By MICHAEL KELLY
Recorder Sports Staff
BROADALBIN -- Wherever the five Broadalbin-Perth football seniors lead, the rest of the Patriots are sure to follow.
"They're the 'Army of Five,'" says B-P junior quarterback Gabe Mendez. "That's what I call them, at least."
Coming into this season, the handful of B-P seniors -- Zack Bulger, Sam Comini, Josh Deuel, Tim Gordon and Anthony Visco -- on the squad's roster did not have a lot of success to their names, as the five's only previous varsity season was the 2011 campaign in which B-P won just one regular season game before winning a pair of postseason crossover games.
Worse, the group of B-P seniors did not have a positive track record of playing on close-knit teams.
"Last year," says Visco, "we had cliques of people that would hang out. There was a senior group; then, the juniors would all hang out together; and, the sophomores, they had their own group or sometimes they might hang out with the juniors."
So, this year's five seniors -- B-P football has no official captains this season, instead choosing to rely on its small class of 2013 -- took it upon themselves to change the culture around the B-P football program.
"We felt like that was the most important thing we could do for the young guys," Gordon says.
"It was on them," says head coach Jim Pelneau. "They really wanted to change the culture. They really wanted to get football back on the map at B-P, get things going in the right direction, and they took ownership for making that happen."
That work began well before the 2012 season, as the B-P seniors led the youthful team in its offseason workouts, spurred it on during grueling weight-room sessions and offered constant encouragement throughout the club's 7-on-7 workouts.
"We were only five guys strong, but, with the five guys we have, every one of us wanted to put their heart and soul into this to make it work," Comini says.
Putting their hearts into helping to rebuild the fractured program meant more than just putting in time during the team's practice and workout sessions, though.
"Look, we need to bring this team as close together as we can this year," Visco remembers one of the seniors saying in an early-year meeting of the five.
To that end, the B-P seniors made sure that when the team's members hung out, everyone hung out. Watching football together on Sundays at junior lineman Pierre LaPort's house became a weekly thing, as did frequenting Al's Roadhouse for chicken wing night to see who could scarf down the most food.
The gesture to include each Patriot did not go unnoticed.
"They're with all of us every step of the way," says sophomore Tyler Schmidt. "They don't exclude any of us because we're younger or anything. They treat us like we're an actual family. They're great leaders."
That leadership, which has bred friendship, has made the team's underclassmen feel willing to do anything they can to send the B-P seniors out on a high note.
"Everything we do, it's for them," says Mendez. "When you see the juniors or the sophomores cry after a tough loss -- like, I cried after the Schalmont game -- it's not because we feel like we failed ourselves. [We cry] because we feel like we failed them."
Mendez says the team's goal is to make sure it wins at least one of its two remaining games, as doing so will mean the team's seniors will get the chance to taste sectionals for the first time. A win tonight against Schuylerville, on B-P's Senior Night, could set the Patriots up to be the No. 3 seed out of the West Division in Section II Class B.
"We want to go out and get this one for them," says junior linemen Phil Hemstreet. "This is a big one."
The five seniors know the magnitude of the game, too. Barring something unforeseen, tonight's contest at Patriot Field will be the last time the Mendez-coined "Army of Five" play in front of the home crowd at B-P.
It's not a farewell the five are taking lightly.
"The five of us are going to lead on the field like we always try to," says Gordon. "We're going to do everything we can and just show people how we want to be remembered: As five guys who flew at the football and loved the game."
Junior Luigi Magliocca, who played for B-P last season as a sophomore, says he knows how he'll remember the five.
"They're guys that just want to win. ... The leadership they brought with them, there's no word that can describe it," says Magliocca. "Wherever we can be led, they're willing to lead us."