Football in a strange land

Brazilian football player Atila Santos of Framingham High School works out with the team at practice at the high school.
Bill Greene/Globe Staff
Brazilian football player Atila Santos of Framingham High School works out with the team at practice at the high school.

FRAMINGHAM — “We’re like brothers,” said Atila Santos.

You can see why. His relationship with Allan Lamas grew from necessity. Only they could fully understand who they were, where they’d come from, what they’d overcome.

They are Brazilians in a strange land, learning a new language, adjusting to a new culture. Their parents are divorced, their mothers, both named Anna, live in Brazil. Their fathers, both named Gilmar, are in Framingham.


No wonder they feel like brothers.

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American football was a strange game to Santos and Lamas. “In Brazil all you heard was soccer,” said Lamas. “My whole life I played. I still play, sometimes on weekends. It’s in my blood.”

“I would step out of my house’’ in Brazil, said Santos, “and there would be kids playing soccer in the streets. We were friends. But there were fights all the time. We’d go home for dinner and come back and play some more.”

Four years ago, Framingham High football coach Gary Doherty was conducting agility drills for students. Lamas caught his eye.

“He did the drills as good as my juniors and seniors,” said Doherty, who figured he might be able to turn the kid into a player.


“I asked him what position he wanted to play.”

Lamas was confused. He said lineman back. “I said, ‘Sure, you can be our lineman back,’ ” said Doherty. “I told him he could be a real good player.”

It was a leap of faith for the coach. “He had no idea how physical football was,” said Doherty.

Doherty met Santos when he was a sophomore. “He was in the weight room,” said the coach. “I asked him what sport he played in the fall. He didn’t play anything. I said, ‘Why don’t you come out for football?’

“He was a specimen. And fast. But he had no idea how to play the game.”


He learned. So did Lamas.

‘I thought if these guys ever took up football, it’s going to be something. It’s becoming more common now.’

Santos is a 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior defensive lineman for the Flyers. Doherty thinks he can be a college scholarship player. Lamas, also a senior, is a 6-3, 215-pound two-way lineman. He’s been on the varsity since his freshman year.

Doherty, who has been at Framingham since 1998, has seen Brazilian kids develop into soccer stars. He saw their athleticism. “I thought if these guys ever took up football, it’s going to be something. It’s becoming more common now.

“Allan and Atila are the icebreakers.” He will nominate both for the Bay State Conference all-star team.

‘Everything was different here’

When he was 2, Lamas moved to Brazil from Kingston, N.Y., with his mother. He would visit his father in Framingham, and moved in with him in 2008, when he was 14.

He misses his mother. “She calls me almost every day,” he said.

He never knew home could feel so far away. “Everything was different here. The people were more reserved. Brazilians are loud. They invite you to everything. They know all their neighbors. But I’m a little reserved too.”

At Framingham High, all the classes were in English. “I had to pick that up,” said Lamas. He didn’t try out for soccer. “I wanted to try something different. Football was more physical. I was tall and fast.”

He made varsity his freshman year. Doherty put him in the defensive line. “I just went after the ball,” he said. “It took me a while to know what the plays were. By the end of the year I felt more comfortable. But even now I don’t know all the rules. I’m still learning.”

He had a new position coach in his sophomore year.

“I had to prove myself to him, starting at zero,” he said.

Doherty had Lamas kicking off, which he enjoyed on two levels. “It helped that I had played soccer, and I liked running down field trying to make the tackle after the kick.”

Last season was disappointing. An ankle injury and academic ineligibility shortened his season. “It was really difficult, especially when we lost. I felt I could have made a difference,” Lamas said.

He began this season playing very well. After practice one day, he felt severe pain in his stomach. He couldn’t eat. The Flyers had a game the next night. He had to be there. The pain persisted. His father took him to MetroWest Medical Center. Lamas needed emergency surgery for a bowel obstruction. They removed a section of his intestines.

“All the time I was in bed I thought how I was losing my senior season,” he said.

He missed two games. “The first game back I played a little. Second game I played a lot.” He even played on the offensive line.

His goal is to play college ball. “I really like the game,” he said. “I don’t want to lose that.” It’s been a rough, uneven journey. He got through it. Doherty had his back. “He was always there for me when I made mistakes, like a close friend,” said Lamas.

‘Football is my thing’

Santos was born in Brazil. Four years ago, he and his sister, Stephanie, now 20, moved to Framingham. It was Atila’s first time in America. “It was very difficult. I couldn’t say a word in English. My dad spoke English, but very poorly.”

He played volleyball his freshman year, and tried out for football as a sophomore, “but I wasn’t playing a lot,” he said. “So I quit.”

He watched NFL games and decided he missed playing. “I was in the weight room about a week after I quit. Coach Doherty said if I decide to play again, he’d take me back.”

This season has been a revelation for Atila (pronounced (arch-ila). “I found out football is my sport,” he said. “My thing. It’s been amazing.”

He started at defensive end — “where he could make an impact,” said Doherty — in the season opener against Wellesley. “We won. I still remember the score: 47-20,” said Santos.

He wants to play in college. But money is a problem. “I need a scholarship,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved him to linebacker in college,” said Doherty. “He has great, great speed.”

The last four years have flown by. His last game is against traditional Thanksgiving Day archrival Natick.

Santos goes back to Brazil once a year. “I miss everything,” he said. It’s been a blessing having Lamas around. “We met at Fuller Middle School, the first year I got here,” said Santos. “It was really helpful.”

Two Brazilian boys carrying a lot on their shoulders, their mothers in one country, their fathers in another. They’re still adapting to their new environment, a new sport and the voluminous college paperwork to be filled out. It’s been a long journey. They’re determined to see it through. Like brothers.

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