'Rise Up' brings hope for change in Dorchester

DORCHESTER, Mass. -- All around Steven Poilucci, bodies old and young were filing in and out of the weight room in the bowels of the Dorchester Education Complex, some marveling at the upgrades to the once-dormant facilities, others bee-lining for the tubs of Powerade that lay about.

Seemingly oblivious to his surroundings, the 17-year-old Mission Hill resident and junior linebacker had football practice in an hour. He calmly stared into the wall-sized mirror on front of him, exhaling deep as he grabbed a pair of dumbbells.

"You guys put a little bit of pressure on us now, but we can handle it, it's all good," he laughed to an ESPNBoston reporter in between sets of military presses.

The wide smile is from the excitement at actually having a legitimate bench to sit on, and "the right weights" to build muscle with, all courtesy of ESPN as part of its "RISE Up" series (this Boston-based episode is slated to run September 27).

The pressure he's referring to is essentially two-fold.

Poilucci is fairly new to the many complex intra-city rivalries of the Boston City League, having just transferred in earlier this summer from Lynn English High School, but no stranger. And with all of the fresh new dumbbells and weight machines sprawled around him, as well as significant upgrades to the school's Roberts Field, not only is the pressure on to beat Madison Park the Friday before Thanksgiving -- but Southie, English, O'Bryant, Charlestown and The Burke, too.

Morale spiked this summer with the spectre of new facilities, announced last June on the building's front steps., and unveiled earlier this afternoon. Players like Poilucci were amped at the fresh new paint job on the walls, decked in the red and black colors, and exclamated with the school's familiar bear logo donut-holed inside a block-pattern "D".

"It's crazy, I didn't think they were going to do that much," he said. "The paint on the wall is crazy, having all that, probably my favorite part."

Asked about school pride within these confines, Poilucci -- a frequent mover, who spent his freshman year at Port Charlotte (Fla.) High -- said, "The difference is, even though this is a smaller school, it's like there's more pride at this school than any other I've been to."

Myles Alexander, a senior offensive lineman from Dorchester's Quincy Street, says morale "has been way up."

"Everyone's real excited," he said. "Excited to see what the locker rooms were going to be like, what the walkway on the field was going to be like...everyone's been enthusiastic in practice this season, because we think we have a real good shot this year."

Moran recalled his days coaching at Hyde Park six years ago, and looking across to the Dorchester sideline to see 12, maybe 13 players. He brought up a story from a few years ago, coaching in an all-star game as a representative of Dorchester, and hearing them complain of travel budgets, video equipment, all sorts of stuff, before stopping them dead in their tracks with a cold figure: $1,700. For the year.

"I told them, I order five new helmets and four sets of shoulder pads, and that's my budget," he laughed. "One guy said, 'Gee, that's more than our budget for the buses."

As always, the Boston City League schools find creative ways to get it done. Fifty-five players reported to camp on the first day of MIAA-sanctioned practices last Aug. 22, though he notes the number is down to the high 30's.

But beyond hopes for success this season, there is hope that the facilities upgrade leads to an increase in presence from college scouts herein.

For decades, the pecking order in Massachusetts has been well-established. First two calls are to Everett and Brockton. Next four are to Catholic Conference powers St. John's Prep, Xaverian, BC High and Catholic Memorial; then it's on to Worcester, to Fitchburg, to the Merrimack Valley, the Hockmock, the Old Colony and Natick; and so on, so forth.

In the same thread, an NFL prospect always seems to pop out of Boston proper every few years, from Ron Stone (West Roxbury) to Jermaine Wiggins (East Boston). The Bears have Division 1 potential in the trenches this year in the form of 6-foot-6, 300-pound tackle Bryant Andrews, who has received interest from FCS caliber programs like Sacred Heart and New Hampshire. Like seemingly dozens of inner-city line prospects, Andrews gets his footwork from the basketball court.

While noting the articulate Andrews is "a Division 1 athlete if he wants to be" and needs to get in shape, Moran noticed the correlation between Dorchester's new digs and the potential for more visits from college recruiters.

"It will definitely put us on the map," he said. "I think when recruiters see this and hear about what's going on...they'll catch Bryant when they see the size of him. But I've had some great running backs the last couple of years that haven't gotten that type of exposure, so I think this might do it."

On a larger scale, the pressure is on to raise the profile of the neighborhood. Mayor Tom Menino, in speaking with the students this afternoon, reminded them that it's up to them to accept responsibility for the upkeep.

Historically, this neighborhood has seen its share of problems. As high-profile local figures spoke to the crowd gathered on the building's front steps, in the irony of ironies, two police cruisers speed down the street behind the softball field, sirens blaring loudly, attending to an emergency a few blocks away.

"This really makes a difference not just in young peoples' life, but the people who live on the streets around here," Menino said. "They now have access to this Roberts Field, [whereas before] they didn't have access because there were fences barring them from coming here. Now the fences are open, and available to them."

The table set, Poilucci now awaits the next prize -- a Boston City Championship ring.

"I'm trying to get two before I graduate," he smiled.

How that would resonate here in "The Dot" speaks for itself.