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Guardians of tradition

Football stars add to family scrapbook

Stephen and Mike Moran in Swampscott. 'The family name carries on part of what the entire Swampscott tradition is,' said Stephen. (Aram Boghosian/Globe Correspondent) Stephen and Mike Moran in Swampscott. "The family name carries on part of what the entire Swampscott tradition is," said Stephen.
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / September 4, 2008
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The thing about scrapbooks, Mike Moran says, is that you never look at them.

But that's where history likes to hide, crumpled in the sheets of old newspaper clippings, piled in the stacks of aging yellow photos, off to the side behind the glass of trophy cases.

His son had to find it.

Stephen Moran was at a point where he could have taken Swampscott High football or he could have left it.

Some days were great. But some days the ball never comes your way, the rain turns the field to a mudslide, and someone digs their cleats into your toes. Stephen was having too many of those days, and they had him thinking about quitting.

So he went down to the basement and looked for scrapbooks of his dad's playing days.

Mike had almost forgotten about them.

His dad was the one who kept them all these years. Mike just liked to play. He was a solid running back for Swampscott a few years after it won the Super Bowl in 1972, and a captain his senior season.

But the last thing he wanted to do was put pressure on his son. He can still remember the car ride the one year he was Stephen's basketball coach. The car might as well have been the locker room all over again. He was speaking in x's and o's until Stephen finally asked him, "Dad, could you not talk about the game all the way home next time?"

From that point on, Mike just wanted his son to have fun. That's what he told Stephen when he came up from the basement with the scrapbook. That's what he told him when Stephen said he wanted to quit.

Play it because you enjoy it.

That's when it clicked.

Stephen was part of a championship team last year, a receiver on the Swampscott team that beat Medfield, 22-6, in the Eastern Mass. Division 3 Super Bowl. He's a captain this year, same as his father was.

"We have a strong tradition going on in Swampscott," Stephen said. "The family name carries on part of what the entire Swampscott tradition is."

Whether it's a boy finding a scrapbook in a Swampscott basement, then turning it into a Super Bowl ring on the mantel in the living room; a storied coach pausing in the middle of an Everett awards banquet to tell his players that the legacy is a year-to-year process; or a young quarterback trying to live up to his father's name of nearly 30 years ago, legacies inspire.

"Some people say there's pressure," Everett's Brian Nuzzo said. "I don't think there's pressure. It motivates you. It just makes you want to be that much better."

Nuzzo's brothers, Frank and Matt, turned Crimson Tide football into an Ivy League education at Brown, and they have three high school Super Bowl rings to show for it. He's trying to match them, with two to his credit thus far.

"If they say listen," Nuzzo said. "I'm going to listen to them."

Nuzzo and John Forte are the prototypical Everett football kids: Third-generation Crimson Tide players, Pop Warner to high school, same team all the way through, same standards as well.

"The expectations are so high in Everett about winning," Forte said. "It's just like losing's not even an option."

Kashawn Avery is following in the footsteps of his father at Lynn Classical.

His father, Kenny, was a burner as a running back for the Rams in the '80s. Everybody tells Kashawn the stories. The principal stops him in the hallways to talk about his father. His weight-training coach tells him his father was good, but Kashawn is faster. Kashawn always tells them the same thing. "I always tell them I'm going to be better than my father, though."

Some legacies force you to live up to them.

That's part of the reason Scott Wlasuk took the head coaching job at Peabody High.

He's responsible for restoring the Tanners' legacy.

He played under Arthur Adamopoulos and spent two decades as an assistant to Ed Nizwantowski before Nizwantowski's controversial exit in 2005, which forced Wlasuk to leave as well. Then he came back last season as an assistant to Dave Woodbury.Wlasuk brought his sons to practice when they were infants, keeping them on the sidelines in portable cribs. Now his older son, Sean, is a freshman at Peabody, and his younger son, Cody, is in middle school.

People know that Wlasuk respects the program's tradition.

Jeff McMath played with Wlasuk. His brother, Jack, coached with him in the Nizwantowski era. His son Kevin will play for Wlasuk this fall.

"Peabody has a big tradition in football and generation after generation gets to play it and everybody's proud to put on a Tanner uniform," said McMath. "He's just going to carry on that tradition."

Jeff McMath married into more than half a century's worth of Peabody football.

Not that he wasn't a player himself.

He was a tackle on both sides of the line for the mid-'70s Tanners squads, including the 1976 team. The defense didn't allow a single touchdown all season, going 9-0-1, and crushed Saugus in the Thanksgiving Day game.

"No speed," he said.

But he was a player.

His future wife's father was the diehard. Harold "Skinny" Baker played running back for the Tanners during the '40s and was a regular on the sidelines every decade after that.

"Wouldn't miss a game," McMath said.

Every Friday, he'd take McMath's son Kevin with him just to inhale the Friday night atmosphere.

"He would tell him, 'You're going to play football when you get up there,' " Jeff recalled.

Kevin didn't need the hard sell.

The game. The crowd. The lights. They all got to him first.

"I just always wanted that to be me," Kevin McMath said. "When I was younger, Peabody High football was everything. Like what you see in movies. Their football was awesome. Growing up, you always watch those Friday night lights games and you say, 'Wow, I can't wait until it's my turn.' "

His older brother Jeff tried holding out. He played basketball. But by the time he was a junior, the gridiron called him. He started playing the year Nizwantowski left.

"We all thought that was going to be the team that won the Super Bowl," Kevin McMath said. "We all thought that was going to be the year. Then Niz left and everything changed."

The Tanners went 4-7 that year. They won two games over the next two seasons. People who had helped build the legacy couldn't recognize the team.

Every now and then between practices, Kevin McMath and a few teammates will dig up some old practice tapes of Peabody teams that won Super Bowls in the early '90s. They'll look for players like Frank Candela, the wide receiver who ended up playing at Southern Cal.

"People used to fear coming into Peabody," Kevin said. "We just want to bring it back, make people fear us again."

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

Stephen Moran

Senior wide receiver, Swampscott High

Backstory: Moran was close to giving up the game, but a look at a scrapbook from his father Mike's playing days inspired him to stick it out. The result: a ring from Swampscott's first Super Bowl since 1972.

MORE INSIDE Stars, newbies, top teams. Page 7.

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