Time Traveling With Assabet Valley Aztecs And Marlboro Shamrocks Kicker Pat Caruso
When my friend was a junior high running back, I asked him who the quarterback was and he said, "Pat Caruso."
I hadn't heard of him, but I asked my friend if he was any good. I don't remember the answer, but it was not negative. So, that was my first inkling that Pat Caruso was at least pretty good.
A few years later, another friend was at Assabet Valley Regional Technical Vocational School and talked highly of one of his friends there. The friend's name: Pat Caruso, who I would see in write-ups in the Marlboro Enterprise as the Aztecs' starting quarterback and kicker.
Later on, in my early 20s during the weekend party days around Marlboro and Hudson -- at places like Souvenirs and The Gathering and Ambience and of course Sully's -- I got to know Caruso a bit -- and he was, as advertised, super nice. While downing (or nursing, if you prefer) Budweiser tall bottles, we would talk about those aforementioned mutual friends -- Dave Lively and Bob McMahon -- as well as the football scene in the area.
It was a natural for Pat Caruso and I to become Facebook friends in the early 2010s. I was happy to see that the "kid" was still at it, kicking and punting footballs in semi-pro football.
Pat Caruso, right, with brother Daniel after the Marlboro Shamrocks won a league title in 2019. (Image credit: Pat Caruso's Facebook page).
Even better, Caruso was posting photos of himself getting put to the ground by gigantic defensive linemen.
Within the last few weeks, Caruso several times posted that he's been working out. It's nothing super special for a 58-year-old to be working out, but the reason behind his activity is not common.
Caruso -- yes!!! -- is still a kicker in semi-pro football, and he's likely to be there if and when the Marlboro Shamrocks resume play in 2021. He's in his second, very rewarding stint with the Shamrocks, with a ring from their 2019 national championship.
Working In Plastics (There's That Word From "The Graduate")
Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) in the 1967 movie "The Graduate" was encouraged to go into plastics, and that word served as a metaphor for a certain old-school sensibility at the time of a burgeoning youth culture.
Benjamin, however, didn't go into plastics, but our Mr. Caruso did -- at Polymershapes in Tyngsboro.
"I've been a very busy man for the last year," Caruso said in a phone conversation last week with BedrockSportsHawaii.com. "I work in logistics for the company that sells sheet plastics for coronavirus guards (masks). We've sold so much you wouldn't believe it. Unfortunately, we didn't have a (football) season, so it was blessing to be busy with that seven days a week."
Pat Caruso doing the place-kicking for the Shamrocks during the 2019 season. (Image credit: From Pat Caruso's Facebook page).
From Assabet To The Shamrocks To The Big Lull
The very first football game I covered as a budding journalist was at Assabet Valley in 1981. It was two seasons after Caruso graduated. But I got to know Aztecs coach Jerry Pastner, so when I would run into Caruso at bars, we had that much more in common to talk about.
Right out of high school, Caruso hooked up with the Shamrocks for his first stint with the EFL powerhouse team -- from 1980 to 1989. I watched him kick while covering the team.
Caruso got married and had children and was out of football for 17 years. But after a divorce, he was looking for something to do in 2007.
"A friend, Jim Murray, a 6-4 dude, said his father was coaching a team in Leominster and asked if I wanted to come out," Caruso said. "I was like, 'Hello dude.' I hadn't even kicked a football in 17 years.
"So I went down to Morgan Bowl (in Hudson) and kicked a few. Afterward it felt like I got shot in the quad. Not a good idea. I felt better after two weeks, but I ended up playing few games for the Leominster Razorbacks.
From there, Caruso moved on to the MetroWest Colonials for four or five years, and then the Central Mass. (Leominster) Sabercats, the rebranded MetroWest Warriors, and the Southern New Hampshire Beavers before joining the Warriors again.
"Two years ago (the 2019 season), the Shamrocks (out of action since 2006) were coming back and they called for me to help with the organization (not playing)," Caruso said. "I was ready to do anything they wanted except to sign up sponsors. But then the special teams coach said, 'You're signing up (to kick), right?' I hesitated and he said, 'You are now.'
