Monday, April 13, 2015

For retiring coach Mike Boyages, Wakefield holds a special place

Wakefield football coach Mike Boyages often refers to past and present players as kids, no matter their age.

When he saw members of his 1999 Super Bowl champion team get inducted into the Wakefield Hall of Fame this November, he did just that.

“They were like, ‘Coach, we’re in our 30s now,’” Boyages said with a chuckle.

Boyages, 56, has coached at Wakefield High since 1980 and been head coach since 1997. He holds a 131-60-3 all-time record, and guided that 1999 team to the school’s only Super Bowl title.

Friday was his last game on the sidelines, as he has decided to retire from coaching the Warriors. He said he’ll likely stop serving as athletic director at the end of this school year and may pursue another job.

“To do it in my hometown for all these years, where I’ve grown up, where I’ve worked, it’s really been a labor of love,” Boyages said. “I feel so blessed.”

For Boyages, the most rewarding part of his job is seeing his players succeed. His main objective is to make them better people than they were when they arrived at Wakefield High.

Kids with single parents and other difficulties at home frequently found their way to the Wakefield football program. Boyages worked tirelessly to help them thrive.

When they come back years later to thank him and his staff, he knows his effort was worthwhile.

“I feel like a thousand bucks,” he said. “It’s really great to feel that way.”

At the start of the season, Boyages knew it was likely he would retire when the year ended. He did his best to keep the decision a secret. Even amid a disappointing season — including a season-ending torn ACL to star Luke Martin — Boyages focused on his players.

He didn’t want the spotlight on himself in his last game. He never has. His players didn’t know he was retiring until two days before the day-after-Thanksgiving game.

“I held out, and then the cat got out of the bag at the very end,” Boyages said.

Boyages mainly talked to his players about winning the game for Martin. His goal was to give him the game ball, but Wakefield came up just short, losing 15-14.

While Boyages cherishes the off-field memories, he has many on-field accolades to his name as well. Six league titles, four Super Bowl appearances, and more than seven wins per season.

But his most prized on-field triumph came in 1999, when Wakefield captured the Super Bowl title. Though 15 years have passed, Boyages recounts the scene with ease.

On Thanksgiving Day, Wakefield and Melrose battled for a trip to the Super Bowl. Both teams were 9-0, and the winner would face Acton-Boxboro.

The Red Raiders claimed a lead, but the Warriors ripped off 14 points in the fourth quarter — including a touchdown with less than 30 seconds left — to tie the score.

The tiebreaking system was different in the previous millennium — both teams’ fate came down to a highly publicized coin flip the day after the game.

“It’s funny, it was covered by every news station in Boston,” Boyages said. “It was all on TV.”

Boyages and Melrose coach Tim Morris each picked a sealed envelope that signified heads or tails. Melrose picked heads. Wakefield picked tails.

Then it all came down to a silver dollar. “It was fortunate enough to be tails,” Boyages says, and the rest is history. He called his players — who were waiting in the locker room — on his cell phone, and told them the news.

The Warriors beat the Colonials in the Super Bowl and made the 15-year celebratory reunion from two weeks ago possible.

Wakefield honored Boyages in a celebration at halftime last Friday. Naturally, he didn’t want all the attention, but he couldn’t help but appreciate everyone and everything around him as he posed near midfield.

“I feel very privileged to have done it for 18 years as a head coach,” he said.

Follow Trevor Hass on Twitter @TrevorHass.

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