Blackmon gets warm welcome from Hendricken
Walking through the halls of Bishop Hendricken last Thursday, it was impossible not to take notice of a certain electricity flowing through the hallways.
It was only about half an hour until the end of the school day, but the energy didn’t come from over-anxious students waiting to get out of the building.
The students were over-anxious, to be sure, but it was for a completely different reason.
As they all piled into the gym, so did the faculty and administrators. By the time the bleachers were filled and the back wall was occupied from side to side, there might as well have been tumbleweeds billowing down the hallways.
Save for one room, Hendricken had turned into a ghost town.
Then the chants started, slowly and contained at first, but gradually louder until they started echoing off the walls.
“We want Will! We want Will!”
And at that moment, onto the stage walked Will Blackmon, the former Hendricken football star who had just finished up his season as a member of the New York Giants’ team that knocked off the New England Patriots 21-17 in the Super Bowl in early February.
The room exploded into applause and cheers, while Blackmon took hold of a microphone, laughed for moment and then asked everybody to calm down a little bit.
He didn’t seem to think there was any real reason for everyone to be reacting like the Dalai Lama had walked into the room.
In his eyes, he was just another Hendricken graduate coming home.
“It’s always the number one thing on my list,” Blackmon said at a press conference after addressing the crowd. “Every time I achieve something, I want to come back here and share it with everybody here.”
That’s not just athlete-speak, either.
Blackmon keeps in regular touch with Hendricken’s Vice President of Operations, Paul Danesi, math teacher Bettyann Tudino and former football coach Ron Mosca.
He spoke to his former history teacher and freshman football coach Michael Quigley just before the Super Bowl.
“I talked to coach Quigley before the game and he kept reminding me about the Patriots,” Blackmon joked. “He’s like, ‘Good luck, but go Patriots.’ I’m like, ‘Why even call me, Coach?’”
It’s those types of interactions, ones that Blackmon has had regularly with people inside the Hendricken community since graduating in 2002, that epitomize his relationship with the school.
He’s revered at Hendricken, where his jersey sells in the bookstore. But he reveres Hendricken just as much.
“I think it’s a tribute to what this school can do if you use it the right way, not only in sports, but whatever avenue you decide to go on,” Blackmon said. “I’m just glad to show that I’m a product of the system. If you use it right, it’s going to help you.”
When Blackmon spoke to the students on Thursday, he did so casually. He didn’t have anything written down, and he didn’t offer any life lessons.
It looked like he just wanted to have a conversation amongst friends.
“That’s why I didn’t really give a speech,” Blackmon said at the press conference. “I come back here all the time when I can, and I make a point to. I appreciate it here so much, because I was able to find myself and my identity in this school.”
The stories of his appreciation go on and on.
Two years ago, when the Hendricken football team won its first Super Bowl since 1996, Blackmon sent Danesi a video message to play for the team, congratulating them.
Prior to that, after playing four years at Boston College, Blackmon invited Mosca to watch him participate in the NCAA Senior Bowl.
It’s no wonder that everybody around the school holds him in such high regard.
“I was interviewed by one of the TV stations, and I choked up,” Mosca said. “I got a little emotional. I hope they don’t show that.”
When Blackmon was beginning to wrap up his press conference, he told the story about fielding the punt prior to the game-winning drive in the Super Bowl.
“I remember the last punt, I was like, ‘Okay, just get the ball for Eli and let him drive down the field,’” Blackmon said. “The ball is in the air for honestly about 10 minutes. I’m sitting there just like, ‘Come down! Come down! Please!’ My heart is pounding, and I’m just like, ‘Catch the ball. Because if you don’t, you can’t go back to New York.’”
Luckily, Blackmon caught the ball. And maybe if he hadn’t, he would have had a hard time showing his face in certain parts of New York again.
But he wouldn’t have had any problem coming back to Hendricken. He’d still be a hero to the students, and he’d still be able to find solace in a school that he reveres, and one that unconditionally appreciates him for more than just football.
“He was the best athlete I’ve coached,” Mosca said. “He had speed, quickness, he’s just a great athlete. And he’s also just a great kid. He doesn’t have come back here and do this. But he does.”
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can we reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.