No one could run with an opportunity quite like Willie Bogan. He was a star football player at Dartmouth who turned his classroom work into a Rhodes Scholarship and the Academic All-America Hall of Fame.
Success can be so unpredictable. Sometimes hard work, desire and wise decisions can give way to luck and timing. But if success could ever be presumed, it would have been by those who saw nine-year old Willie Bogan handle a newspaper route in Michigan in the late fifties.
Or by the Albion High School football coach who filled out a recruiting card with Bogan's name and returned it to Dartmouth College, then the most powerful football team in the Ivy League. Or by those who worked at Dartmouth's Baker Library in the late sixties and saw Bogan studying there many a Saturday night.
The success certainly could have been predicted by those in the front office of the Baltimore Colts who picked Bogan in the eighth round in the 1971 NFL Draft, even after he told them he was going to accept a Rhodes Scholarship and study in England. Or by those who started an Academic All-American Hall of Fame in 1988 and inducted Bogan the very next year.
Willie Bogan has been a pioneer, a success, a gentleman and an inspiration throughout a life well lived. It should come as no surprise that today Bogan is a successful lawyer and community servant in the Bay Area.
Bogan was born in Albion, Mich., a small town, when at the time he grew up there was about 12,000 people. He can remember playing football as child, as far as back as six or seven years old, in the elementary school playground and the street in front of his house. "We would have timeouts whenever cars would come by. But being in a small town, we could get several plays in before anyone came down the street."
He was a like every other kid at heart. He generally was about having fun, whether it be sports or playing board games. Characteristic of his focus and determination, Bogan also realized at a very young age that he needed to have a balanced life. "I was always a very serious student, but I also just wanted to have some basic fun."
He also displayed a great sense of discipline and a desire to develop independence. Bogan grew up in a household with limited discretionary income in which the message was clear that if he wanted something, he would have to work to get it himself. So he maintained a job from the young age of nine, starting out as a paperboy and then on to janitorial service positions in high school. "I can remember wanting to have some independence in terms of being able to buy things that I wanted or needed. So I always had a job."
Bogan began playing organized football as a ninth grader and went through the 'normal progression,' participating on the freshman team, then junior varsity as a sophomore and on to varsity in his junior and senior years. He would run track and play baseball in the winter and spring to keep himself busy throughout each season. Receiving many honors as a student, as well as an athlete, Bogan would earn a look from the Big Green coaches, as a result of a questionnaire filled out by his high school football coach.
"Growing up in a small town in the Midwest, I think, if you're an athlete you dream of being recruited by the Big Ten schools, like Michigan and Michigan State. We were a small school, so even then I knew that I may not get the looks from those types of schools. So I was thinking perhaps that I would go to a smaller Midwestern school." That was until Dartmouth showed an interest in Bogan.
He would also receive a position in the Naval Academy, through an appointment by his local representative. As a result, Bogan began to think about being outside of his small, parochial environment. Recognizing the superb opportunity he had in front of him, he decided to attend Dartmouth College. He was not hesitant about going away to school. Bogan, who has a understanding of the opportunities received through various experiences, realized that his immediate surroundings were somewhat limiting and he would need to get out of them to reach his full potential. The middle child between four older and four younger siblings, he would become the first in his family to travel far away from home.
Willie Bogan would step foot on the Dartmouth campus in the fall of 1967 as a part of substantial group of African-American males -- the first time a sizeable number of minorities would become a part of the Hanover community. And it was clear to Bogan that when they arrived on campus that they were essentially pioneers.
"We came together out of commonality and out of necessity. It was a time of self-awareness among African Americans as the Civil Rights Movement was really still in the process. We were coming to Dartmouth at a time of heightened consciousness as black Americans. And so, with that and the isolation and alienation that we felt, we all came together. The bond was strong. It was a unique group of African-American males at an Ivy institution [in the middle of New Hampshire]. That created a bond that very few people can understand or appreciate."
The bond would become so strong, that even today, when Bogan and his counterparts get together, it is as if time had not passed.
As a member of the Dartmouth football team, Bogan would become a crucial part of a Big Green squad that would go down in history as one of the best ever. In his junior year, Dartmouth went undefeated until it lost the last game of the season to Princeton -- a game that would stay on their minds until they faced the Tigers again his senior year.
"After coming so close to being undefeated my junior year, the Princeton game became our rallying cry. We knew that going for an entire season without a loss is a very hard thing to do and you can't let up. So my senior year, when we had the opportunity to go undefeated, we were focused on achieving what had alluded us the year before."
In 1970, the Dartmouth football team, won the Ivy League Championship and earned a spot among the top 13 teams in the nation, ranked along with teams such as Alabama, USC, and Michigan. At the end of that season, Bogan would be selected as first-team All-Ivy, All-New England, All-East, Academic All-America, play in several post-season Bowl games and later earn a selection in the NFL Draft in the eighth round by the Baltimore Colts.
It would be unimaginable for some to believe that Bogan had other plans than to tryout with the Baltimore Colts for a shot at playing professional football. However, it is obvious that Bogan was doing more than playing football at Dartmouth. Let's just say he was a regular at Baker library, even on a Saturday night. In his senior year, Bogan would also be selected as an Academic All-American, earn an NCAA Post-graduate scholar, and achieve the great honor of becoming a Rhodes scholar. Summa Cum Laude and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate, Bogan would make the decision to accept the scholarship and attend Oxford University.
