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Brady true to his roots

Patriots' star keeps strong tie to high school

Tom Brady during his days at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif. Tom Brady during his days at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif. (JUNIPERO SERRA HIGH SCHOOL)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / January 27, 2012
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SAN MATEO, Calif. - There are no statues here, no ostentatious displays commemorating the achievements of one of the greatest quarterbacks in National Football League history. Indeed, if you look around Junipero Serra High School, where Tom Brady first made his mark on the football field, you’ll find only a few modest nods to the New England Patriots quarterback who is about to start his fifth Super Bowl.

There is the Sports Illustrated cover, propped up on a stand in a trophy case, which saluted his being named the 2005 Sportsman of the Year. Down the hall, there is the 1995 senior class picture. Brady, clad like the rest of his class in a bow-tied tuxedo, is hard to pick out.

But the current players on the varsity football squad need no reminders of one of the school’s most famous alumni. From 3,000 miles away he has managed to remain very much a presence here.

Consider the day last December when the team was gathered in the locker room, readying itself for the Central Coast Section Division 1 championship game. A text came in to coach Patrick Walsh’s phone.

“I am so proud of the young men and how they represent our school. This will be the last game many of them will ever play. You will remember this for the rest of your lives. My advice: just play your [butts] off for 4 quarters and don’t be out-physicaled!’’

The text was from Brady.

And he is no stranger in the Serra High halls or fields. He has stopped by, thrown a ball around with some students, just checked in. Understated, just the way he wants it. He’ll be back on Feb. 23, the featured keynote speaker at the school’s annual Fund a Dream scholarship dinner, an event that is sold out.

“The type of pride that Tommy shows in Serra, in where he went to school, rubs off on the kids that are here right now,’’ said Dean Ayoob, Serra’s athletic director, who was a senior when Brady was a freshman. “They hear an NFL MVP talking about how much he enjoyed his high school days and where he went to high school, and they really can’t complain too much.’’

Brady donated his prize for winning his second Super Bowl MVP to the school, a Cadillac that brought in $375,000. But the most important part was when Brady, who had suggested giving incentives to students for selling raffle tickets, sat for hours at Serra signing footballs and jerseys, overwhelmed at the response to his idea.

This - the multiple MVPs, and multiple Super Bowl MVPs, multiple championships - was not exactly expected from the teenager known as Tommy Brady.

“Honestly, I’m not sure he was an exceptional athlete in those days,’’ says former baseball coach Pete Jensen.

“Tom was more gangly, sort of like a big puppy trying to figure out where everything goes and how you put it all together and make it work,’’ former football coach Tom MacKenzie recalls.

MacKenzie added, “Is he the best athlete [I’ve] ever coached? Absolutely not. I don’t think he’s in the top 10. But he is the best football player.’’

As a freshman, Brady did not take a snap at quarterback, recalls MacKenzie - even on a freshman team that did not win a game. Brady was helped his sophomore year when the quarterback ahead of him, the one who started instead of him, didn’t go out for football. That gave Brady an opening.

Back then, many thought baseball was the sport Brady would play professionally (he was drafted as a catcher in the 18th round of the 1995 draft by the Montreal Expos). He once had a two-homer game against rival Bellarmine, the second homer landing on the roof of a bus parked in right field, waking up the bus driver.

Despite Brady’s slow start on the football field, there were early signs of promise - among them a 60-yard touchdown pass that Brady threw to wide receiver John Kirby in his first high school scrimmage. It was the first pass of his career.

As Kirby, now Serra assistant athletic director, said, “That’s the birth of Tommy’s career, that first play.

“He’s still the cool, calm, and collected guy I remember in the huddle that you see on TV. It’s crazy to see him look down the line. He’s looking at Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski with the same look that he used to give me on the field.’’

Now, they watch him. They listen to him. In him, they see the brotherhood that Serra prides itself on, an alumnus made good, though one among many, sharing the accolades with such notables as Barry Bonds and Lynn Swann.

“When we look at Tommy, we look at a fellow Padre and [it] makes us proud that one of our brothers did this, so all of us can accomplish great things in our lives one way or another,’’ Kirby said.

His influence is here, too, in other ways: “Probably an unusual number of Patriot fans for Northern California,’’ Jensen said.

And there might be even more after that Feb. 23 speech. That will allow yet another generation of Serra students to see what those who have known him since his high school days already understand and value.

Father Joe Bradley, Serra’s chaplain and longtime family friend, said, “What I really most admire about him, to be honest, [with] all the Super Bowls and all the great success and traveling and being around the world, is that he’s Tommy and that hasn’t changed.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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