"In semi-pro ball, not every team has kickers. I enjoyed being around the teams that were new. I made so many relationships the second time around, the last 13 years. It was such a long time in between, but it's been such a huge part of my life."
Max Pedinoff, a newly graduated kicker from the University of New Hampshire, was also with the Shamrocks for the 2019 season.
"Max is a nice kid," Caruso said. "He and the team (gave me the indication that) 'we still want you here.' Up until a few years ago, I had still been still kicking off and punting and getting rocked (by opponents), but now I was doing short field goals and extra points. I was very fortunate to come back and be part of the league and national championships (in January 2020) before it all (COVID-19) went down."
Will Keep Kicking, As Long As He Can Still Do It
The Shamrocks have won 18 league championships and, according to MainStreetJournal.com, 13 national championships (seven U.S. Football Association, four Minor League Football News, and two American Football Association titles).
However, all of those previous national titles came without Pat Caruso on the roster. The latest was Caruso's first.
"Bob Kays (Shamrocks owner) moved the Worcester Fury to Marlboro (in 2019) and brought back (renamed) the Shamrocks," Caruso said. "They asked a few us, including my good friend (and former defensive lineman) Larry Heindl, to come to a meeting for input on doing it the right way (the Shamrocks way). We sold 1,000 T-shirts in a month. We had good crowds. It was amazing.
"People are asking me if I'm going to play another season. They're always asking me to kick. I will continue to kick as long as I can do it."
It All Started with the Marlboro Junior High Trojans
Caruso's first team was the Marlboro Junior High Trojans, coached by his teacher Richard King.
"That's where it all started," he said. "I didn't play Pop Warner. Back then in the 1970s, there weren't too many kickers at that age, but I had been in the punt, pass and kick competitions.
"Doc (our mutual friend Dave Lively) was a beast. He was unbelievable."
Author's side note: Dave had a growth and strength spurt at that junior high age, so he became increasingly hard to tackle in neighborhood games despite the fact that he was two years younger than me. I figured if I could barely tackle him, his classmates couldn't at all. So, I remember saying it to him while standing on the sidewalk under the street light in front of my house: "Do they tackle you in practice or do they push you out of bounds? Who can tackle you? N0body can tackle you.'
Caruso remembers some of his Trojans teammates were John Geagan and Paul Carver. They would play against the Marlboro Jr. Shamrocks, and Caruso recalls some of their players like Scott Corner, Steve Arcabascio and Michael Garceau.
"They were always a little better than us," Caruso added.
Growing up on Nashoba Drive, Caruso went to West School (now Richer Elementary) and was pals with Doug Dodge, Steve Dodge, Joe Holm, Kevin Snow (eventually a kicker for Boston College in the Flutie years), and Jim Lambert. He has remained friends with all of them as well as Assabet teammate Arcabascio and Shamrocks teammates Heindl, Murray and George Richardson.
In youth baseball, Caruso played for Mauna Kai, and in Pony League he was on the Knights of Columbus with Ralph Grasso (eventual Hudson Catholic basketball star) and brother Joey Grasso (eventual Marlboro High football and baseball star).
In high school, Caruso was a starting quarterback, kicker and punter for the Aztecs for three years.
The Marlboro Enterprise covered the 1979 game, when Assabet clinched at least a share of the league championship with a win over Nashoba Valley. (Image credit: Steve Jusseaume, from Pat Caruso's Facebook page).
"I was never in better shape than when I played for Jerry Pastner," he said. "He was a tough, tough coach. He worked us hard in double sessions. Marlboro was kind of known as the place to go and I missed playing with my friends and I really missed not being able to play in those Thanksgiving Day games against Hudson."
As a sophomore, Caruso kicked a 38-yard field goal at the end of the game to beat Whittier Voke. The Aztecs also won the league title when Caruso was a senior.
Not A Starter Right Away With Shamrocks
It took Caruso a few years to earn the starting job as a kicker and punter with the Shamrocks.
"That first year I kicked a game-winning field goal against Hyde Park and that put me in pretty good with all the veterans," he said. "Here I was an 18-year-old just out of high school playing with a bunch of crazy men."
Caruso was part of the Shamrocks' fiveEastern Football League championships during the 1980s and one last season.
