WRENTHAM — It starts in the summer. The bonds between King Philip Regional High football players are formed when they arrive for 6 a.m. workouts four times a week. Those bonds are strengthened when the team travels to Maine for five days, where players practice, eat, and sleep at Camp Mataponi as they prepare for the upcoming season.
It continues through the fall. After every game, the team has a meal together; and when players huddle up, coaches tell them to bring it in close, like a family.
“It becomes a brotherhood,” said King Philip coach Brian Lee. “And it extends beyond the field.”
When the Warriors face Franklin on Thanksgiving morning, two of the seniors playing football as a part of the King Philip family for the final time will be particularly grateful for the embrace it provided them when they needed it most.
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Fabio Cherant was barefoot when he ran away from home. He was living in an abusive household in Mattapan, and had to get away. He had one scar on his hand that was left by a belt buckle. Another on his head came from a shoe.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” said Cherant, who was 10 at the time.
When he was picked up by police that summer night, his life had never been settled in one place for long. Born in Brooklyn, he moved to Haiti with his mother, then returned stateside, where he bounced back and forth between the homes of various family members in New York and Connecticut.
When Cherant moved to Boston, he was fighting in school and stealing when he could. Friends were hard to come by here.
“He had nothing,” said Billy Petta, who has been Cherant’s foster father now for seven years. “He had nobody. Nobody trusted him. Nobody wanted him near them. His upbringing was to steal, cheat, and lie.”
With help from Petta, Cherant’s behavior gradually improved. As a sophomore, he found the King Philip football program, and his life continued to change for the better.
Football was a release for the aggression born out of his abuse, and the camaraderie was unlike anything he had ever experienced before. Many of the acquaintances he met in class as a freshman became teammates and, eventually, the first true friends he had in his life.
Their families treated him as one of their own. They’d invite him over for dinner and give him birthday gifts. He would even share the story of his difficult upbringing with the ones he trusted most.
“The past couple of years it’s been pretty good,” Cherant said. “I’ve been gaining a lot of new friends. Growing closer with my closer friends. We’ve become brothers in a way. We’ll do anything for each other.”
As Cherant made more friends on the team, his personality began to blossom. He’s known as one of the funniest players on the team, and takes it upon himself to keep the mood light during practices.
“He’s been able to fit in and find a niche, find a home within this program,” Lee said. “The kids look to him and say, ‘Geez, look how much energy he has. Look how he enjoys practice. He’s up all the time.’ It’s definitely contagious.”
Cherant is used mostly as a special teams player at King Philip, serving as the team’s kickoff specialist, each of his kicks mirroring his path to the Warriors. With his left foot, he boots the ball low and sends it bounding along the turf toward the opposing team with an oblong unpredictability.
“I lay the ball on the tee,” Cherant said, “kick it, and hope for the best.”
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Pat Lydon’s father attended every King Philip football game. Even when he was battling lung cancer last Thanksgiving, Patrick Lydon was there. Cindy Lydon drove her husband up close to the field at Franklin High so they could watch from the front seat of a friend’s car.
When Patrick Lydon died less than two months later, at the age of 75, Pat’s teammates were there for him.
They were there at the wake and the funeral, many of them, along with Lydon’s teammates on the Warriors basketball team, sporting green and yellow King Philip jackets.
“They showed up at everything just to be supportive,” said Lydon, a senior captain on the team this fall. “It’s like a second family to me.”
While his father was sick, Lydon didn’t want to burden his friends and teammates with the news, so he never mentioned it.
“Pat kept it from us, he didn’t want us to find out,” said cocaptain Billy Getchell. “But once we found out about it, the whole team was there for him, there to encourage him. He’s got a lot of people here that care for him, that want to support him however they can.”
Lydon says that everything he knows about football he learned from his father, who played at Norwood High. Many of the lessons were in the family’s backyard, where his father had cut down a tree years ago just so the two could play catch.
“There isn’t anything he didn’t teach me,” said Lydon, who has spoken with two Division 3 programs in New England about playing college football.
“He taught me that it’s all about respect. Play until the whistle but right when the whistle blows, you gotta have respect’’ for opposing players.
He has the utmost respect of his Warrior teammates. A two-way starter on the line, a captain, and a Hockomock League all-star this season, he has led quietly.
The example he set last season, persevering through his father’s illness, is still fresh.
“Everybody has a bad day, maybe you’re a little tired, maybe you got a cough,” Lee said. But Lydon, he said, “he was there all the time. He never missed anything while he was going through all of that. He never used any excuse of why he shouldn’t be getting everything done. I think a lot of the respect for Pat comes out of the way he goes about his business, and how hard he works and how he’s always here and around. He’s not a huge vocal rah-rah guy, but he is definitely looked to by everybody about how to go about your business.”
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King Philip won’t make the playoffs this season, but with a victory over Franklin on Thursday morning, the Warriors will earn a share of the Hockomock League’s Kelley-Rex Division title and achieve the first 10-win season in program history.
Lydon will be thinking of his dad when King Philip takes the field. He may take a moment alone to talk to him, and tell him it’s a big game, as he did before the team’s game against North Attleborough two weeks ago. “He’s always in my head,” Lydon said.
Cherant will be thinking about family, too. He says the holidays can be hard. He wonders sometimes whether he should be with his blood relatives — until he thinks about where his life is now, and where it could be.
His foster family will be in the stands watching as he plays with the teammates he calls brothers.
“I’m in a better place now,” said Cherant, who would like to play college football.
They are two seniors who found strength in the bonds formed with their teammates, forever appreciative for the football family that was quick to support them in their times of need.
Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.