned from his mistakes, suffered because of them and is determined not to repeat them.
“People don’t understand what I really lived through,” he said. “To them it looks like, ‘Oh, he got off easy. Just six months’ probation. But you can look at it like in other countries--passionate soccer countries--something like that (kick) wouldn’t mean a thing.
“To me, I feel like I’ve paid more than enough. It’s something that’s going to follow me for a long time. It will probably come back to me in later life: ‘Oh, you’re the guy who . . . blah, blah, blah.’ A few people here have already said that and I didn’t enjoy it. I just wanted to try and get away from it. But I can’t. It’s always going to be there.”
No doubt, but his journey across the country to New Haven has given him a measure of anonymity and a chance to calm his stormy past.
“Probably, everybody has things they did in their past that they’d like to start fresh in,” Griggs said. “Hopefully, the sensation stuff is behind him and he can go on with his life. Hopefully, people will look at him and see just another good Yale soccer player.”