Like Father, Like Son on the Gridiron
When the Tufts football team plays at home, Dan Meade, A85, walks to Ellis Oval to watch his son, Tommy, play linebacker for the Jumbos.
It’s an experience that Dan, also a Jumbo linebacker, shared with his own father nearly 30 years ago. Dan lives in the house in which he grew up, near Ball Square in Somerville, and Tufts is right around the corner.
The bond the family shares through Tufts football was already strong. This season, it grew even deeper. At one of the first preseason meetings, his teammates voted Tommy Meade, A15, a Jumbo tri-captain—an honor his father earned for his senior-year season. They are believed to be the first father-son tandem to captain the team in the 138-year history of Tufts football.
“It’s a dream come true right now,” Tommy Meade says.
Dan Meade, now an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, was one of the leading scorers in the state as a running back at St. Clement School in Medford. He prepped for a year at Worcester Academy, where he played with current Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. Mike Sherman, who would eventually become head coach of the Green Bay Packers, was the offensive line coach at the academy.
At Tufts, Dan says his election as a captain was surprising. He had injured his knee in the last game of the previous season and was questionable to play as a senior. Though he was a three-year starter and Tufts had a winning record each season, Dan’s fondest memories are of the friendships he forged with teammates.
The son learned well the lessons of the father. Dan coached Tommy in youth sports, setting early expectations of team play and maximum effort. “Tommy was one of the bigger kids, and because of that, we had him play on the line instead of linebacker,” Dan says. “He played for the benefit of the team, not as an individual. He never had a problem with it.”
At Malden Catholic High School, Tommy was hampered by a nagging shoulder injury. He dislocated it during the first scrimmage of his freshman season, and the surgery to repair it caused him to miss the year. After a healthy sophomore season playing special teams, he was ready to make his mark at linebacker as a junior. However, the shoulder came out again at the first practice, and another season was lost to surgery.
Twice in three years he had put in countless hours of work during the off-season, only to have both seasons end before they started. His father made sure the frustration did not get the best of him.
“He kept me focused, kept reassuring me that it would all pay off,” Tommy says. “He kept me going when I probably wouldn’t have without him. I never really thought about giving up [football], and it probably had a lot to do with him. He never would have let that thought get into my head.”
Tommy was a Catholic Conference all-star as a high school senior, but there were still obstacles to overcome. Because of the shoulder injury, he didn’t have a recruiting tape to send out to college coaches. Bill Samko, head coach of Tufts at the time, had been an assistant coach of the Jumbos when Dan played. They forged a friendship that continues to this day, and Samko recruited Tommy, despite never seeing him play.
The Jumbo football coaching transition between the 2010 and 2011 seasons complicated things. Tommy was deferred on early decision, and to be safe he visited other schools. Some of his high school teammates were going to Bates, a Tufts opponent in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC). His father wasn’t having any of that.
“He made me realize why Tufts would be a great choice,” Tommy says. “He didn’t have to say much, because my heart was already set on Tufts. Everything I’ve done has kind of followed in his footsteps. He’s been my role model. I always wanted to come here and play, because he came here, he had success here, and he loved the school.”
The new head coach, Jay Civetti, had a spot for Tommy. A 6-foot, 2-inch 230-pounder, he developed into a team leader. With 68 tackles in the 2012 season, Tommy was first on the Jumbos and sixth in NESCAC.
“Tommy has tremendous value to us defensively through both his performance and leadership,” notes Tufts defensive coordinator Kevin Farr. “He leads by example with his excellent work ethic and is constantly challenging the unit to meet expectations. He plays extremely hard and expects everyone else to do the same.”
After learning that he had been elected captain, Tommy sent a quick text message to his father. Within minutes his phone was blowing up with congratulatory replies. “He must have sent out a mass text to his whole phone book,” Tommy says.
Good-natured competitiveness defines their father-son bond, and this fall Tommy got the edge. “I always want him to beat me in everything, even though I don’t tell him that,” Dan Meade says. “I got into Tufts; he got into Tufts. The one thing I had on him was that I was captain of the football team. Then he went and got it junior year.
“Being named a captain shows that he’s respected by the team. The other players see the effort that he puts in and the attitude that he brings with him.”
“I just want us to have the most physical defense in NESCAC,” Tommy says. “Be the most physical team and everything else follows. That comes from setting the tone in practice and doing all the right things during the week.” Spoken like a true captain.
Next up for the Jumbos is the Homecoming game on Oct. 12, when they meet Trinity College at Ellis Oval. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m.
Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.