It’s crazy thinking about how much can change for a team and program in a two-year period.
Rewind to August, 2018.
The Pilgrim football team was coming off another down season, the returning players never experienced winning, and the new coach in Blake Simpson was set to be one of the youngest wearing the headset in the state, with a relatively inexperienced coaching staff behind him.
Fast forward to today.
The Pilgrim football team just completed a dominant, undefeated season which concluded with a Division III Super Bowl victory.
First off, let’s give these players credit. After spending the first half of their high school careers on the bottom, and having to undergo a head coaching change right in the middle, it would have been easy for them to accept defeat and come to grips with just simply being a last place team.
However, they stuck with it, bought into the new coach and system, and completely turned the culture around in less than two years.
These types of stories are some of my favorite in sports. These kids were used to losing and so many people doubted them prior to the 2018 season. They wouldn’t just sit back and take it though, and they decided how the later portion of their time at Pilgrim would play out.
To be honest with you, although this team was certainly talented, I truly believe that mental toughness was its greatest asset throughout the 2019 campaign.
This is no slight toward Bishop Hendricken, because the Hawks too were mentally tough, but that team was bursting at the seams with talent.
Pilgrim on the other hand, although talented, was just at a different level than opposition mentally throughout the year.
As easy as it may be to play when you’re ahead, there is also a pressure that comes with it. Having never been beaten is certainly great for a players’ confidence, but on the flip side, it can also be daunting.
Am I really this good? Have I truly been tested? How will I handle real adversity? Those are some questions that can certainly seep into a player’s head when they have that level of success.
Did the Patriots face those questions when looking in the mirror? Probably, but they certainly answered each and every one of them down the stretch. From start to finish, this was the most complete team in Division III and it proved it time and time again.
Tolman deserves a lot of credit too. Each matchup with Pilgrim was tight, and Tolman had opportunities to take control each time. It forced Pilgrim to play its best in each contest.
Seeing how close these two teams battled, I think it is actually a good thing for Pilgrim.
The reason is because lately I have heard some people discussing the possibility of the Pats jumping to Division II next season, which I think would be a mistake.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that the Pats would be able to be a competitive team in Division II, but I do believe that it is a bit premature to start discussing a divisional change for them. They just became a force in the league last season, and although they rolled with relative ease this year, they were still tested a handful of times.
Can’t we just celebrate a good thing? Pilgrim is the ultimate example of a team that defied the odds and expectations this past year. Oh, so because it proved to be the best team in Division III, we need to force it out? No, let the champs defend their title next year and then take it from there.
Overall, Pilgrim football is back on the map, and considering the young coaching staff and the new culture, it seems like it’s here to stay. Congrats to all on the Pilgrim sideline, I can’t wait to see what next year holds.
Next up is Cranston West.
The Falcons had a somewhat similar path that Pilgrim had.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Falcons were coming off of their first playoff appearance in nearly a decade.
Although West had earned some respect heading into 2018, they were still considered a middling team. The Falcons beat the odds though and made it to the Division I Super Bowl, and nearly won it, against the high-flying North Kingstown Skippers.
This year the Falcons got right back to work and even furthered their success this time around.
The Falcons finished the year toward the top, and had a signature win when it beat down La Salle on the Rams’ turf to essentially end their season.
West then went on a special playoff run, and once again, came within arms reach of beating the Skippers in the Super Bowl.
Although West came up short once again, its players and coaches should be proud of what they have accomplished over the past two seasons.
They are no longer a good team, they are a great team, and will no longer be an after thought in the preseason rankings.
Like Pilgrim, I was excited and happy for those players and coaches, and respect the fact that they decided to take their destinies into their own hands, and righted the ship as fast as they could.
To all of our football teams here at Beacon Communications, congrats on a great 2019 season, and thanks for making it a blast to cover.