When former South Boston High lineman Andrew Shaughnessy returned home for a nearly month military leave after a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan, he knew he wanted to serve as a volunteer coach at his Alma Mater.
The 2010 Southie grad didn’t plan on opening up his wallet last week and donating $2,500 to the Knights’ football program, a sum that amounts to almost three months of his military salary.
“I felt it would be cool to help out and try to coach these kids and try to show them there are still people who care about these kids,” said the 20-year-old, who redeployed back to his Army base in Hawaii on Sunday. “Life isn’t going to be easy but there’s always that attempt you can make to be a leader in your community rather than a follower and cause problems. Instead you can be part of the solution.”
But once he dug in with the team, Shaughnessy realized they lacked proper gear and he wanted to help out financially as well.
“When you look a team you can see how much more equipment they need so they can be better equipped,” he said. “It was pretty much because they needed more equipment. It’s a way to help keep the program open for future generations; along the lines of giving back to a community that gave so much to me.
“[Donating money] wasn’t the first thing that came to my mind. It was a little later on,” he said. “It was to help out these kids because these kids are trying to do the right thing.”
Shaughnessy, who said he makes about $1,000 a month in the military, said he can afford the gift.
“Yes, I was really touched by the gift,” Southie head coach Sean Guthrie said via email. “It said a lot because here is this young guy who doesn't have a lot himself, puts his life in danger for my freedom and then comes home from Afghanistan, sees a need and gives with his time and money. He is a real hero a true inspiration for me and my players.
“Andrew is one of those guys who always has been a get it done type of guy. You don't have to tell him what to do. He sees something that needs to be done and he does it. During practice when the young guys are standing around Andrew takes them aside and works with their technique. He starts putting away equipment towards the end of practice, he fills water bottles, he is willing to do whatever it takes.”
Guthrie said he’s not sure what he will spend the money on but he said there are a “host of needs” from cleats to weight room equipment.
More important is the fact that the donation came at a time when South Boston was on a four-game losing streak.
“After losing four in a row for the first time as a player or coach it was tough,” Guthrie said. “As a coach you try to keep upbeat but I was struggling with dealing with the way we were losing and I was pretty down. So when Andrew came to me and told me how I have been a help in his life and giving the gift because of his belief in our program and the need he saw it open my eyes to why I coach.
"I didn't get into coaching to win championships but simply to help some young kids who looked up to me because of my playing experiences. Kids like Andrew are worth more than a million wins. When you see the kind of men players like Andrew develop into and to know you played a small part in that it is a very humbling and fulfilling experience. I love my players so seeing them find success in life beyond football is one of the greatest gifts they could give me.”
Shaughnessy said Guthrie “wasn’t’ just a coach he was also a mentor” and that being a lineman for the Knights made him feel like he was part of something bigger than himself. After graduating from high school in 2010, Shaughnessy wanted to attend West Point but his paperwork wasn’t in order.
“I wanted to serve my country and the only way I could figure out how to do that was by enlisting in the United States Army.”
He was trained to be a mechanic at Fort Jackson in South Carolina before he was assigned to Schofield Barracks in Oahu, Hawaii.
On Aug. 14 Shaughnessy finished a one-year deployment to Afghanistan, where he ran supplies to troops, helped feed hungry villagers and built roads.
“To me the experience was disheartening because when you are driving through the country you see all the starving children and you are seeing all the people forced to attack our troops because of the enemy,” he said.
But Shaughnessy, who said he will deploy back to Afghanistan late next year, remains hopeful.
“You’re starting to see a country come together when it was torn apart by war since its beginning of time,” he said. “When you see all that, even though you see all the bad stuff, there’s still hope.”
Shaughnessy will fulfill his military obligations on April 7, 2014. He said he would like to become a firefighter, EMT or police officer. He said he also wants to continue to give back to his community when he returns home.
“I hope to continue to try to help inspire kids to do the right thing in their community,” he said.
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- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Zolan Kanno-Youngs -- A former captain of the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School football team and a current second-year Ujima Scholar at Northeastern University, Kanno-Youngs is the color commentator of the mens basketball team and a writer for Northeastern's campus newspaper, the Huntington News. He joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at KannoYoungs.Globe@gmail.com. Follow him on his Twitter @KannoYoungs.