LEOMINSTER — When city resident Jenn Brideau posted in Leominsterites Unite about her young son imitating hometown football star Noah Gray on Super Bowl Sunday, the social media crowd went wild.
Hundreds reacted and dozens commented on Brideau’s Monday morning post: “Not sure if Noah Gray’s family is in this group, but just wanted to share. Our little boy is pretending to be Noah Gray today, playing in the Super Bowl…in our living room #TheThingsDreamsAreMadeOf #InspiringANewGeneration.”
The mom of three said the morning of the Super Bowl LVII she overheard her youngest son, 6-year-old Donovan, playing out the football fantasy.
“I was sitting getting the day started and all of a sudden, I hear in a whispered voice, ‘Noah Gray catches the ball, it’s a touchdown! Noah Gray wins the Super Bowl!’,” she recalled. “It was Donny, our youngest throwing a small football around.”
When his older brother Lucas, 8, woke up, the two of them started playing football together.
“Both boys love everything sports,” said Brideau, who is also mom to daughter Reagan, 11. The boys’ play continued into the following days after #83 tight end Gray and his team the Kansas City Chiefs won the big game on Sunday.
“Later that day when Donny came home from school, they used chalk to draw their yard lines and were playing out there until dark,” Brideau said of the boys on Monday. “First thing [Tuesday] morning, they went outside and continued their game, coming up with different scenarios.”
The family, who have lived in the city since 2018, are not alone in being caught up in the Noah Gray fever that has swept the region. It seems everyone has been on board with sporting Kansas City red in honor of the Leominster High School Class of 2017 graduate, typically a no-go for Blue Devil nation.
LHS Athletic Director Dave Palazzi, who was the head football coach during Gray’s time playing ball on the high school team, happily donned crimson along with his wife Sherry and their two daughters, Meadow, 12, and Liliana, 9. Sherry posted the family picture to her Facebook page on Super Bowl Sunday ahead of the game with the caption “Never thought I would see the day Dave wore red. Great job Noah!!!!!!”
“THIS RED IS FOR YOU, NOAH! Go KC!,” she penned, and in a separate post referred to #84 as “a champion on and off the field.”
Dave quipped that he doesn’t usually wear that color and that he dug out a Red Sox shirt last Sunday.
“I don’t have a lot of red in the house,” he joked.
When asked how he feels about Gray not only making it to the NFL but playing in the Super Bowl and then winning it, Dave didn’t hesitate to say it’s all been “very exciting” to witness.
“He is such a great kid too, he was really a selfless high school student and worked with others and made people around him better,” Dave said, referring to the football player’s involvement with Best Buddies at LHS, a program where students mentor fellow students and young adults with disabilities.
Dave spent eight years as the head football coach at LHS before being promoted to athletic director in 2018. He said Gray was always determined and willing to put in the effort, which has paid off in a big way professionally.
“His quest was to really go to the next level, and he worked hard to get there,” Dave said of his former player. “I’m not surprised he made it but that’s not easy to do. What an accomplishment, people don’t attain that kind of success waking up. His determination and focus really worked out for him. Whatever time you put into something you are going to get out of it. That is what I look at with him having achieved his highest goal and my own everyday life.”
Dave said everyone at LHS is proud of the alumnus, including the teachers, staff, and students who had any part in “enabling him to make it” — and that that pride is felt way beyond the school.
“The city is proud and the whole community is really supporting him,” Dave said. “Everyone is really happy for Noah.”
Dave conveyed that a “good friend” who he played football with at UMass Amherst, Joe Cullen, is the Kansas City defensive line coach. He has been texting with Cullen following the exciting win and also “going back and forth” with Noah’s dad Jason Gray, whom he talks to occasionally.
“They are of course so proud,” Dave said of the Gray family, who were at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona to witness Kansas City trumping the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35. Gray’s personal cheering squad at the game included his parents, Meagan and Jason Gray, his wife Mary Gray, and his siblings Asher and Hannah.
When asked what it felt like to watch her son win the Super Bowl and the exhilarating aftermath, his mom said, “it’s been a wild adventure.”
“Nobody climbs Everest alone,” Mary Gray said on Thursday. “Noah has absolutely put in the work required to have earned his success and the opportunity to hold that trophy in his hands. He also knows he had an amazing community, friends and family who supported that climb. He’s a phenomenal athlete but he’s an even more remarkable human and we’re so lucky to be his parents with a front row seat.”
Mayor Dean Mazzarella also shared his thoughts on the football phenom on Thursday and said that he’s been a member of the Noah Gray fandom nation for years. He bought a Gray shirt “the next day after they picked him up,” denoting Gray being drafted by the Chiefs in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft following his success and LHS and playing football at Duke University.
“If you think of how many kids come out of our sports programs there’s some big talent but this is the dream of all dreams,” Mazzarella said of the now Super Bowl champion. “The dream to play college or semi-pro whatever sport it is, the dream to make it to the team, even the practice team, is a big deal. And then to play and then to actually play in the Super Bowl and then to have your team win, it is a dream upon a dream upon a dream.”
The mayor listed other “Leominster kids” who went on to play professional sports and talked about Gray being known as someone who enjoys giving back. Besides being a Best Buddies fixture as an LHS student, Gray has done multiple football camps with local youth during the summer at Doyle Field and Mazzarella said he plans to come back this year.
“He’s a good guy,” Mazzarella imparted. “He said ‘I can’t wait to get back, I can’t wait to give back doing the summer camps with the kids.’”
A giant banner hanging at City Hall reads “Super Bowl LVII Champions Congratulations To Noah Gray & The Kansas City Chiefs.” Mazzarella said that if Gray is available and willing, they’d be happy to put on a celebratory parade for him at some point.
“We contacted the front office before the game,” Mazzarella said. “If he does come out why not make a big deal out of it, it is a big deal.”
People would certainly be excited to have the opportunity to celebrate the hometown football star who gives so much of himself both on and off the field.
“It reflects back,” Mazzarella said of Gray’s altruistic nature and well-deserved success. “Every kid should go to bed at night thinking it’s possible to achieve your dreams.”