Among the (not crazy or crazy) men Caruso played with were Heindl, Billy "Willie White Shoes" LaFreniere, Dennis Kelly and Paul Scopetski -- among many, many, many other legendary Shamrocks figures.
"Billy to me is the best semi-pro player I ever saw out of all these years," Caruso said. "He was just so good. It was a pleasure playing with him, believe me. He was fun to watch as a punt returner, kick returner and receiver. One year, he had 1,000 rushing yards (running out of the old Wing-T). He was phenomenal and everybody knew it was coming. He had like 4.3 speed."
LaFreniere was a replacement player for the New England Patriots in the 1987 strike-shortened season.
Heindl was an immense presence on those Shamrocks teams.
"Larry was a real character and a great football player," Caruso said. "He was never in the best shape, just a great player. At one point, he was the all-time leader in sacks in semi-pro history. He played 20 years -- all the way up until the team folded, and by then he was playing center and offensive line too.
"He was always good for a 15-yarder (penalty) a game. Dennis the Menace. Michief. Everybody loved him. Other teams hated him. And he used to look like the Boz (famous star from the 1980s, Brian Bosworth). In national games (playoffs), he used to run down these dudes (great offensive players) from behind."
Scopetski, also a long-time owner of the Spare Time Shop in Marlboro, still busts Caruso's chops about it being a bit easier for a kicker than a lineman to last so long in football.
"He played on the line until 65," Caruso said about Scopetski. "By that time, he couldn't move, but once he got his mitts on you ... . He was strong, strong. He's been out in Nevada for a couple of years. He was smart, football-wise. At Holy Cross, he played against Syracuse and Larry Csonka and was in the Cleveland Browns camp."
According to Caruso, Kelly was playing strong safety for the Shamrocks until age 44.
"Dennis was my teacher in junior high, and by that time (age 44), it was all on brains," Caruso said. "He kind of took care of me when I was first on the Shamrocks."
Both Caruso and I remember seeing Kelly at Sully's after games, when he ALWAYS had a towel around his neck.
One of Caruso's fondest memories was playing a game in Ireland in 1986.
"We were rock stars over there, the first American team to play in Ireland," he said. "Everywhere we went, we were the big dudes from America. I don't think we were sober at any point. The game was played at 10 a.m., Thanksgiving morning. Most of us got in (from the night before) at around 8. We were all over the national papers and we went to see the U.S. ambassador. (Radio station) WSRO broadcast the game back to the states."
Another of his proudest moments is being inducted into Assabet Valley's sports Hall of Fame in 2018. There's one thing he's most proud of -- kids Rachel and Joey, who are in their 20s. Caruso's girlfriend, Deb Harper, was the holder for Caruso's kicks in photographs for a 2019 story that ran in the MetroWest Daily News.
Pat Caruso with daughter Rachel and son Joey.
And One TD Pass To Boot
One time early in his Shamrocks career, head coach Dennis Pierozzi (former Hudson Catholic coach) asked Caruso to play backup quarterback.
"I went 5-for-13 with one pick and one TD," he said. "The guys, though, would cringe. I am 5-6 and we were playing against some pretty big guys."
Bill Grasso, the assistant coach and father of defensive end Billy Grasso, was a big influence on Caruso as well.
"By my third year, he said, 'You're my kicker,' " Caruso added. "He put all his faith in me."
Still Passionate About The Game
One of Caruso's keepsakes is his Shamrocks helmet that is 41 years old.
"I still have passion about winning a football game," he said, "It's that love of the game cliche. I'm hoarse from yelling and screaming."
Caruso is there, listed on the Shamrocks' roster for the summer 2021 season. He'll turn 59 in April.
"I'm down about 25 pounds (from 205 to 181) and hoping to lose another 20," he said. "I'm ready to roll, although it probably would be smart to end my career the way last season ended with the national championship. But the OC said, 'You're coming back.' I said, 'Do you want me back? You've got this other kicker. You want a 60-year-old kicking field goals?' I agreed to play and he said, 'You miss one and you're going to be gone. No pressure." ------- ALSO AT BEDROCKSPORTSMARLBORO.COM: Liam Shanahan Of Marlboro, Ivy and LSU Football Stock -- Could Hit The Long Ball, Too -------