In the city of Gloucester, home to one of America's oldest seaports, tradition is everything. So it's no surprise that a program as storied as the Fishermen's is as fully embraced as it is. And perhaps few kids on this year's team can tell you about tradition as good as Chris Unis, the latest in a long lineage of Fishermen to put on the maroon jersey. Most vividly remember his brother Jim as one of the greatest ever, a 6-foot-5 defensive end who was a Parade All-American and played at Boston College before injuries ended his career.
Chris is just fine with carving his own niche with the defending Division 1A Super Bowl champs. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he's served masterfully as a tight end and defensive end, one of several key cogs on a defense that has suffocated opponents in the Northeastern Conference. Last Friday against Lynn English, holding on to a 19-17 halftime lead, Unis and Co. caught second wind and allowed just two scores the rest of the way against the run-and-gun Bulldogs, winning 50-29 to extend their winning streak to 21 games. The game also produced a career night for senior running back Jordan Shairs, who ran for 247 yards and a school-record six touchdowns.
Unis sat down with ESPNBoston.com Monday afternoon to talk about the program's tradition, the Unis legacy, and where to be seen around this uniquely lively city.
Q: You've probably heard this a ton. But, with your brother Jim and the legacy he left here, it's hard to ignore. You walk by the coach's office and his Parade All-American plaque from 2002 still hangs there. What is your reaction to all the comparisons?
A: "There were alot of comparisons at the beginning. But once you get in there and they realize you're a completely different player...he did his thing, he went to BC and we're different players, but I like that. It pushes me to be better, I like that he set such a high bar for me to, you know, the standard that I play at. It pushes me and keeps me driving."
Q: How motivated have you been by the tradition here at Gloucester these last 10, 15 years or so?
A: "I mean, that's it right there. At the end of the day, you're pushing just to keep it up. The pride; my uncle, my grandfather; this whole city, you walk around town and they're saying 'Great game, Chris', or 'You guys are awesome', that's what you kinda play for. You also want to play for yourself, but for everybody else, too, because they get alot of pride from us."
Q: Does it make it that much more fun, too?
A: "Oh yeah, it's awesome. You see everyone after the game, they're all saying 'great job' and how proud they are, it's just the whole city comes together. It's fun."
Q: What kind of goals did you set for yourself in the preseason, and how do they look right now?
A: "The goals so far, you know, of course in terms of team-wise it's get my team in good shape, build that team bonding and go to the playoffs and Super Bowl, for the team. And then personally, I was trying to get a scholarship to play football at the next level, working out, going to those one-day camps at the colleges and stuff. So far, I've still got to send my highlight tape out to a couple schools and see what they have to say."
Q: Building on that last point, how much is the allure of a scholarship offer motivating you?
A: "Oh yeah, definitely, especially now. The beginning of the season was really a big push for me, always running around crazy and making big plays just to be a standout on the field. That was definitely a big motivation at the beginning of the season."
Q: Jim was obviously a pretty big guy, and you've been characterized more as a speed rusher. Are you comfortable with that?
A: "Oh yeah. I mean, my brother's a freak (laughs). There's nothing about it, most people can't compare to him. So, I've kinda realized that his level, being captain of the All-American game, everyone in the nation, that's a huge thing. So for me, I've got to face reality here. He did his thing, and I'm doing mine, you know? We get noticed for different things. People would say I have better hands or I'm more athletic than he was, but he had that high motor and kept going. So yeah, we're just different players. That's just how it worked out."
Q: Take me through game day. What are you doing during the school day, and then in the locker room, how do you get geared up?
A: "I try and stay calm, not really think about it too much. If you think about it too much, it'll get to you, how you've got to play good and you've got to win and all that stuff. Throughout the day, I just stay calm after school, usually give Jordan (Shairs) a ride home. Then I go grab something to eat, take a nap hopefully if we have enough time, then pick those guys back up, go down and then get taped up. Then slowly, once you see everyone getting taped up and putting on their pants, you're slowly trying to shift to the game thinking, what to do, who you're blocking, some moves you're going to do in the game. Then, it slowly starts to build up. That's when you've got to get your game face on, and just let it all go I guess."
Q: So it sounds like you ease into it, and you're not so rah-rah?
A: "Yeah, and even most of my team isn't like that. Different teams you have different types of guys. But this team is more of a self-motivated, you know what I mean? Quiet but focused. We don't make a ton of noise. It's kinda like, it's within the person to get himself going. So that's our team."
Q: When you put on the jersey, what are you representing?
A: "Like we said earlier, you're representing yourself, and then after you get over that -- because obviously you get that whole excitement of putting on your jersey, your name's on it and everything -- then you've got to think back to the past players that have played of you've played with. Even back to the good ones like Brett (Cahill), the quarterback last year, he always played with so much pride. Even when he comes back, he's so excited, and the excitement that like, whenever you step on the field everyone wants to be back with you playing. You know what I mean?
"Even my brother, my uncles, everyone. The whole city just gets so excited for you, and that's when you've got to think they all played and they wore that same jersey. So, that's what you've got to play for, you know what I mean? You have your whole city."
Q: The seconds before the game starts -- the coin toss, the national anthem -- are you getting goosebumps at all? Any first-hit jitters there?
A: "My brother kinda gave me this. He said don't be nervous, be excited. That's what I've got to get. You get yourself ready to go, just trying to get that last second of (excitement) so when I get on that field I'm quick and I'm fast and amped kind of. I'm trying to psych myself up for the game. If I've got to scream or yell at the other guys to get us going, then that's what I do."
Q: So what's that first hit like?
A: "That's kinda your statement. No matter what it is, coming off the line...I like it on defense, because you don't have to worry about getting one guy, you just kind of come off the line right into them and set your dominance on the field, you know what I mean? Then you go crazy, so they know what they're in for."
Q: What's the best place in town to eat?
A: "That's tough. I'll name a couple, because I've got some loyal people here that I wouldn't want to make mad (laughs). I went to Leonardo's for a while, they're more of a sub shop, great subs, pasta, whatever. Then there's The Causeway, there are great people there, they give you great seafood. Alot of people love coming down to eat there, and you get big portions. Mike's Place is always good. I've actually just started hitting up Supreme's, so I kinda work it around town. I'll go to somewhere for a while and then jump around. But all those places are pretty good in Gloucester."
Q: What about the beaches? What's the beach to be seen at?
A: "Good Harbor. Good Harbor, definitely. That's where you want to be seen at. And there's some girls there, so...(laughs)."