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Pedrini's tufts career a study in leadership football captain has helped guide jumbos in transitional year

Mike Pedrini had the type of high school football career that you read about.

Playing at nearby Melrose High School, the current Tufts senior rushed for over 3,500 yards and scored more than 60 touchdowns in three seasons with the Red Raiders. He and his teammates played in two Massachusetts Division 2A Super Bowls at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.

Prior to Pedrini’s senior season at Melrose, John Sarianides - known locally as Dr. Football - wrote in a scouting report for ESPN that Pedrini was a Division I college prospect.

“I like Pedrini a lot as a running back,” Sarianides wrote. “He's old school tough, but with new age athleticism. I think he's an FCS caliber running back. Whichever school lands Pedrini next year will get a heck of a football player.”

Pedrini originally had his eyes set on playing in the Ivy League. However, those schools were hesitant to commit early to him due to a perceived lack of size and speed. That opened the door for Tufts and head coach Jay Civetti, who then won the recruiting battle for Pedrini over two other highly-regarded NESCAC schools.

“To this day I remember the phone call,” Civetti said. “We were through the roof. We worked really hard trying to get Mike to come to Tufts, so it was a big day when he said yes.”

The day Pedrini came on his recruiting visit to Tufts was dreary. The Jumbos slogged their way to a 12-7 Homecoming victory over Bates. His visits to the other NESCAC schools were on picture-perfect autumn afternoons that showcased those campuses. However, it was the camaraderie of the Tufts team that shone brightest to him.

He had grown up surrounded by football. He said watching the Patriots - who have won six Super Bowls - was “probably the best time to be a fan of any team of any sport in sports history.” Playing football was also like a rite of passage in the city of Melrose. He started in third grade and eventually starred for the Red Raiders on the gridiron.

“You grow up in the town idolizing these guys that are obviously just high school kids playing a game they love with people that they love and care about,” he said. “Growing up through the ranks you’re kind of just waiting for your turn and then when you get to it being your turn it’s better than you could ever imagine.”

At Tufts he saw the best opportunity to join another brotherhood. The academic and athletic components were obviously very important, but it was the potential he saw for strong relationships with his teammates and coaches that convinced him to come.

“I definitely felt the best connection to the people and the players here,” he said. “That was by far the clear read that I got about Tufts, and it’s been proven a thousand percent true.”

With hard-nosed running, Pedrini immediately made an impact for the Jumbos. He scored eight touchdowns as a freshman in 2017, including three when he rushed for 135 yards at Colby. He then averaged nearly five yards per rush and caught 21 passes as a sophomore when the Jumbos finished 7-2.

He also quickly emerged as a team leader. After two years in the program he was voted by his teammates to be a captain for his junior season in 2019. That rare honor reflected his selfless attitude, hard work and concern for others which was evident every day.

“His consistency in everything that‘s asked of him is always at an intense level,” Civetti said. “It’s non-stop. It’s always like that. On the field, off the field, in the classroom. He’s just very much on point with everything because it’s just so important to him.”

Pedrini credits his father Rick with teaching him about leadership’s role in football. As a Tufts sophomore Pedrini had also played with linebacker Greg Holt, who was a junior captain in 2018. He learned a lot watching Holt in action, and then joined him as captains of the team in 2019. From both he learned a perspective that has helped him succeed as a leader.

“A lot of times leadership can be lonely,” he said. “You kind of have to be a hard-ass sometimes, but that only works if your teammates know that regardless of football or regardless of what’s going on on the field, when you take the helmets off they know that you care about them as a person.”

Pedrini's leadership abilities have been put to the test during the past year.

The team was disappointed with last season's 4-5 record. Pedrini unnecessarily put a lot of the blame on himself. It was the first losing season he had experienced in his life, and he felt like he hadn’t done enough to help the team win. Following the 31-24 loss to Middlebury which ended the season, another former captain said something that would help get him and the team back on the right path.

“I was in a pretty bad space,” Pedrini said. “Coach Mac (current assistant coach and 2015 Jumbo captain Matt McCormack) came up to me and told me that I had to move forward. His words were, 'It’s only a failure if you don’t learn from it.' It was a great lesson in leadership.”

The Jumbos put a lot of work into the off-season and were really hitting their stride in February as they prepared for the upcoming 2020 campaign. However, then coronavirus hit and like everyone else on campus team members were sent home to finish the semester. They managed to continue their momentum through online meetings and work-out challenges that the players completed on their own. But then another blow was struck during the summer when the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic.

The team was allowed to practice this fall, but because of safety measures they were never together as one. Pedrini’s leadership helped to make the most of a challenging situation. With the team split up into different groups, he empowered others to join him in leading.

“His positivity has been infectious,” Civetti said. “He hasn’t allowed the disappointment to get in the way of the work that needs to be done and I think because of that we were able to get better as a team. He did as good of a job as you could keeping the team together.”

A career in leadership could be in Pedrini’s future. The political science major mentioned leadership consulting or executive recruiting as employment opportunities he may pursue.

However, his leadership role at Tufts isn’t finished yet. He is returning to the team for an extra year of eligibility next fall when he likely will be the Jumbo football program’s first-ever three-time captain. As part of his continuing leadership responsibilities, he’s striving to be better on the field.

“As a competitor you obviously want to be the reason your team is winning,” he said. “You want to be out there scoring touchdowns and having the best game of your life every game, but that’s unrealistic to think that it's going to be like that. I’ve always wanted to work harder and do more to solidify my role as one of the best players in the league, and I think I’ve fallen short of that so far. I still have another chance to prove myself.”

Pedrini has nothing to prove, really. He’s been a great Jumbo on and off the field, which includes his extra-curricular involvement. He’s one of two team members on Tufts’ Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, serving on the community relations committee. He’s also involved in the team’s relationship with young cancer survivor Zack Cummings through Team IMPACT.

Tufts has been everything that Pedrini hoped it would be. He came here to be a part of a special group of men, and that’s exactly what has happened.

“It’s the most important decision I’ve ever made in my life and it was definitely the right one,” he said. “It’s such a treat and such a pleasure and such a great opportunity to be able to be amazed by your friends and teammates. That’s something that has continually happened to me over the course of these four years.”

Football's Mike Pedrini discusses his academic influences and interests ...