T.J. Boyajian never seriously considered hanging up his shoulder pads, but there was a moment when the thought crossed his mind. He had just finished a long summer of American Legion baseball, and he knew baseball was his future. He would soon commit to play at the Community College of Rhode Island. Football was slowly moving to the back burner.
“To be honest, I came in out of shape,” Boyajian said. “At the beginning of the year, I was really planning on focusing on baseball.”
Then a funny thing happened. Boyajian got on the field with his teammates, and as memories of their Thanksgiving win over Pilgrim came rushing back, he realized that something special was brewing.
That moment when football started drifting? It left as quickly as it came.
“As soon as I got into the pads and I got out there, I was like, ‘How could I miss this?'” Boyajian said.
He was thrilled that he didn't.
Boyajian became one of the best players in the state and the 'Canes made good on their potential by putting together their best season since 2008. For Boyajian, it was the most special part of a great senior year. He battled injuries in the spring, but still shined for the Vets baseball team.
He leaves Vets with a tremendous athletic career in the rearview mirror.
“It was more than I could ask for,” he said.
His senior football season set the course. The 'Canes went 1-6 his junior year but surged to an upset of Pilgrim on Thanksgiving. With a solid core returning, it was the perfect springboard. The current seniors had witnessed two winless seasons in their first two years with the program, but all of a sudden, they were believing.
“It started Thanksgiving two years ago,” Boyajian said. “We weren’t supposed to win that game, but we came in believing we could do it. When we upset Pilgrim, it just rolled into this season. We came together as a team and everyone bought into the system. That’s why we were so successful.”
Jessie Sedoma emerged as a threat to run and throw from the quarterback spot. The offensive line grew into a steady unit. The defense improved.
And Boyajian ran. He finished the year with more than 1,500 yards rushing, and his penchant for breaking long runs made the Vets offense as explosive as any in the division.
The 'Canes turned into a contender, knocking off Westerly in surprising fashion and contending for a playoff spot until a loss in the final week of league play.
Even after that, the 'Canes were undeterred. They steamrolled to a 40-0 win on Thanksgiving, the largest margin of victory in series history. Boyajian rushed for 209 yards and four touchdowns.
“We should have been in the playoffs,” Boyajian said. “We had our opportunity and we didn't get it done, but we came back strong and beat Pilgrim on Thanksgiving.”
Boyajian earned second-team All-State honors for his big season, but he viewed his success through the lens of the football team's resurgence.
“It was great making All-State and everything, but for me, it was really all about the program,” Boyajian said. “It wouldn’t have happened without everybody else on the team. As soon as I found out I made All-State, I told all the guys and I said, ‘Thank you.’ I told my linemen, ‘Whatever you guys want, I owe you.’”
And for all the accolades, the season was really defined by being part of a special team.
“That team was a family,” Boyajian said. “What we did these past two years was amazing.”
Boyajian was ready for another big baseball season on the heels of a second-team All-State campaign in 2012. A shoulder injury kept him off the field for a time, but when he was on the field, he was the team's catalyst and one of the best players in Division II.
Though Vets didn't have the year it was looking for, finishing 9-7, it wasn't for a lack of effort.
“We worked hard,” Boyajian said. “Everyone worked for it.”
Boyajian will get plenty more innings on the field at Vets this summer, as he returns to the New England Frozen Lemonade/Shields Post 43 legion team. Then it's on to CCRI.
“I’m wicked excited about it,” he said. “It’s awesome that that all came together. Coach [Kevin] Rix and Coach [Ken] Hopkins have been watching me since my freshman year and they’ve always kept an eye on me. I’m excited for it because I know I’m going into a good program. I’m looking forward to the next step.”
And he'll have a lot of fond memories of the last step.