-By Cary Shuman
If there were one player that symbolizes all the glory and accomplishment of the Winthrop High School football program over the past two decades, Matt Murray, soon-to-be Tufts University graduate Matt Murray, would be an ideal choice.
Murray played three seasons in the WHS program led by head coach Tony Fucillo, following his brothers, Joey (Colby) and Dennis (Stonehill) onto the gridiron. He was a captain, an All-Scholastic, an outstanding student-athlete, and ultimately a Super Bowl champion in 2006. Murray scored two touchdowns and was a defensive force in that memorable win over Wareham.
When Matt Murray was asked this week what his best memory was of that undefeated season, you might have expected him to say, “scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl.”
But Murray has always put the team first and this was no exception. “Holding up that trophy on the field with everyone was just an amazing feeling and realizing that all our hard work definitely paid off,” Murray responded. “We had been playing football together as a group since third grade and our fathers were the coaches so it was really special.”
Indeed. For those Winthrop supporters who were at Stonehill College, the roar of the crowd when Murray and his teammates hoisted the state championship trophy still resonates. That moment was both electrifying and thrilling, even for those of us who were there to report on the game.
“For some reason, that game is the one I remember the most of all,” said long-time reporter David O’Connor, who sat it the Stonehill College press box that day. “Maybe it was the fact that I watched these kids lose a heartbreaker to Natick in the playoffs the year before or I knew in my heart it could be coach Tony Fucillo’s last game. I was on the field when the Winthrop kids held up the trophy and the crowd roared and the whole scene was simply breathtaking.”
Four-and-half-years after that pulsating victory, Murray is getting ready to receive his Bachelor’s degree in Economics (with a Minor in Entrepreneurial Business) from Tufts, a top-20 academic institution brimming with prestige and successful alumni. He will begin work at a commercial real estate firm in Boston following his graduation.
Murray played four years of football at Tufts, three as a starter, finishing as the Jumbos’ leading tackler the past two seasons. Through a twist of fate, Murray had the opportunity to reunite with his former Winthrop teammate, Anthony Fucillo, who became the starting quarterback at Tufts after transferring from Colgate, and his former coach, Tony Fucillo, who later joined the Tufts staff as the receivers coach.
Murray said Tony Fucillo, who will be inducted into the Massachusetts State Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Saturday, prepared him well for playing college football.
“You couldn’t have asked for anything more from a coach,” said Murray. “Coming out of Winthrop, I think it’s pretty well known that coach Fucillo is the best. When I left high school, I knew how to break down film, the proper weightlifting techniques, and had a very high level of football knowledge just because of coach Fucillo.
“Coach Fucillo teaches you, which is the most important thing. He doesn’t tell you what to do. He teaches you why and how, which I think is the most important thing,” said Murray.
Murray is remembered most for his spectacular football career at Winthrop High, garnering a slew of awards including Lynn Item Defensive Player of the Year Globe and Herald All-Scholastic honors, and All-State “Super 26” team recognition. But he also played two years of baseball and was a Viking basketball captain, his teams’ bids for a state championship twice thwarted by Ipswich inside a raucous, sold-out Ipswich High gym known as the Tiger Den.
“I followed this year’s [state champion] basketball team and I talked to coach David Brown a few times and it seemed like it was a great journey, that they overcame a lot to get there,” said Murray.
Looking back at his four years at Tufts, he knows he picked the right school.
“It was great. It was very similar to Winthrop High and that was one of the reasons I came here,” said Murray. “The type of people at this college are similar to my friends from Winthrop. Everyone in the football program were great guys. I have made a lot of great friends that I will be in touch with the rest of my life.”
And his academic and athletic achievements at Tufts can be traced back to his three years at Winthrop High School following his freshman-year decision to transfer from Bishop Fenwick High School.
“Coach Fucillo always told us that number one you have to do your academics and number two you have to do your athletics,” said Murray. “Without academics, you’re not going to get into any school. And I think that’s what really helped me: when coach Fucillo sat me down when I first came to Winthrop and told me that I had a great chance to go to a great school and what I have to do – do well in the classroom first and do well in athletics after and I think I really took that to heart.
“He told the same things to my brothers, so I think it got passed down through the years,” said Murray. “If anyone deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, it’s definitely coach Fucillo. He is what high school football is all about. Everyone across the state knows who coach Fucillo is and everyone knows how great of a guy he is and that he’s an unbelievable football coach.”
Murray said Winthrop kids are given a foundation to excel through the town’s academic and athletic programs.
“I think the entire Winthrop High School experience definitely helped me succeed at Tufts,” said Murray. “Whether it was on the athletic field or in the classroom I was challenged by everyone. It’s a great feeling knowing that all my friends are doing well, not just Anthony and I at Tufts, but every one of my friends from Winthrop and that’s just a tribute to Winthrop High teachers and coaches and the environment created by the group of kids at Winthrop High School.”
Dennis and Gina Murray will be at the Tufts commencement ceremonies next month just as they have been there for every one of their son Matt’s milestones – including that unforgettable afternoon he held up the trophy at the end of the Super Bowl.