Coming into his first season at the helm of the Fitchburg High football program, head coach Paul DiGeronimo knew what he was getting into.
Numbers weren’t what they once were, experience was lacking and losses were lined up in bulk. Still, DiGeronimo’s goal wasn’t to immediately come away with a winning season.
His sights were set on bigger things.
Building a culture in the Crocker Field fieldhouse built around hard work, accountability and doing things the right way, both on and off the field. Set the right tone and go about things the right, he believes, and wins would eventually come.
Season 1 of the Red Raider re-tooling is nearly complete and while FHS is still searching for its first win under DiGeronimo, he’s seen the progress he hoped for.
“It’s been a tough season, but we see the strides this team is making,” DiGeromino said Friday as his team prepares for its Thanksgiving Eve matchup with Leominster High at Fenway Park. “This team has taken some big steps since Aug. 18. The attitudes have been good and the kids are putting in the work.
“Everybody wants to win, but there are steps to take to make sure we’re building a program.”
Throughout an 0-10 season, there have been the drubbings at the hands of tough opponents, but there have been close losses, too; the kinds of defeats that have positive moments from which lessons can be learned.
The Red Raiders hung tough with Nashoba Regional in a 19-12 defeat on Oct. 20 and led throughout a Nov. 3 tilt against Groton-Dunstable before coming up just short in a 16-12 loss.
Seniors Devanni Deleon, Lukas Beaulac and Nyle Sim have all been strong players on the field, leading a young and inexperienced group by example.
“We have a lot of young kids who in their wildest dreams didn’t expect to be playing varsity football this fall,” DiGeronimo said. “The grade doesn’t matter to me. If you’re a freshman or sophomore who can play, you’re playing. We’re thrown a few kids in the fire and some have played well, while others are still learning.
“There have been games that have led to a certain level of frustration for us, but the kids are doing their best. They keep plugging away.”
Their most recent contest saw the Red Raiders fall to Assabet, 41-14, on Nov. 9. DiGeronimo says things never got moving in that game, but rather than let his team hang their heads over it, Fitchburg got right back to work.
“A lot of teams will take extra days off leading up to Thanksgiving, but I thought it would be better for our guys to get back to work,” the coach said. :We were back on the field, back learning and working on things.
“We’ve won a lot of little battles this season. Just being in school, being ready to go when we get on the field. … We’re working on becoming a better football team every day.”
Win or lose on Wednesday, this group of Red Raiders will play on a stage grander than any group that has come before them. And the chance to play at Fenway Park won’t likely present itself again any time soon.
“It’s a great opportunity for the kids,” DiGeronimo said. “And it’s Thanksgiving football. This is what it’s all about.”