In Scituate, football is a family game. Throughout the whole community, from Pop Warner to varsity, the sport is ingrained within the community.
For two members of the Scituate High School team, the sport offers a special tie that bonds generations. Junior running back Will Sheskey and senior linebacker Josh McKeever both had grandfathers who coached on the 1979 team, the last Sailors squad to reach the Super Bowl.
Sheskey’s grandfather, Don Watt, a former offensive assistant/sophomores coach, along with the late Billy McKeever, the defensive coordinator, helped shape that Sailors team that finished one step short of glory.
Now, 39 years later, Sheskey, McKeever, and the Sailors stand on the cusp once again. On Saturday at Gillette Stadium, Scituate (10-1) will play Nipmuc (10-1) for the Division 5 title.
“We felt like we had the horses [in 1979], it was just a question of going the distance,” said Watt, now retired from coaching, but still very much active as owner of the Coffee Corner in town. “Most of that group came out of Pop Warner, it was just a matter of refining those skills at the high school level.”
Scituate head coach Herb Devine senses major similarities between the two teams nearly four decades apart. Starting with players such as Sheskey and McKeever, Scituate plays hard-nosed, physical football.
“They’re throwbacks to an era where you had to be tough and physical,” said Devine. “Bringing these two successful teams together shows that football is about playing for each other.”
Sheskey, who averages 7.2 yards per carry and leads Division 5 in scoring, is described as having the ability to see the whole field. The junior credits his team’s preparation and chemistry for their historic season.
“A big part of that is selflessness,” said Sheskey. “My teammates are like brothers to me and I don’t want to disappoint the guy next to me. That unity and brotherhood has been a big part of our success.”
McKeever, who will finish his career as the leading tackler in Sailors history, said he is motivated to succeed by those who support him. His father, Mark, serves as an assistant coach on defense.
“Having him on the field is awesome,” said Josh. “Knowing my dad is there, knowing I need to do it for him is really special. I put it all on the line for him and everyone who motivates me.”
Billy McKeever died in 1989 and left an indelible imprint on the program, instilling a family-oriented attitude in his players. Mark was 8 years old and the ballboy for that 1979 team.
Mark compares Josh’s personality and playing style to Billy’s intensity.
“I anticipated he would be similar to my dad,” said McKeever. “He’s very intense, when he misses an assignment he’s hard on himself. When you take his work ethic and humble attitude inside the lines, he can flip a switch and play with an edge.”
The 1979 Sailors endured some close calls, including a last-second victory over Plymouth. It was a similar game to Scituate’s 28-27 first-round playoff win over Dennis-Yarmouth.
“It takes a game like that to go on the run we’ve been on,” said Devine. “To play through adversity and win makes you confident as a coach. We haven’t taken anything for granted.”
This year’s team also gained confidence in an early season loss to Duxbury. Leading 17-14 at the half, the Sailors succumbed to the dominant Dragons, 35-23.
“We came out and played tough the whole game,” said Sheskey. “We were really clicking as a team. On the bus ride home, we were saying how, ‘If we can play with them, we can play with anyone.’ ”
Added Watt: “There’s a grain of togetherness running through the whole team. As they’ve matured, their confidence has become evident. There’s a ‘can-do’ attitude about these boys.”
Come Saturday, when Sailors strap on the pads and don the blue and white, they’ll be representing not just their team, but their family, their community, and all the other Scituate players who never had a chance to get this far.
“When my dad was coaching, he used to say the kids were like his stepsons,” said Mark McKeever. “Coaching is more than just X’s and O’s, he taught valuable life lessons.
“There’s expectations, but we had to reiterate the meaning behind the jersey.”
Dan Shulman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.