WILMINGTON — When you try to tell the story about Wilmington High School senior football captain Dean Nally, it's nearly impossible to decide which direction to go into.
Do you start with the fact that as a student, he has battled from severe dyslexia ever since he was little, can't read a menu at a restaurant, yet is interesting in colleges like WPI, RPI and possibly MIT?
Do you go with the fact that early in last year's Thanksgiving Day game against Tewksbury held in brutally cold temperatures — while the 'Cats were getting pummeled physically and on the scoreboard — Nally suffered a broken collarbone, yet continued to pop it back in, just so he could go back and line up against the same team that his father and grandfather did during their heydays?
Or do you go with the fact that this enormous kid, who stands at a whopping 6-0, 250 pounds, can bench press 370 pounds?
When you see Nally at a Wildcats' practice standing next to one of his teammates, it's like Andre The Giant standing next to Billy Crystal from the ‘Princess Bride’ movie.
Or do you go with the fact, that this extremely dedicated, passionate player, who excels in football and the throwing events in track-and-field, as well as in the classroom with 1400 SAT scores, 30 ACT score, a 3.75 GPA and ranks in the top 30 of his senior class, is a quiet leader, who just loves the gridiron, and of course "to hit people."
"Ever since I came here, he's one of my favorite kids," said head coach Craig Turner. "You walk in and see this big kid lifting weights with (former captain) Tyler Roberts and right away it's 'oh I like this guy'. Dean's a big, strong kid. He's the type of kid who if he misses a week to go on a family vacation, he'll get a gym membership for a week, just so he can continue to lift. He comes from a really good family."
Dean's Family has been involved in sports for a long time. His grandfather Bernie played football at WHS and graduated in 1958. Dean’s father Pat was a two-way player at fullback and middle linebacker, serving as a captain in 1987 before moving on to play at Westfield State College.
Besides the three generations of football players, Dean's sister Rachel is an extremely talented gymnast "and the real athlete of the family," said Dean, and is now a member of the WHS Cheerleading team, following her Mom Christine’s footsteps, as she was a cheerleader and also competed on the track team during her high school days.
But it was Dean's entire family who were all on-hand and watched him pour everything he had into every play of a 43-0 Turkey Day game all with a broken left collarbone.
"That Thanksgiving Day game was tough and even the year before when we were good, (Tewksbury) beat us (handily)," said Dean. "My whole family has played against Tewksbury. My grandfather played and my Dad played. It just means so much to all of us.”
Dean then couldn’t help himself to poke fun of his grandfather’s playing days.
“I found my grandfather's yearbook and I think he had a leather cap on and a Wilmington jersey. I don't think he had a facemask,” he said with a big laugh. “It's really cool to look back at their careers. They all come to my games and we all talk about football and it's really cool."
But what wasn't cool, was the pain Dean felt on that day .. and not just the pain of what the scoreboard read.
"I tore my shoulder," he said. "It happened on one of the first plays of the game and then I ended up playing the rest of the game. I kept shoving (my collarbone) back in (to the socket) and I just kept making it worse and worse. I missed the whole winter season and I missed the beginning of spring track as well. It's been hard rehabbing to get back, but I feel great right now."
Dean added that he knew that he did something to his shoulder at the moment, but knew very well that he was not coming out of the game, no matter if the scoreboard read 243-0.
"I had no idea I was doing more damage," he said. "I knew that it was out, but I didn't know by how much. I put it back in a bunch of times that day, but there's only a few times in your life that you get to play against Tewksbury. I want to play in all of those games. I was in lots of pain but I knew that it was the last game of the season and I could heal after that."
After that loss and some turkey and gravy, Nally ended up having surgery. He had previously played ice hockey and was thinking about joining the wrestling team, but the doctor’s knife ended those thoughts. From there, it was a lot of time spent rehabbing.
"He's a tough kid," said Turner. "He had surgery on his shoulder and that set him back a bit in the off-season, but he really made up for that time. He is benching 370 (pounds) right now. He's just such a big, strong kid."
Forced to sit out the winter athletic season, Nally was chomping at the bit to get back into a physical activity — he couldn't play contact sports just yet, so like he did very other off-season, he hit the weight room but this time he had a lot of restrictions.
"My Mom and Dad do absolutely everything to help me," he said. "I was in the gym all of the time and they were helping me out with that. I couldn't move plates, so my Dad bought me a bar that went over my neck so I could still squat. So they helped me put on plates, they helped me financially have a bar and they let me keep training for the season."
And while he spent hours and hours in the weight room during the cold winter months, he also spent countless hours keeping up with his schoolwork, despite his everyday struggle of being dyslexic.
"I can't read at all so I have to use a laptop that has software to read to me so all of my teachers have to send me my stuff online," he said. "(My GPA and test scores) are all because of my teachers, who are all willing to send me my stuff online so I'm able to listen to it. I can't read a menu. If I go out to dinner, I can't read the menu.
“When I was little, everyone else learned how to read and I just didn't get it. It was a confidence problem when I was little, but it's clearly not a confidence problem now."
And he also has full confidence on the football field that he can do his job as a two-way linemen, and his teammates can do their jobs and help the team improve from the 3-8 record from a year ago.
"I'm really excited for this season," said Nally. "We have a lot of young kids and so far this season, they have all been unbelievable. All summer they were lifting (weights) every morning when I was here and they were working very, very hard. I think our offensive line this year is going to be very good. We are bringing back me, Pat McAndrew and AJ O'Brien and then the two younger kids are Jack Malloy and Jake Chirichiello. Those are the two of the younger kids who have impressed me the most."
Impressed is how Coach Turner has felt about Nally since day one, and since the day that he told him he was switching his defensive position.
"We are moving Dean back down to the defensive line at tackle," said Turner. "I mean, I asked him to put on weight during the off-season, and wow, he took it seriously. He put on about thirty-five pounds. He's bigger and stronger than ever and I keep telling him that he's eating himself into becoming an offensive linemen in college and he says, 'good, I love it'. He's just a man after my own heart. He's just been a force out there.
"We really think that he's going to be a kid who plays at a high level in college, too. He has some good interest in some Division 2 schools from within the area. He's a great student. The NESCAC Schools, MIT, WPI, schools like that are the ones he is interested. With his high test scores, all of those schools are in his wheelhouse. He will be a really good player for someone.
“As a senior and a captain this year, he's just been awesome. He leads the way physically everyday. He's not a big guy in terms of barking at kids, but he's one of those kids who if he says something, it gets your attention. We are very excited to see what he can do this year."
This is Dean's final year of playing for the Wildcats and when he was asked about summarizing the upcoming football season, he got his point across, but as calm as ever.
"I'm just really excited for this season. We have all worked very hard in the off-season to not go 3-8 again. Last year was embarrassing. I think we have all worked very hard to make sure that doesn't happen again,” he said.