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    Paul Zukauskas steps down as Lawrence Academy football coach

    Lawrence Academy football coach Paul Zukauskas informed his team Wednesday afternoon that he is stepping down after a highly successful seven-year run.

    “It was extremely difficult,” Zukauskas said.

    “Any time you’re part of something that’s had a lot of success, and you’ve done a lot of hard work on the coaches’ side, on the players’ side, and all that hard work has paid off . . . to leave that is really difficult. Especially some of the kids that are going to be back next year, that’s where it gets difficult.”

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    Zukauskas, 38, a former All-American at Boston College who played five years in the NFL, took over a turbulent Spartans program in 2011. Lawrence had been stripped of two ISL titles and was serving a two-year bowl ban related to infractions committed under previous coach Mike Taylor.

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    But Zukauskas quickly turned the Groton-based program into a juggernaut among the New England prep schools. The Spartans won at least a share of the last four ISL titles, and have won three straight NEPSAC bowl games — including a 56-7 rout of Phillips Andover in November, in which freshman running back Tony Muse set the program single-game rushing record with 373 yards and six scores on 17 carries.

    Lawrence Academy has become a sturdy pipeline for Zukauskas’s alma mater. Tailback A.J. Dillon earned first-team All-ACC honors as a true freshman in 2017, and BC’s 2018 recruiting class features three Spartans — tight Joey Luchetti, offensive lineman Finn Dirstine, and defensive tackle Ryan Betro.

    “Coach Z, I looked at him like a second dad,” said Dillon.

    “Going from a public school where I’ve been all my life, to going two hours away to a boarding school at Lawrence Academy, that relationship between me and him didn’t necessarily need to be as close as it was. But Coach Zukauskas cares a lot about his players. I’m a big family person, and over the years I’ve gotten closer and closer, and I look to him like a father figure.

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    “He wants you to succeed in life, and succeed as a man.”

    Zukauskas, a Weymouth native who starred for BC High, is leaving coaching. He cofounded one of several sports-related startups at the Sports Innovation Lab, across from TD Garden on Portland Street.

    The new venture, Zukauskas said, played as big a part as any in his decision to leave coaching.

    “It’s gained a lot of traction, we’re really excited,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of people behind it. Really, it’s pursuing an opportunity that’s different, I think that’s really the reason [behind the departure].”

    Lawrence Academy has yet to announce Zukauskas’s successor.

    Brendan Hall can be reached at bhallwrites@gmail.com.