Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Collins Hill football player Sam Batiste turned down offers at division I schools to attend Harvard University in the fall.
Sam Batiste was like a lot of kids growing up in the football crazy world of the South.
The Collins Hill senior remembers cheering for LSU, his father's favorite team, while he was growing up.
"LSU is my team. I didn't think I could play for them because they are on a whole different level," Batiste said.
At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Batiste was never recruited by the SEC champions, but he did get scholarship offers from some of the nation's top academic schools.
Institutions like Harvard, William and Mary, Samford, Air Force, Navy, Georgia State, Elon and Central Michigan all wanted Batiste to come play football for them.
Some of the schools Batiste had heard of, others he had to research. But the one school that needed no introduction was Harvard. That nation's oldest institution that is known world wide for its prestige was a no-brainer for Batiste.
The Eagles' defensive end committed to the Crimson's football program during the season. It's the ideal place for him where he can play football at a high level and get the best education possible.
"It's the best school in the nation," Batiste said. "Everyone puts them on a pedestal and it's for a good reason, but I learned so much more about them and the culture up there."
Batiste visited the campus in Cambridge, Mass., this summer and was offered a football scholarship. He waited a few months to make his decision official, but all along he knew he couldn't turn down the opportunity Harvard would provide for his future.
"I want to be a lawyer and that's a great place to be," Batiste said. "I want to set myself up for the future. They went 9-1 in the Ivy League this year, so I know it's good football also. It's not all academics, so hopefully we'll win."
Batiste was one of the county's top players this year, making 55 tackles as Collins Hill made the playoffs for a fourth straight year.
He's also done pretty well for himself in the classroom with a 3.7 GPA and 1,890 on the SAT.
"Football has always been my passion, but my parents have always stressed grades first," Batiste said. "As the recruiting process has gone forward, my ability is pretty good, but I also want great academics. I wanted a high level of football, but also that level of academics."
Ivy League schools like Harvard do not offer athletic scholarships like other colleges. Athletes have to go through the same enrollment standards as students and are awarded financial aid based on economic need.
Tuition at Harvard is estimated at $55,000 and Batiste will have a majority of that taken care of by financial aid. However, he will still have to work a part-time job to help offset the cost.
"We've always had some pretty smart kids," Collins Hill head coach Kevin Reach said. "If my son came home and said he had been offered by Harvard, it would be hard to tell him not go there. This a real good fit for him."
Batiste was a little shocked when he heard Harvard was interested in him. After all this is the school that has produced five U.S. presidents, civil rights leader W.E.B Du Bois, famous authors Ralph Waldo Emerson and T.S. Eliot and has 75 Nobel Prize winners affiliated with the university.
"They were really there in the beginning. That's what made me interested in them. They honestly wanted me and I wasn't an afterthought. I still can't believe it," Batiste said. "I thought I would just go to Georgia State or something else, but they kept pressuring me."
And when Harvard comes calling it's hard to turn them down.
"You can't play football forever and I think he was looking beyond football to give him the best opportunity," Reach said, "We're excited that we have a young man going to Harvard. It's probably one of the most prestigious schools on earth, definitely in the U.S."