By Sarah Dahl
When Athletic Director Rick Foresteire ’86 was promoted to his current role 12 years ago, he knew he needed someone to take his former place as head football coach. He didn’t know the man he hired, John Papas, would be able to do that and so much more.
After 11 years at the school, Coach Papas P’08, ’09, ’14 now plans to retire in June, leaving behind a varsity program with a 10-year winning streak and a 77-percent winning percentage—in addition to an Independent School League (ISL) title, three New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) titles, and four Prep School Super Bowl appearances.
Coach Papas said it was BB&N’s balance of intense academics and rigorous athletics that pushed him to apply for the job. At the time, he was an assistant coach at Tufts University and had previously connected with Mr. Foresteire by hiring him—his future boss—to work at Papas’ summer football camps.
“I was looking for a place for my kids to go to school,” added Coach Papas, reflecting on the experiences that Nico ’08, Dee ’09, and Dante ’14 enjoyed. “BB&N was the perfect choice. The academics, athletics, and social life were perfect for them.”
The football team also proved a strong fit for the newly hired coach, who said he was frank about his goals from the moment he joined the school. Coach Papas recalled making clear that he “wanted to build a great program that would compete for an ISL title each and every year.”
He didn’t get off to a great start, though. Mr. Foresteire
remembers a conversation with the coach after his first game ever, in which Coach Papas’ squad lost to The Brooks School.
According to Mr. Foresteire, “He basically looked at me, pretty discouraged, and said, ‘I don’t just want to be competitive. I want this program to be successful.’”
Mr. Foresteire added that despite his own doubts about the feasibility of Coach Papas’ goal at the time, the new leader and his team did end up “unequivocally exceeding expectations.”
“I did not envision that we would be able to go out and rattle off 10 consecutive winning seasons,” he said. “He took what was a decent program, a solid program, and brought it to the next level.”
Citing first and foremost the coach’s “incredible attention to detail,” Mr. Foresteire credited the program’s success this past decade to an increased focus on filming and weight training, which over time helped Coach Papas attract what Foresteire called “high-level players” to the school.
Coach Papas’ successor, Coach Mike Willey, praised his legacy as well.
An assistant coach at the school for six years and a full-time faculty member in the Science Department for the past two, Coach Willey called his predecessor’s care for his players as athletes and as people arguably his greatest asset. Coach Papas, he stressed, will be remembered both because he trained his players exceptionally and because he inculcated them with crucial life lessons, such as “the values of hard work and teamwork” and “how to prioritize their lives.”
Testament to Coach Papas’ effect on his athletes is the fact that 49 BB&N students since 2003 have continued to play football at the collegiate level. Ben Rasnick ’13, now a freshman at Kenyon College after playing for BB&N varsity all four years, said Coach Papas “changed football from something I did for fun into something that helped me get into college.”
“He made us all significantly tougher and instilled in us the never-quit attitude,” said Brendan O’Neil ’13, one of last year’s senior co-captains who now plays at Wake Forest University.
Ben highlighted the team’s competitiveness last year despite being the ISL’s second smallest roster as a product of Coach Papas’ encouragement. Willie Peoples ’13, Brendan’s fellow former co-captain who now plays at Columbia University, called Coach Papas simply “the best ever.”
“Everything we know about football, he’s taught us,” added current Co-Captain Connor Coady ’14, “but he’s also taught us a lot off the field.”
Coach Willey understands that sentiment since, years ago, he himself was among Coach Papas’ athletes at Tufts.
“I’ll miss all of the professional interaction we’ve had, but what I’ll miss even more is the friendly interaction we’ve had over the years,” Coach Willey said.
Mr. Foresteire called Coach Papas’ leave “bittersweet” but said he looks forward to “new challenges,” which the school football team will be able to face with confidence, thanks to Coach Papas’ legacy.
For his part, Coach Papas said he has few qualms about the team’s future.
“Our guys understand that the harder they work, the better they’ll be,” Coach Papas said. “The entire ISL respects BB&N football.
That will certainly continue for years to come. The program is in great shape, and Coach Willey will do a great job.”
He added that Willey’s six years of coaching at Dover-Sherborn—his high school alma mater—as well as his experience playing in the prestigious indoor Arena Football League (AFL) will surely aid the new coach.
Buoyed by the confidence of his longtime colleague, mentor, and friend, Coach Willey looks ahead to his future leading BB&N football with both eagerness and humility.
“The shoes couldn’t be bigger to fill,” he said, “but I’m very excited for this opportunity.”
After retirement, Coach Papas said he plans to focus on running his football camps and leading the student-athlete consulting business he manages with his son Nico.