Over the past two decades, Massachusetts high school football players haven't had to search very far to find a role model.
An entire generation has grown up with Tom Brady serving as a shining example of how being a team player — combined with a healthy dose of determination — can lead to unprecedented success.
“When you’ve got someone like that leading the local franchise, it makes kids more accepting of coaching,” said North Attleborough football coach Don Johnson. “A lot of kids will naturally mimic [Brady’s] behavior and attitude. I thought he was the perfect role model for our kids because he always put the team first.”
Brady announced Tuesday that he will not play for the Patriots next season, ending a 20-year run with New England that included winning six Super Bowls. But the legacy of the former sixth-round draft pick, who busted his tail to become the greatest winner in NFL history, will live on in local lore.
“I was born in 2000 when Brady was drafted, so that’s all I’ve really ever known,” said Luke McMenamin, a former star quarterback at Milton. “Growing up, everyone wanted to be like Brady. Everyone would argue about who got to wear No. 12, or be quarterback. We saw how much he had to go through, and knew if I kept my head down and kept working, I could reach my goals, too.”
When McMenamin was an incoming junior at Milton, head coach Steve Dembowski admitted he had the future All-Scholastic pegged as last in a three-man race for the starting quarterback. Not only did the 6-foot-4-inch McMenamin win the job, he set school records with 4,420 yards and 53 total touchdowns over two standout seasons.
“It was probably the worst evaluation of talent in my career,” said Dembowski with a laugh.
Inspired by Brady, who inched his way up the depth chart at the University of Michigan and refused to transfer, McMenamin buckled down to secure the starting gig. After graduating, he took on another challenge by walking on at UMass, where he recently earned a roster spot.
“Tom Brady has done so much for the average player, for the late bloomer, for the guy who was told he couldn't do it,” said Dembowski. “Every kid knows his story.”
McMenamin is one of several quarterbacks vying to start at UMass in the fall. The competition includes fellow Milton graduate Mike Fallon, who initially set records at his high school with 40 total touchdowns before graduating in 2016.
Despite earning first-team all-state honors, Fallon hardly garnered any college offers. He decided to attend Sacred Heart, a Division 1 FCS school in Fairfield, Conn., then won the starting job over a quarterback the school had inked to a scholarship.
After one season at Sacred Heart, Fallon decided to test his mettle at the FBS level by walking on at UMass.
“I just knew I only had four years to play the sport that I love, so I made the move to go to the highest level I could play,” said Fallon. “If you had told me in high school that I would walk on at an FBS school, I would’ve told you that you’re crazy. But if someone said that Tom Brady, who was sixth string at Michigan, would eventually become the greatest of all time, that probably sounded crazy.”
After two redshirt seasons, Fallon saw action as a junior, completing two passes for 40 yards in a 37-21 win over Akron on Sept. 28. This year, he plans to keep grinding, embracing the underdog mentality that has become inextricably linked to Brady.
“Even if I’m not consciously thinking about Brady being sixth-string at Michigan, being around it and hearing the story for so long makes it easier to not give up on yourself,” said Fallon.
“[Brady’s] been the best role model in the history of the [NFL], and I was fortunate enough to be in the area where I could witness his success on a much larger scale, and apply it to my situation as I matured.”