Barrington senior Mason Darrow was not going to narrow his college focus solely to the school which best fit his football future.
Darrow also wasn't sure, however, about having the arrow point toward Princeton.
He couldn't go wrong academically with the Ivy League. But he wasn't sure if it was the right choice to go where his brother Mack is a senior basketball player.
"Initially, I wasn't really looking at Princeton because I didn't want to go to the same place my brother did," Mason said. "It turned for me a little bit after hearing him talk about his experiences and meeting some of his friends and people on campus. My interest level grew."
The 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman ultimately figured in mid-December that Princeton met all the criteria he was looking for since it's a place where the term student-athlete isn't just a slick marketing tool. Especially since Mason isn't following in the footsteps, albeit big ones, of 6-9 older brother Mack, who is averaging 4 points a game as one of the basketball team's top reserves.
"That definitely helped," Mason said of playing a different sport. "If I was a basketball player I think it would be a little different."
Darrow had options to take a different path despite missing the last five games of his junior year and first five of his senior year with a broken left foot.
Darrow had scholarship offers from Mid-American Conference schools such as Bowling Green, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan. He said Wyoming also made an offer and Patriot League schools Colgate and Holy Cross were interested.
But more important measurables such as a 4.42 grade point average on a 4.0 scale -- which puts him on pace to graduate in the top five of his class at Barrington - and a 33 on the ACT put his interest at a different level. It led to him choosing Princeton over Ivy League rival Penn.
"I was looking for something higher academically," said Darrow, who is considering studying pre-med. "Obviously, the education is top-notch. It was definitely something I wanted to be a part of."
Not to mention getting into an improving football program where Darrow said he is projected as an offensive tackle. Princeton went 1-9 in its first two seasons under alumnus and former Cincinnati Bengals assistant coach Bob Surace but improved to 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the Ivy last season.
"I was pretty set on a great academic institution first, but that sort of just cemented (the decision)," Darrow said.
Darrow believes he is back to where he needs to be health-wise to succeed on the field at Princeton. He broke the fifth metatarsal, which is on the outside of the foot, in practice his junior year.
He said he felt good when he started preparing for his senior season but then he re-broke his foot last June. He doesn't think he came back too quickly, but he made sure he was more patient with his rehabilitation before returning to the field for his final games at Barrington.
"Honestly, I felt good," Darrow said of his return in the fall. "I don't feel like I missed a beat at all and I stepped right in and was effective. It definitely felt good to be back."
But his injuries also helped reinforce his need to succeed off the football field.
"It was a lesson instilled in us pretty early," Darrow said of the emphasis on academics from his parents Phil and Robin. "The only guarantee that's going to come out of sports is it's going to end at some point."
• Marty Maciaszek is a freelance columnist for the Daily Herald who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org