FOXBOROUGH — Of all the logistical dilemmas that go into preparing to play for a state championship at an NFL stadium, the easiest decision St. John’s Prep’s administration made was which jersey would hang at the Patriots Hall of Fame if the Eagles won the Division 1 state championship.
They won, of course, rolling Catholic Memorial, 40-22, behind some explosive offensive spark. And now, the fabled No. 3 jersey of Peter Frates will hang in another shrine.
At the conclusion of every high school football season, the state champions from across New England all get to raise their jersey in a well-lit display at the Patriots Hall of Fame, formerly known as The Hall at Patriot Place.
Occasionally this makes for some emotional moments honoring past players, such as in 2010 when Holliston hung the permanently retired No. 73 jersey of Joey Larracey, who had died two years prior, after winning its Super Bowl title.
For Prep, this was a shoo-in. Frates, the former Boston College baseball star whose well-documented battle with ALS and his “ice bucket challenge” has galvanized communities across the country, is the first Prep alum to have his number retired in any sport (No. 3 is retired in football, hockey and baseball).
Frates and his family remain active in their support for Prep, often offering inspiration to athletes who are wholly enthralled.
“It’s unbelievable. We can’t say enough about the support that he’s given us, his family has given to us and the school,” Prep athletic director Jim O’Leary said. “It’s something you can rally around. Every one of these kids has met him and talked to him. Everyone has seen him. It’s part of what we do and how we do things, and the kids understand it and appreciate being involved with it.”
Frates last visited with the football team in September, and as is often the case whenever he comes around, the meeting left a lasting impression.
“It’s hard to explain,” O’Leary said. “When Bill O’Brien comes back, it’s just Billy. When Rob Konrad comes back, it’s just Rob. When Pete comes back, it’s different, because everybody knows and it’s hard not to have empathy. But it’s not a sad thing at all — everybody’s just happy to see him. Everybody goes over to see him, whether it’s in the tunnel or out on the field, and it’s a great thing.”
Football participation numbers in Massachusetts are at their lowest in a decade, and the effect that’s had on the lower levels of MIAA football was on full display in some of the early games Saturday.
Perhaps nobody more embodied two-way toughness yesterday than Stoneham’s star running back Christos Argyropoulos, who didn’t miss a snap on either side of the ball in Saturday’s most closely-contested game, a 26-20 Spartans win over Old Rochester for the D6 title. The 6-foot, 195-pound Argyropoulos carried 19 times for 113 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, while dishing out plenty of hits at linebacker. .
Stoneham plays in a particularly brutal offense, the Double Wing, an option-oriented attack accented with an array of cut blocks and double-teams that usually lead to pileups, not takedowns, on plays.
“We don’t have the luxury of kids that can specialize in one thing. We take our best kids and put them at running back,” Stoneham coach Bob Almeida said.
“The reality is you wish you had more one-way players, but given our numbers, we’re not able to. Even if we did, he’d be a guy that would play on both sides of the ball anyway, because he’s such a dominant player.”
The Central/West problem
Springfield Central’s historic win over Tewksbury for the D3 title, the first by a Western Massachusetts team since the state tournament was introduced in 2013, has the Golden Eagles rightfully in conversation about its position amongst the region’s all-time greatest squads.
But it came at the expense of a Redmen program whose school’s total enrollment (996) is less than Central’s male enrollment alone (1,017).
“That’s above my pay grade to figure out the inequities in that,” Tewksbury coach Brian Aylward told the Globe. “They’re a well-coached team. They’re a good team. They [have] a lot of kids. That’s how it goes in Division 3.”
Plain and simple, Central is an awkward fit for D3 — even within its own sectional, where its total enrollment is at least 500 students more than the next-largest school. Their 20-7 win Saturday was the lowest point total they’d been held to since their Week 1 loss to Lincoln-Sudbury; in between, they averaged more than 52 points a game, hanging at least 60 on three Western Mass. opponents, including a 71-7 victory in October.
Privately, officials at Central have expressed frustration with the current alignment. Logistics aside, any potential move up to the top division would be welcomed within the Eagles’ program, which often challenges itself against out-of-region opponents — such as last season, when they opened their season against Virginia Beach, Va., juggernaut Bishop Sullivan.
