The Pilgrim football team had its share of ups and downs over the past few seasons.
Between missing the playoffs, falling to the bottom of the standings, hiring a new head coach, expectations from the outside were low heading into the 2018 campaign. However, behind the scenes, the Pats knew they had what it took to make it to the Super Bowl, which they accomplished last week.
“We knew all along that we had what it took to make it to the Super Bowl and the playoffs. It was just those three rough weeks that made the haters and the doubters come out. We knew all along that if we just stuck to what we were doing out here, if the kids bought in, if they put in the hard work, then they would know what they needed to do to change people’s opinions about us … and they did it, they proved everyone wrong,” said head coach Blake Simpson.
“At the beginning of the season, Coach Blake said that it’s going to be about everyone being all in and this team has been all in since June. From going 5-14 over the past two seasons and coming back to this division and going to the Super Bowl, it’s outstanding. I wouldn’t want to be a part of any team but this one,” added senior captain Mark Brown.
Things weren’t always pretty for Pilgrim, especially midway through the season when the club suffered three-straight lopsided defeats. However, the Pats hung tough, rebounded, and emerged as one of the top teams in Division III.
“We definitely went back to the drawing board. We made some adjustments, tweaked a few things with our personnel, and things just turned around and we got healthy at the right time. The way we turned it around speaks volumes. From the second half of North Providence all the way through the Super Bowl, it’s a huge accomplishment,” said Simpson. “I owe it all to the kids and what they did this year. All of the hard work they did on the practice field, in the classroom, in the weight room, I owe it all to them.”
Brown felt that the losing streak helped fire up the Patriots, and motivated them to shut down the naysayers in the community.
“We had a lot of people, even people in the student body say that we weren’t good, we would keep losing, we would miss the playoffs, we would lose Thanksgiving. That really motivated us and you saw it in the way that we finished. Coach Blake told us that we just had to go 1-0 every week and that’s what the mindset was,” said Brown.
Fellow senior captain Jaron Petrozzi felt that the biggest difference between this year’s group and recent teams was hard work, and dedication to turning things around.
“We had to show everybody that, ‘hey, we’ve had a few bad games but that is not us. We had to come out and show everyone that we are better than this,’” said Petrozzi. “The hard work and the dedication. From time to time we had some guys (last year) not show up to practice, some of the key guys that you look up to. So for them not to show up was tough. For us, this is all we do, this is our life. It’s great because no one really believed in us except for ourselves, we were the only ones that believed in ourselves. Coming out here and working hard with everyone, it’s been great.”
Brown also credits the job that Simpson and his staff did during his first year at the helm.
“A lot of it was coaching. From teaching the kids what to do and when to do it, and the kids being able to accept the coaching, that’s the biggest thing for me. You could see it in the way that we finished the season, this group of kids accepted the coaching and that’s what brought us here,” said Brown.
Although the Patriots will say goodbye to a handful of seniors, including Brown and Petrozzi, Simpson believes that the bar has been set, and Pilgrim will once again compete for a title in 2019.
“We’ll be alright. We have a lot of returners coming back, a lot of juniors who are by far some of the most talented kids that I have gotten to coach. They’ll thrive with the pressure on their backs, they love being in the limelight of the playoffs,” said Simpson. “This year didn’t end the way we wanted it to but I know that they’ll be hungry to return and hopefully be back.”