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MetroWest Cowboys merged for rebirth in Eastern Football League

MetroWest Cowboys head coach Larry DeVoe works with one of his players before a recent game against the Eastern Mass. Seminoles. DeVoe, inducted into the Minor League Football Hall of Fame in 1991, is a veteran presence on the team.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

MetroWest Cowboys head coach Larry DeVoe works with one of his players before a recent game against the Eastern Mass. Seminoles. DeVoe, inducted into the Minor League Football Hall of Fame in 1991, is a veteran presence on the team.

On a Sunday night in June, roughly 20 semipro football players watched curiously as two vans from JFK Transportation pulled up to Hollis Field in Braintree.

Twenty more players, wearing football gear, piled out. They were strangers.

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A new franchise in the Eastern Football League was about to spring to life.

The Braintree Cowboys did not have enough players last season to field a competitive team and were forced to drop out of the league.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

MetroWest wide receiver Nelson Montas pulls in a long pass against the Seminoles at Madison Park High.

The MetroWest Mavericks struggled mightily through a 1-9 season and seemed on the verge of bowing out of the 2013 season too.

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But both teams wanted to get back in. Neither had enough players.

The season opener was July 13.

“We came real close to not having a team, and folding our tent,” said Cowboys coach Larry DeVoe. Same deal with the Mavericks. So the organizations combined forces.

“This was better than having two teams drop out of the league,” said Jon “Bucky” Jones, a 2003 Charlestown High graduate who was the league MVP for the Cowboys in 2011.

Before the two fractured teams could rejoin the league, DeVoe and his staff had to figure it all out. He met with Mavericks owner Joe Gaylord, a Framingham resident, at a South Shore tavern. Braintree had a number of talented skill-position players; MetroWest had solid linemen.

DeVoe walked the players from the two teams through a few reps. Who could block? Who could run? Throw? Tackle? The season opener loomed.

“We put it together and off we went,” said DeVoe. “Call me a wizard, if you want.”

With the organizations combining names as well, the MetroWest Cowboys got off to a 4-2 start, and are back in action 8 p.m. Friday against the Randolph Oilers, with the game at Randolph High.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Steve Fernandes looks for an opening against the Eastern Mass. squad during their recent game, a 21-20 loss for MetroWest that left the Cowboys at 4-2 for the season.

“We’d be 5-0 if we had a kicker,” DeVoe lamented after the team’s first loss, 21-18, to the Taunton Gladiators, and the point was reinforced in MetroWest’s most recent game, when the Cowboys lost, 21-20, to the Eastern Mass. Seminoles.

Jones, the starting quarterback, added, “We have to go for two points every time” after a touchdown.

The Cowboys advertise businesses that support the team on their website. JFK Transportation has delivered, shuttling players to practices and games all over the state, Maine, and New Hampshire, at no charge.

“The vans are like moving locker rooms,” said JFK owner Tim Kelley. At first, JFK drivers transported the players. Now one of the players takes the wheel.

Players who live nearby board the vans at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Natick. JFK has also picked up players in Braintree and taken them to Ashland and Dedham High, where the Cowboys have played home games, and to Sudbury, for practices.

“It’s been really helpful,” said DeVoe. “It’d be expensive for the players to pay for the gas. They come from everywhere.”

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

MetroWest Cowboys running back Steve Fernandes looking for running room during first half action against the Eastern Mass Seminoles at Maddison Park High.

The players hail from communities across the region, including Framingham, Milford, and Natick, several Boston neighborhoods, and points south and west.

The 31-year-old Gaylord, an engineer, has pretty much bankrolled the team out of his own pocket.

“We provide equipment, helmets, uniforms, shoulder pads,’’ he said, “and we don’t charge dues,” unlike most of the league’s teams.

He figures the tab is about $600 per player, on top of expenses for field rental, game officials, trainers, and police details. With small crowds, gate revenue is minimal.

“Some sponsors have supported us monetarily,” said Gaylord, such as Angry Ham’s Garage and O’Connell’s Pub, both in Framingham.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Quarterback Jon “Bucky” Jones, the Eastern Football League’s MVP in 2011, warm up before MetroWest’s game last weekend against the Seminoles.

Gaylord got into drag racing, and used to drive his own dragster on the Midwest and West Coast circuit. He doesn’t anymore. “Drag racing is more expensive than the football team.”

He called the new-look Cowboys “a revival,’’ and noted that in the 11-team league, “you can play as long as you want. We have players 19 to 45.”

The 10-game regular season starts in mid-July and runs through late October.

The Marlboro Shamrocks were the EFL gold standard for decades, winning a number of league crowns and a couple of national championships.

“We’d like to revive that tradition,” said Gaylord, who attended Clarkson University. “At the time, they didn’t have a football team, so I played in a semipro league.”

He met his significant other, Faleesha, when she was enrolled in Harvard Extension School courses. “We fell in love with the area,” he said. “Faleesha is very involved in the team’s activities. She has sales experience. She has an alpha personality.”

The 62-year-old DeVoe is a semipro lifer.

A Globe All-Scholastic lineman and team captain at Hyde Park High, he suited up in the EFL and the Boston Park League from 1968 to 1990, and was inducted into the Minor League Football Hall of Fame in 1991. DeVoe’s brother, Bob, 76, is his top assistant with the Cowboys.

When the Hyde Park Cowboys folded in 1989, Shamrocks head coach Bill Grasso asked Larry DeVoe to join his team. With DeVoe seizing a leadership role as captain, the Shamrocks won the league title that season.

An EFL historian of sorts, DeVoe recalled the Shamrocks — now defunct — in their heyday, led by stars like Larry Heindl, Dave Palazzi, Dennis Kelly, and Larry Dorey. All are in the minor league hall of fame. Palazzi, a QB who starred at University of Massachusetts Amherst, was the best known. Mike Fallon, another former UMass quarterback, played for DeVoe on the Cowboys.

The 28-year-old Jones may be the next DeVoe-coached signal caller to be enshrined.

“I saw him play at Charlestown High,” said DeVoe of Jones. “He could throw the ball. He was a good athlete.”

Jones was a three-year receiver at Charlestown before switching to quarterback his senior year. He actually suited up for the EFL’s Charlestown Townies for one season after high school. Playing at Curry College for coach Steve Nelson, he had a role in a pair of New England Football Conference titles, earning second team all-conference honors as a receiver in 2005.

Nelson, a Pro Bowl linebacker for the New England Patriots in the early 1980s, “was one of the best coaches I ever had,” said Jones. “He was down to earth, and took care of us like we were family.”

Now Jones runs the offense for the MetroWest Cowboys.

That late June night when the JFK vans arrived seems like a long time ago, Jones said. “We introduced ourselves and after the first game I felt a little better. But we still had a lot of work to do.”

Lenny Megliola can be reached at lennymegs@aol.com.
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