On Sept. 21, the Framingham State University football team shut out fellow Division III opponent Bridgewater State University 16-0. It was the lone loss of the season for Bridgewater, which went 9-1 this year, earning a place in the NCAA tournament. Framingham State also went 9-1 in the regular season and won the New England Football Conference championship. It’s not inconceivable that the teams could meet again in the NCAA Division III tournament semifinals, and if that were the case, Bridgewater quarterback Mike McCarthy and running back Cody Brewer would once again find themselves lining up opposite Framingham linebacker Brian Montambault.
The three have lined up on the same field before, many times, in fact. They’re all alumni of the Martha’s Vineyard varsity football team, which has six former players suiting up for college programs this year. McCarthy and Brewer were classmates (class of 2009), as was Matt Costello, who plays cornerback at Ithaca College. Montambault, class of 2011, graduated with Randall Jette, the first Vineyard player to sign with a Division 1 school. Jette redshirted (sat out) his first year at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he now plays corner. Rounding out the group of Vineyarders is Delmont Araujo, class of 2012, who is redshirting his freshman year at Southern Connecticut State University.
Last Friday, Jette took time for a phone interview as he waited to board a plane to Akron with his team (he would notch his first college interception in that game, halting an Akron scoring drive and helping preserve UMass’ 22-14 win).
“It’s a big change,” he said of the transition to college ball. “It took a while for me to change . . . just [in terms of] maturity, and going from a leader [Jette, like the other five Vineyarders, was a team captain] to being a follower, and trying to get back up to that leader spot again.”
“It’s the pace that really changes,” Araujo said in a Tuesday interview. “You go from high school, kind of being the top dog, to playing everybody that was the top dog.” Araujo had other adjustments to make, as he went from quarterback to outside linebacker, a position he’d never played before going to Southern Connecticut. “It was tough,” he said of the switch. “It was a lot to learn in one season, and just kind of getting thrown into it was different, but I was up for it.”
Araujo said he felt his high school program had prepared him well for playing in college, a sentiment shared by his fellow Vineyarders.
“I felt very, very prepared, actually, and very ahead of most freshmen that were coming in,” Costello said on Saturday, fresh from the last game of his football career (fittingly enough, a rivalry game between Ithaca and Cortland). “I feel like Coach [Donald] Herman, the way he runs his program is so organized. High school football turns you from a boy to a man.”
“There were always high expectations,” he added, recalling his senior year, when the Vineyarders were undefeated in the Mayflower League, then went 11-2 overalls and played in a Super Bowl game.
“That was the first time we’d won the league; we just missed out sophomore and junior year,” Mike McCarthy said in a Tuesday interview, also citing that year as a high school highlight. Beating Nantucket three times was high on the list as well, he said, as was “just playing with all my closest friends.”
McCarthy redshirted a year at Merrimack, but decided to transfer to Bridgewater after that. He has started at quarterback every year since then, and has one more year of eligibility left. His sophomore year, he was joined by Brewer, who transferred from Suffolk, a school without a football program.
“It’s really nice to have a familiar face on the field,” McCarthy said. “It really takes me back to high school . . . I think it’s good for the Vineyard, too, and the program.”
The two are roommates now at Bridgewater State. Earlier this season, during a bye week, they traveled to Ithaca to see Costello play. Island ties don’t fade once the lines on the gridiron do.
“I keep in touch with my former teammates, because it doesn’t matter where we are” Jette said. He turned to McCarthy for advice when he was making his own college decisions, helped Araujo through the process of being redshirted, and offers a sounding board to current players like running back Brandon Watkins.
Costello has been a mentor not only to his former teammates but to his brothers. He’s the oldest of four, all of whom wore (or are wearing) the purple and white. Chris was a captain with Jette and Montambault, Nick is a current varsity player, and Danny plays JV. “They all wore my number, too,” Costello said. “I didn’t tell them to do that, but they all wore number 30.”
The Vineyard sense of connection is, understandably, impossible to replicate in college stands.
“Every fan knowing everybody, your friends and family in the stands — you knew everybody who was there,” Jette said. “You can’t even compare [the two]; it’s crazy.” Still, the much larger college crowds “are literally the 12th man” when it comes to rallying for touchdowns, he noted.
“It’s something that not everyone gets to experience,” McCarthy said. Like the other alums, he considers himself fortunate to be playing at the next level. “It was always a goal of mine growing up.”
“I would definitely recommend it,” he said.
“Just make sure you’re ready to put the time in,” Jette offered. “It’s a big commitment.”
“Have fun, it’s supposed to be fun,” Costello said. “It’s short-lived. I feel like just yesterday I was in junior high playing.”