"I always understood that education was the thing that was going to allow me to achieve a measure of success and financial independence. Just like every other little boy, I also grew up dreaming of playing in the NFL. But when I got the opportunity to do both, I think I was more overwhelmed by the Rhodes scholarship. Earlier at the Bowl games, people were so interested in me because I was a Rhodes scholar. And when they asked me what I was going to do, I told them that I was going to take the Rhodes. But the coach of the Colts drafted me anyway. It was reported that I would have gone earlier if I had chosen to play football after graduation. Nevertheless, they used an eighth-round draft choice to tie me up. They expected me to complete my scholarship and come back after two years."
Bogan received the opportunity of a lifetime to go to one of the most prestigious schools in the world. It is one thing to attend a prestigious school in the United States, but another to go to a school that has international and historical prominence. But once he got to England, he found Oxford to be a very socially challenging experience.
"First, England was socially 20 years behind the U.S. in terms of dealing with people of color. So, I felt even less comfortable there than I did in Hanover. The English are very reserved people, so even with the white Americans that went over with me, there was a keen sense of alienation because the English weren't very welcoming. It was a very lonely experience. But it was one of those things that you realize that as you go through it, that you are gaining strength and the ability to deal with any kind of environment. By the time I went to law school, I figured there was NOTHING I couldn't do, no environment I couldn't handle."
But there is also a part of the Willie Bogan story that many may not know. After one year at Oxford, Bogan decided to return to the United States to pursue a professional football career. As a result of the uncomfortable feeling he had there and the fact that he had worked himself into great shape playing basketball and running track in his free time, Bogan decided to go back and give it a try. He was not at a full healthy status because of shin splints, but decided to pursue the NFL anyway. He ultimately was cut by the Colts but was picked up by the New England Patriots who were aware of his talents as a defensive back during his time at Dartmouth. Bogan would go through more of the same physically difficulties, injuring a toe during camp.
"As a defensive back, you have to be able to get up on your toes and make sharps cuts," said Bogan. Practicing became a physical ordeal. He could only practice by getting into the whirlpool before and then sitting in a tub of ice after practice.
"After going through that for a couple of weeks, I was almost ready to go," said Bogan, jokingly. "But I continued until New England cut me. At that point, I decided that I gave it a good shot. I tried it. I had competed in at least one preseason game. And I decided that it was enough. Money at that time was minimal. I knew I could make just as much money being a professional." Having gotten the pursuit of a professional football career out of system, Bogan went back to Oxford and received his B.A./M.A. in Politics and Economics in 1973.
The years Bogan spent at Dartmouth and at Oxford led him through experiences that I have shaped his thoughts and views of the world. It was also a part of his decision to earn a law degree -- a degree he would receive from Stanford Law School.
"My experience at Dartmouth is definitely fundamental to who I am and how I view the world. It was fundamental in shaping me as a person, as a student and as an athlete -- as someone who has an awareness beyond self. And I think the community we had at Dartmouth, as African-Americans also added to this awareness. I have never been able to think of myself as a solitary being. There is something larger than you as an individual."
After Stanford, Bogan practiced in Los Angeles for 16 years. For his first four years, he worked for a private firm. From there he moved on to a firm that represented the Los Angeles Lakers. "I had thoughts of going into sports law and had did some work in that area when I was with that firm. We did player contracts for people like James Worthy and Kurt Rambis. I even worked on the first coaching contract for Pat Riley."
He never lost the feeling of wanting to use his abilities to help others. So when the Watts/Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club came seeking Bogan, he couldn't say no. He served on the Boys and Girls Club board of directors and provided pro-bono legal services for them for 15 of the years he was in Los Angeles. "The reason I did it was, again, that there is something larger than yourself. There was absolutely no question about my being a part of something like that, because I knew I was one of the fortunate ones who had made it. And it wasn't because I was so talented. It was just that circumstances had been good for me."
Bogan was also on the board of directors for the Los Angeles Urban League for seven years and the chairman of the Head Start committee for three years. Bogan's dedication and service to his community would eventually become instrumental in his being selected into the GTE Academic Hall of Fame in 1989. Started in 1988, the Hall of Fame was for former Academic All-Americans who had been out of college at least 10 years, who had excelled in their professions, and who had made significant contributions to the community. "It was a great honor to be brought in with people like Bill Bradley, Tom MacMillan, Merlin Olson, Pat Haden and Pete Dawkins. And again, I had not done any of those services to be rewarded for it."
Willie Bogan is now the Vice President, Associate General Counsel and Assistant Corporate Secretary for Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. in San Francisco, California. He has this advice to share to any readers who are considering attending an Ivy institution:
"First, it is something you can do. If you have been performing in high school, both academically and athletically, and you've done that through focus, hard work and discipline, and if you've been organized in the process, then there's no reason why you can't take that to the next level and succeed. Believe that you can do it because you can.
"But once you get there, you have to bring that same discipline, focus, hard work and organization because otherwise you'll get eaten up. You have to step it up a level. Not only in the classroom but also on the playing field.
"But the bottom line is that it is worth doing. This is a time to pay the dues. This is the time to build up your equity in your future. There were many Saturday nights at Dartmouth when the best thing for me to do was to go to Baker Library and study. I viewed it as the time to pay my dues because for me, being able to have opportunities, to be able to choose where I would work and live in the long term, was very important."
— Sherryta Freeman