Central and its Central Mass. foil, St. John’s of Shrewsbury, (which lost twice to Central this season, including the state semifinal that sent the Eagles to Gillette) both have male enrollment numbers that would place them squarely in the mean of both the North and South sectionals of Division 1. And like Central, the Pioneers are a clear outlier in terms of program prestige and competitiveness, that would make them a good fit in the top division.
Asked if there has been any talk of appealing to move up to the top division — perhaps as an independent, similar to Everett — head coach Valdamar Brower said, “I think those things are going to play itself out.”
“Where we’re aligned for the next few years, we want to stick in the conference and let it play out,” he said. “This is the first year we handled our business in Division 3. When you talk about independent, you’re talking about money, two-year agreements, scheduling issues, JV, there’s a lot of things that go with it. It’s not as easy as possible. Building up to this took a while – it didn’t happen overnight.”
The MIAA’s current alignment is in place through 2021. But according to St. John’s Prep AD Jim O’Leary, a chair on the Football Committee and a member of the association’s Tournament Management Committee (TMC), the process, and conversation, will begin at least a year in advance of that date.
Quite a day for coaching legacies
North Andover’s 6-0 shutout of King Philip in Friday night’s D2 title game entered head coach John Dubzinski Jr. into a slew of unique coaching company.
By shutting out the Warriors, thanks to a touchdown sneak from quarterback Jake McElroy and a game-clinching sack at the end, Dubzinski became the third former assistant of John DiBiaso to win a state title at Gillette Stadium, joining Dennis-Yarmouth’s Paul Funk (2017) and Duxbury’s Dave Maimaron (2008, 2010, 2011, 2016).
John Jr. also becomes the fourth member of the storied Dubzinski coaching family to win a title in the Super Bowl era (1972-present). The so-called “First Family of Central Mass. Football” are legion; according to high school football historian Mike Richard, Friday was the 20th appearance in a Super Bowl by a team led by a Dubzinski, with a 14-6 record all-time. John Jr. is also the fourth member of the family to win a title, joining his father, former Leominster coach John Dubzinski Sr.; his uncle, former Gardner coach Walt Dubzinski Jr.; and his cousin, Wachusett Regional coach Mike Dubzinski.
Together with patriarch Walt Dubzinski Sr., who led Gardner High to four unbeaten seasons in the pre-Super Bowl era, the quintet has combined for 793 wins all-time, according to Richard.
John Jr. – who also won a title for his father as a player in 1997 – joined an exclusive club of father-son duos to have both won titles, a list that most notably includes Brockton’s Armond and Peter Colombo; Walpole’s John Lee and King Philip’s Brian Lee; Peabody’s Arthur Adamopoulos and Central Catholic’s Chuck Adamopoulos; and Nashoba Regional’s Ken and Jamie Tucker, the latter of whom won his second title in four years with a Friday night throttling of Dighton-Rehoboth in the D4 title game.
Elsewhere, St. John’s Prep head coach Brian St. Pierre became the latest to win a state title as both a player and a coach. But, on a grander scale, he has perhaps etched himself into the pantheon of the Bay State’s all-time great winners, after taking down CM for the D1 title.
As an All-American quarterback at Prep in 1997, St. Pierre led the Eagles to the Division 1A Super Bowl title and a No. 23 national ranking in USA TODAY. As a quarterback at Boston College, he led the Eagles to bowl victories in 2001 and 2002. Over the course of a decade-long career in the NFL, he backed up two of the game’s greatest ever, Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger, with an appearance spelling the former in Super Bowl XLIII. And now, as a coach, he’s secured his alma mater’s fourth state title of the Super Bowl era.
Quite a run for someone who, 20 years after graduating Prep, remains a benchmark with whom some of the state’s best quarterbacks are compared.
From analog to 4K
The aptly-named Rockett legacy of St. John’s Prep receivers, a tradition that stretches back nearly a decade, came to an end Saturday night as Wes became the second of three brothers to win a state title, hauling in nine passes for 188 yards and three scores in the win over CM.
That included what was undoubtedly the weekend’s most outstanding individual play, a tip-toe back pylon TD grab with a CM defender draped all over him, which gave Prep the lead for good:
So how did he come down with it? An unorthodox approach to game prep may have had a hand. Rockett says he only wears his contact lenses on game nights, which makes catching balls in practice during the week feel like a blur.
“I don’t put my contacts on all week during practice, so that makes it more difficult,” Rockett told reporters. “When I put them in game night, it’s easier to see the ball. My eye doctor does a great job putting them in for me, because I can’t do it myself.”
Brendan Hall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.