By Jonny Bianchi
Dear 13-year old Jonny,
Do me a favor and sit down and listen to me for a few minutes. I know it might be tough for you to do, but take a break from wiffle ball, basketball, touch football, or whatever game you’re playing outside in the yard, because this is important for you to hear.
You know that thing you love most in this world? Yeah, football. Well believe it or not, you aren’t going to be able to play it forever. I know this is harsh for me to say to a 13-year old, but it’s true. Before you know it, the game will be over for you and you’ll miss it immediately.
Believe it or not, 10 years goes by fast.
You’re about to enter an exciting time of your life. Within the next year, you’ll be putting on a gold St. Joe helmet for the first time and suiting up to play for your dad. You have dreamed of these years from the first time you ever stepped on the field. Growing up, you idolized the St. Joe football players like they were pros. Fridays in the fall were your favorite days because that was St. Joe gamedays. Never forget those days, because they will forever be some of your favorite memories.
For the next four years, you are going to be able to play football with your best childhood friends, and you are going to love every second of it. Keep your head down and continue to work hard. It will be frustrating your first few years. You’ll watch all of your friends grow and get bigger, while you seem to stay the same size, but be patient… you’ll get there too.
Eventually, it will be everything you ever dreamed and more, so cherish it. Especially the rides home from practice with your dad. In those rides, you’ll learn so much about the importance of family. Not just blood, but the people you meet along the way that you will grow to consider family. This will be an important lesson for your next ten years.
After St. Joe’s, you will be blessed enough to get an opportunity to play football in a Post Graduate year at Cushing Academy. Cushing is in one of the best high school football leagues in New England and sends players to Division I schools every year. This will be scary for you at first, but it will entice you to fulfill your dreams as playing at the Division I level.
Even with the success you will have at St. Joe, you will still struggle with self-confidence. You’ll be an All-Conference and All-Western Mass selection multiple times, and league MVP senior year, but outside of your bubble in Berkshire County, you don’t know how good you really are.
Pretty early in the season, you’ll too realize you’re a better football player than you thought. And then, as the recruiting process picks up, and you begin to talk to more and more schools, you’ll begin to think you’re better than you are.
What I urge you to do during this time is keep a level head, because you have a huge decision ahead of you. During the selection process, make sure you pick a your school for the right reasons.
Don’t get me wrong, it feels great to be wanted, but don’t let that cloud your judgement.
Don’t let your Division I dreams turn you off from other schools, there’s great opportunity at all levels… So you will come to find.
Also, don’t be afraid of a little competition at the next level. You’re used to being the top dog. But don’t let that scare you from choosing a school. Don’t choose a school because it seems like it will be easier on you, choose a school that you know will be right for you. When you make your decision, go to the school with an open mind and give it some time. It might not feel like the right place at first, but don’t let your first impression turn you off from the school completely.
Less than a month into your new life at Sacred Heart University as a college athlete, you’ll realize that your new school isn’t like your old ones. And college football is a different beast than high school.
For the first time in your life, you’ll begin to resent the game you love.
For the first time in your life football will push you out of your comfort zone, and you won’t like it. For the first time in your life, you’ll walk away from something without finishing it, and that’ll leave a bad taste in your mouth.
After one semester, you’ll once again find yourself looking for a new school. This time, you’ll do it right. You’ll choose a school for all of the right reasons, and that school is Springfield College.
This is a special place, and it will change you for the better.
As you step onto campus for the first time, it will just feel right. You’ll feel more at home than you ever did at your previous school. Your excitement to get started with football will almost overwhelm you. As you start doing your off-season training, football will begin to feel like it always had again. You’ll be excited for the off-season lifts and early morning runs, and you’ll be happy to be around the game again.
A key thing I need to tell you is that from the moment you begin at Springfield, BUY IN.
Springfield football has a lot of sayings, but there is one that will be very familiar to you. Similar to St. Joe preaching, “Family,” Springfield preaches, “Brotherhood.”
While they are two different words, in this context they mean the exact same thing. Both mean to leave everything you have for the guy next to you and to do whatever it takes to make the team better.
Buy into it from the very beginning. Your experience will be better.
As your first spring ball approaches, you will be asked to switch positions to halfback, which is a spot you have never played before. You’ll say the right things and accept your position change.
But you won’t fully buy in to the Brotherhood.
Behind the scenes, you’ll complain about your situation and how you think you think you are being underutilized. I urge you to do the exact opposite. I know your confidence is at an all-time low, but you need to attack this new opportunity and become the best damn halfback you can be.
You’ll see the season out, but one foot will be out of the door the entire time.
Once again, you’ll resent the game you love, and it’s all because of some self-pity. So you’ll quit the team.
For the second time in as many years, you’ll walk away from something without finishing it.
And that’ll leave a bad taste in your mouth.
But, don’t let this scare you because it won’t be the end of the road for you. As hard as this next year is going to be for you, it’s going to be an essential year for personal growth.
Junior year will be a huge transition year for you. Your first full year not playing the game you have loved your whole life. You’ll spend your entire fall semester in denial. You go to the games to support your former teammates and pretend you don’t miss it. Deep down though, it’s killing you to not be out there.
Something inside you will scream, “You made a mistake,” and for a while, you’ll tune it out. But it’s going to keep getting louder and louder until you do something about it.
Which you will…
As soon as you get back for spring semester, set up a meeting with Coach Cerasuolo and apologize for being selfish, and tell him you want to do whatever it takes to get back onto the team, and back into the Brotherhood.
Coach C is a man of great character, so he expects that out of his players as well. He will tell you that he will meet with some of the leaders of the team, and if they agree, you will be let back on.
But I have to BUY IN.
That will be all you need to hear. No man deserves this many chances. But here you are with a third chance to make your football career right.
