TEWKSBURY/WILMINGTON – After their first game of the season, Billerica head coach Duane Sigsbury raved about the big guy on Wilmington's offensive line, No. 74.
Number 74 is senior captain Pat McAndrew, and strangely enough, several weeks after that game, he wasn’t necessarily the biggest guy on the field anymore.
Before the season started, the three-year starting left tackle came in at 6-foot-3, 285 pounds. But about three to four weeks ago, he was down about 30 pounds from that weight.
"Pat had a tough injury earlier this year," said head coach Craig Turner. "He ended up losing about thirty pounds after getting a concussion. After that happened, he didn't eat much and didn't have much of an appetite.
“Earlier, this past summer, he worked really hard in the weight room and put on all kinds of weight and good weight too, but lost a lot of that after that injury. He's had a tough time coming back since, but I think he's been playing pretty well these last three weeks."
In Wilmington's third game of the season against Division 6 North Sectional Champion Bishop Fenwick, McAndrew said that when the teams broke for the halftime break, he knew he couldn't come back onto the field.
"I went into (the locker room) at halftime and I was just out of it so they took me out of the game," he recalled. "I went to the (Emergency Room) that night and they kept me for observation for four hours to see if I had a brain bleed and I didn't. They sent me home and told me to see my pediatrician and I did and was told that I had to sit out for a week, so no school and no football. I sat in dark rooms, glasses on, no TV, lots of water and lots of sleep. I was just really out of it. I went to school one day after the doctor's appointment and I couldn't do anything and the lights really hurt me.
"I stopped playing football during that time so I lost a lot of muscle. It was about eleven days without playing and I wasn't really eating much. My appetite went down and the doctors told me that I would have weight loss and it was common (after a concussion). When I came back, I started to hit the weights again and ever since then everything has been fine. I feel fine, the doctors cleared me and my appetite came back real quick."
Now healthy, McAndrew will continue to play on both sides of the ball come Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day Game with Tewksbury, left tackle on offense and at nose guard on defense. He serves as one of the team's four captains, but he along with fellow captain Bailey Smith, are three-year starters.
"Pat started at left tackle as a sophomore. He was probably the best lineman of that group as a sophomore," said Turner. "He's a really good kid and he's a tough kid. He's a really reliable kid. He's probably the most vocal of the captains that we have in terms of holding the kids accountable and making sure they are doing the right things.
"He played a little bit of defense last year and this year he has pretty much been a stalwart for us at noseguard. He's a big body and just plays really hard."
McAndrew broke in with the team during that magical 2017 season. The Wildcats ended up making program history, winning the first playoff game against Gloucester, before losing in the semi-finals to Marblehead.
"It was pretty awesome (being a part of that team),” he said. “I didn't know anybody and then I saw all of these great players around me and I had no idea of what was going on," he said. "It was almost overwhelming. That team was just so good and I just loved it. I absolutely loved being a part of it but then I got hurt."
Turner said he remembers when ‘The Big Guy’ went down with a season ending injury.
"Unfortunately during that season, Pat tore some ligaments in his knee," said Turner. "I believe it was after the Wakefield game and he was out for the rest of the year after that. That was tough for him not to be a part of such a successful season."
McAndrew tore his meniscus, had surgery on his right knee and spent nine months to rehabilitate.
"It was hard and sometimes it was more challenging than playing football just with all of the stuff that they had me do just on my right leg," he said. "It was really hard but all worth it. My leg was so small when I got out of surgery."
McAndrew was able to come back from that injury fully healthy and play every game last year, including the tough game on Thanksgiving, a 43-0 loss to Tewksbury.
"I learned a lot about their character (the last two years)," he said of the Redmen. "Whether they have the Super Bowl the next game, whether they are undefeated or no matter what the circumstances are, their starters will play the whole game and play as hard as they can."
And McAndrew and the rest of the Wildcats know that won't be any different come Thursday morning at Doucette Field when the teams meet for the 86th time.
"I've only seen them on film," he said. "They play really hard so we're going to have to match it. They have a lot of good players. More than anything, we're going to play physical because I see wherever their offensive and defensive line go, they go."
He added that in order to even compete with the three-time sectional champions, Wilmington will have to start by matching Tewksbury's intensity and overall physical play.
"I think things are going very well this week for us," he said. "We have been very physical here at practice with our scout offense and our starting defense and then the other way around. We're being very physical here at practice all week and I think it's going to show against Tewksbury. You can tell because earlier in the year, if we dragged in practice, we then dragged in games."
The last time Wilmington beat Tewksbury was 2009. Since then it's been nine straight losses, which includes the 2013 and '14 seasons when McAndrew's half-brother Andrew Lesperance suited up for the 'Cats as a linebacker.
"Everything I did, I really modeled after him," said McAndrew, while adding that his half sister Mary Lesperance was also a former WHS Volleyball player. "Whatever he did on the football field, I tried to do on the football field. Whatever he did at home, I tried to do at home and I just really tried to follow in his footsteps."
Thursday will also mark the last football game that McAndrew competes in. He is looking to go to college to maybe become a defensive attorney, or study history, and has no intentions as of now to put the pads on past this game. He wants to finish his career off knowing that he bled Blue and White for every second, minute, inch and yard.
"I'm going to give it everything I have and make sure that I leave nothing on the field," he said. "I don't want to leave the field and next week be thinking that I could have done this or that on this play or that play. Just no regret and all that I have."
He added that when it comes to maximizing effort for this one final game, he won't be alone.
"We never give up," he said about his teammates. "More than anything, we go until the very last play and we always give it everything that we have. It's really great to see so many people just making really great effort plays.”