Bledsoe to High School Captains: Game 'Develops, Reveals Character'
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Before they battle for the next championships to be awarded at Gillette Stadium, some of the best football players in the commonwealth heard from someone who won his last championship before the stadium opened its doors.
Drew Bledsoe was the featured speaker at Tuesday's MIAA Football State Championship Breakfast.
Two of the high school players in the room were Will Genaway and Kyle Noyes, who, along with coach Gary Campbell, represented Wahconah, which on Saturday will face Mashpee High in the Division 4 final.
Bledsoe said that seeing all the eager youngsters gathered in Gillette's field level Optum Field Lounge, "makes me want to put the cleats on again."
Failing that, the Super Bowl XXXVI champion did his best to fire up the youngsters and remind them of what a special opportunity they have in what — for many — will be their last chance to play competitive football.
"When you play the game and play it properly, it develops character and reveals character," the 2011 Patriots Hall of Fame inductee said. "It not only demonstrates who you are but goes a long way toward developing who you're going to be."
Bledsoe was a No. 1 NFL Draft selection for the Pats in 1993 who threw for more than 44,000 yards and 251 touchdowns for three NFL teams. He is an entrepreneur who started his own winery in his native Washington and an assistant high school football coach.
He told the players at Tuesday's breakfast that the lessons learned on the gridiron can be applied throughout their lives.
"I run one business and am part of a couple of other businesses," Bledsoe said. "The culture of a successful team is the same in business as it was in football. It takes everybody on a team pulling in the same direction to be successful. … Obviously, you guys are here because you've been successful, and I would imagine that the environment you get to practice in all the time is one of true teamwork."
Bledsoe also pointed to the perseverance that it takes to overcome obstacles that the state finalists may have faced.
"These games on Saturday — it's not going to go perfectly for any of you," he said. "You're going to have to rise above. You're going to have to meet every challenge in order to be successful."
And he reminded the players that there are thousands like them who wanted to be playing on Saturday but won't.
"You've earned this," Bledsoe said. "Nobody gets to play in a state championship game by accident."
That message resonated with Noyes, who was not quite old enough to root for Bledsoe when he last played for New England before being replaced by Tom Brady during the 2001 season.
"I took away how important football is in this day and age," Noyes said. "How it teaches you that you have to work hard in life and not everything is given to you.
"It forms a culture where not everything is handed to you."
There was some business to be conducted on Tuesday morning when the annual coin tosses were held to determine home team assignments on Saturday.
Wahconah (10-1) won the coin toss and the right to choose its uniform when it faces Mashpee (10-1), the South Sectional titlist.
Tickets for Saturday's games are available for $17 (plus service charges) at Ticketmaster.com.
They also will be available at the Gillette Stadium ticket office on Saturday, when the action begins 9 a.m. with East Bridgewater against St. Mary's of Lynn in the Division 3A final. Wahconah plays in the day's third game, which is scheduled for a 1:30 kickoff.
The day's first four games (including Wahconah's) are scheduled to be telecast live on Comcast SportsNet. The two "late" games at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. are scheduled to be seen on NECN.
Wahconah is the first team from Western Mass to make two trips to Gillette Stadium for a state final since the current state tournament format was implemented in 2013.
The section has not fared well against Eastern Mass competition, going a collective 0-3 and losing by a combined margin of 115-12. Longmeadow and Wahconah each lost in 2014 by scores of 45-6 and 43-0, respectively. Chicopee Comp lost, 27-6, last year.
On the other hand, if you look at the combined record of winners of the Central-Western Mass semi-final, the outlook is rosier. The Central-Western semifinal winner is 4-8 in the title game — splitting the four state finals against the North-South finalist in 2013 and 2015. The Eastern Mass rep at Gillette won every game in 2014.