Now it’s time to make the most out of it and, above all, cherish it.
You’ll be lucky enough to be able to play defense once again. This time around, you will form relationships with more teammates than you did the first time, and your bonds with them will be stronger than you ever could have imagined. These relationships will be formed from the blood, sweat, and even some tears that you will shed together.
Coach Holik will push you harder than you will ever be pushed, both physically and mentally. But, he will teach you so much along the way. The locker room will start to feel like home and Stagg Field will start to feel like Wahconah Park back home, in Pittsfield.
This is your senior year, and as far as you know, the last season you have to make it right.
I’ll be honest, football is not like riding a bike, it’s going to take some time to get it all back. Early in the season, you’ll again grow frustrated, but this time it’s not with your situation, it’s with yourself. The team is winning and you’ll feel great about that, but your eyes aren’t going to be used to seeing the game this fast and you’ll struggle a bit on the field.
Don’t worry, a few games in it will all slow down, and that’s when the fun really begins.
Team 127 will have one of the best regular seasons this school has ever seen. 10-0, NEWMAC Champions, and birth in the NCAA Tournament.
In 17 years of football, this is the first championship team you have ever been on. Give yourself some time to reflect and be proud of it. Allow yourself to appreciate the ride that Team 127 has been on, because it will end much faster than you expect.
The first round of the NCAA Tournament brings Husson out to Stagg with an opportunity to go to the Sweet 16 on the line.
Late in the game, you will get an opportunity to make a game-changing play, one you have always dreamed of. You know, where you drop back into coverage, read the QB’s eyes, bait him into making a throw and pick it off. Then make a few defenders miss, as you take it back for a touchdown.
It’ll all play out how you imagined it, except you’ll drop it.
A play you have made in your head a million times. The chance you have to make it in real life. And you dropped it.
Husson will score a few plays later that would prove to be enough for them to win the game and all of the sudden your football career is over.
Two things will stick in your head from that day, that play, and a conversation with Coach Webster. As you stand on the field crying, Coach Webster is going to come up and put his arm around you and say, “What are you crying for, you still got another season.”
The idea of coming back for a fifth year will be first raised to you by Coach C with a few weeks to go in the season. After battling through your senior season with a few injuries, your body will keep telling you to put everything I have into that Senior Season and be happy with it.
That voice inside of you is going to tell you to take the opportunity to play one more season because you’ll never get it back.
I’ll tell you a secret, listen to that voice and you will not regret it.
The off-season before your final season will be the hardest you have ever worked in your entire life. It’ll also be different too. For the first time in your life, you will have to train alone. You will have an internship in the spring semester, and your schedule with that will conflict with the team’s training schedule, so you won’t be with your brothers to push each other.
When the summer comes, you will no longer have teammates back home with the same schedule to train with, so you will spend hours in the hot gym and on the field motivating yourself. This will be a huge offseason for you because being alone will give you a lot of time for some self-reflection. You’ll learn how to motivate yourself and also you’ll grow a further appreciation for your teammates.
Come August though, you’ll be more ready than ever to attack your final, final season.
And, as hot as your final season will start, is as fast as it will come to a dead stop.
One half into the first game under the lights on Stagg vs. WNE, you will suffer a foot injury. Just as you were feeling like yourself on the field again, the game will be taken away from you for no real reason at all.
That’s how fast it can happen.
After X-rays and MRIs, you’ll be told by doctors that your season is over.
DO NOT LISTEN.
They don’t know your body, and they don’t know your journey.
You’ll be the one to decide if your season is over. Go to treatment every single day, and do everything Barclay and Matt tell you to do. Take the injury day by day and try to make little improvements each day.
At the same time, stay involved with the team and take this opportunity to help get ready to play every Saturday.
Be the leader that you have failed to be in some of your previous seasons in college. Coach up your teammates on the field and offer words of encouragement off it. Be someone your teammates can look up to and count on. Let them know that you believe in them because that can go a long way.
After seven weeks of rest and rehab, you’ll feel better and ready to get rolling again. You’ll go to one final doctor, and he will once again advise you against playing. I can promise by the end of your career you’ll grow to really dislike doctors because a lot of them don’t seem to understand what it’s like to be an athlete.
Against the doctors advice, you’ll come back for the final three games on the schedule. You’ll be able to see the finish line and your season is just starting, so leave absolutely nothing on the field. You’ll have another opportunity to compete for a NEWMAC title, but this one won’t go like it did last year. You’ll walk off the field after losing in the championship game, once again thinking you have played your final game. It will be a familiar feeling and a feeling that you are not fond of. That Husson feeling all over again. But, don’t close the book just quite yet, you still have one more chapter.
A few days later, you’ll find out that the team has earned a spot in the New England Bowl against Maritime Academy at home. One more time to strap the pads up and play on Stagg.
Boy, will you take advantage of it.
Your final game will go better than you could have ever dreamed of.
Springfield will win a hard fought game and you’ll be able to walk off the field for the final time, but this time you’ll be leaving a winner.
You’ll be able to celebrate one last time with your teammates and enjoy being a football player for one final day.
As you walk off the field, you’ll carry a plate with you, and that plate will read “2018 New England Bowl Most Outstanding Player.” Three interceptions in one game is a pretty good, JAB, so be proud of it, but don’t let it be the sole reason for your pride.
As you walk off the field for the final time, take it all in, remember your journey and what it took to get there. Appreciate all of the people that helped you get there and be thankful for every opportunity you have been given.
Smile because you made it, and you did it the right way.
Finally, please cherish every single moment you have left as a football player. 10 years seems like a long time, but it will go by in a flash and before you know it, all you’ll have is the memories and lessons that this game gave you.
You’re lucky to be able to say you’re a football player and never forget it.
See ya soon kid,