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Aug. 5—It was a bittersweet day earlier this week when Andover's Mikey Nabbout made it official.
The rising St. John's Prep senior, 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, committed to attend and play football at Columbia University in N.Y. City, fulfilling a dream and, well, a promise.
His dad, Dr. Elias Nabbout, always wanted his talented son to attend an Ivy League school.
"My dad was my hero. He and my came over from Lebanon and had to work for everything to support our family," said Mikey. "He wanted me to reach for the stars, to be the best I could be. This was for him as much as it was for me."
But Dr. Nabbout passed away suddenly in late January of 2020. He was only 52.
He missed sharing this day with his favorite guy.
"My dad and I talked a lot and he always was my biggest supporter and gave me great advice," recalled Mikey.
One memorable chat was about being strong and being able to stand on your own two feet without depending on other people. Mikey learned that lesson the hard way.
His family, which includes his mother, Dr. Karine Nabbout, older brothers Charlie (19) and Justin (12), and sister Zara (8), were there for each other during the difficult grieving process.
"At first, after he died, it was super hard," recalled Mikey. "I struggled waking up. Food didn't taste good. It was hard to put one foot in front of the other. I was weak mentally. I wasn't myself."
But it was one day, recollecting his dad's advice, that changed everything.
"I just caught myself feeling sorry myself," said Mikey. "I could sit here and cry forever. Or I could start going to work in school and football. I realized, like my dad had said, to get back to being me and working hard to be successful."
The St. John's Prep community also deserves big-time kudos, says Mikey.
"It was one of the reasons I went there, because of the family-like atmosphere," he said. "All of my teachers, my counselor, my coaches, everybody checked in and allowed me to figure it out and support me. I always loved being here, but now it really is my family."
Growing up in Andover, Mikey always thought basketball was his "meal ticket" when it came to college prospects. Nabbout began playing football in the seventh grade, and was on the Andover eighth-grade travel team playing for coach Jimmy Johnson, who was a defensive back at Dartmouth.
"The first year in high school I only focused on basketball, but sophomore year I was back playing football," he said. "After my dad passed away and during COVID I began lifting a lot, and my friends told me to get back on the football field. I figured why not by a multi-sport athlete, and some of the things I do in football I learned in basketball like jumping to slap the ball when the quarterback throws it.
"I started out as a tight end, but then switched to defensive end last year," said Nabbout. "I realized how much I loved football and emotion after making a big play. and defense, chasing and catching quarterbacks, is my passion. It drives me."
As for Columbia, the academics side was just as good of a match as the football side was.
"Brown offered me, and I was talking to Harvard and Princeton," he said. "I intend to major in finance and I'm interested in private equity. Columbia offers a really good mentor program, pairing you with somebody that has a company or position in the field. The university has such strong connections, and a great internship program. It was just what I was looking for, and I really liked the head football coach which made it an easy choice for me."
Columbia coach Al Bagnoli will be starting his eighth season this fall and has over 40 years experience. He is the second highest active coach for wins, and the team posted a 7-3 mark last season.
But Mikey says now that his college decision has been made, he can focus on the matter at hand. and that's helping St. John's Prep win every game it plays.
"I really wish my dad was around for this decision, but he's not, and as he would want me, I have to do the best I can," said Mikey. "I can't wait for this fall and the team we're going to have. We have high aspirations. Really high."
Jean DePlacido contributed to this story.