A month ago, this was only a dream.
But on Thursday afternoon, in cold and windy conditions on a worn soccer field behind the Roxbury YMCA, the Roxbury Prep charter football team, in its first varsity season, was diligently preparing for their MIAA playoff game.
The Wolves (4-2) closed the regular season with wins over Mystic Valley, Atlantic Charter and Randolph to qualify as the fifth seed in the Division 8 North bracket, and a matchup against Lynn Tech Saturday at at Manning Field in Lynn.
“Starting off . . . we weren’t even thinking about [making the] playoffs,” said coach Elijah Hodge, a Florida native who played linebacker collegiately at Wisconsin, and then for one season, perennial FCS power Northern Iowa. “We were thinking about getting a team together and making sure we had enough guys.”
Roxbury Prep lists 32 players listed on its roster, but has dressed roughly 20 players in its six games.
Outside the gates of that old soccer field is the Wolves’ locker room: two metal shipping containers roughly eight feet tall and 12 feet wide.
Inside the gates is an uneven, ruddy field the football team cannot call its own — they share the field with the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams.
“Our background, where we come from, and our stories, is different,” said junior captain Ahriq Mason. “We’re motivated by our [situation].”
The football program is in its fourth year, but the first season, in 2015, Prep played freshman teams from Milton Acadmy, BC High, Belmont Hill, etc. The past two seasons, they played at the junior varsity level.
So, how did a team without a home field, cargo crates for lockers and zero varsity football experience make the playoffs?
In its first year at the varsity level, Hodge has made sure his team lives and breathes a “week-by-week” mentality.
“We always attack the week ahead of us,” Hodge said. “We take that mentality day in and day out, just worrying about what is in front of us.”
Junior captain Arlingcove “Allen” Paul chalks up a lot of the team’s success to the strong chemistry on a team he describes as “a family.”
“We build each other up as a community,” Paul said. “We never leave each other behind, we’re always together as one team.”
Paul’s words were echoed by the actions of the team, as during “Oklahoma” drills at the beginning of practice, words of encouragement were being tossed around just as frequently as the inevitable shrieks of elation that came from watching 200-pound football players hit each other head on.
Out behind the Roxbury YMCA, the Wolves’ practice situation might appear bleak, but the team’s outlook on the season so far has been anything but.
“At the end of the day, we’re playing the game we love,” Hodge said. “At the end of the day, the other team doesn’t care about your situation.”
As he looked over his team’s practice, Hodge relayed a message one of his assistants came up with. It has become the Wolves’ rallying cry for the season.
“We’re all we’ve got,” Hodge said. “We’re all we need.”