football Edit

Notre Dame's Best Players From Massachusetts

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Jay Brunelle is the second player to come from Massachusetts in the Brian Kelly era.
Jay Brunelle is the second player to come from Massachusetts in the Brian Kelly era. (

Although Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is from Massachusetts, his home state is hardly a fertile recruiting area for football recruiting.

The commitment this week from Shrewsbury, Mass., native and three-star receiver Jay Brunelle is only the second from The Bay State in Kelly’s 10 seasons, joining 2013 offensive lineman John Montelous (Everett).

Since the turn of the century, the only other Massachusetts residents signed by the Fighting Irish were offensive lineman Zachary Giles (Mansfield) in 2001, linebacker Nick Borseti (Danvers) in 2003, and wide receiver Barry Gallup Jr. (Wellesley) in 2006. Although recently graduated kicker Justin Yoon attended Milton Academy in Massachusetts, he actually is from Tennessee, so he is not included.

However, once upon a time Massachusetts was one of the numerous prominent northeast states recruited by Notre Dame. Five years ago when we ranked the most producitve states in the school’s football history, Massachusetts finished No. 11, with nearly five dozen former residents from there having played.

With the changing landscape in football moving more toward the Sun Belt states, Massachusetts has become far less prominent while Notre Dame concentrates its efforts more on rising football states such as North Carolina and Virginia in the Atlantic region, plus Georgia and Louisiana in the South.

Still, here is our countdown of the top players to come from Massachusetts:

14t. Bob Clasby (Milton, 1979-82) and Mike Kelley (Westfield, 1981-84) Both might have been a little under the radar during some leaner years, but they were productive players along their respective lines.

Clasby recorded 121 tackles his last two seasons with the Irish and played five years in the NFL. Kelley started at offensive tackle in 1982 and then center in 1983-84 prior to a four-year NFL career.

12. Frank “Boley” Dancewicz (Lynn, 1943-45) It speaks very high for the state when Dancewicz — the No. 1 overall pick in the 1946 NFL Draft — can be this low. He was the quarterback in-between Heisman winners Angelo Bertelli and John Lujack, and he helped direct two top-10 finishes during the war-torn years in 1944-45.

11. Pat Bisceglia (Worcester, 1953-55)Although not listed as a full-time starter until his senior year, guard Bisceglia made the most of it by receiving first-team All-America honors from the AP and third team from the UP on a top-10 team.

10. Menil “Minnie” Mavraides (Kenosha, 1951-53)Joined Frank Varrichione and Jack Lee (see both below) on the line to form Massachusetts’ version of the “Three Amigos” during the early 1950s. He began his career at end before becoming a third-round pick at guard for the unbeaten 1953 team. Mavraides also led the nation with 27 points via the kicking game.

9. Mark Bavaro (Danvers, 1981-84) — After apprenticing his first two seasons behind first-round pick Tony Hunter, Bavaro kept “Tight End U.” rolling by starting the next two years. A devastating blocker, Bavaro also led the 1984 team in receiving with 32 catches and earned first-team All-America honors from the Associated Press. He went on to receive All-Pro honors for the two-time Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

8. Joe Restic (Milford, 1975-78) — Four-year starter and record-breaking punter also started his last three seasons at free safety, where he recorded 13 career interceptions (tied for third most) and received Academic All-America honors before going to dental school.

The joke always was that he could have played at Harvard for his father Joe (whose name was at one time linked to the Notre Dame job), but he preferred to not attend a football factory.

7. Jack Lee (Medford, 1951-54) — Started as a true freshman in 1951 (eligibility was allowed for frosh because of the Korean War) at middle guard and played on both sides of the line his last two years. He wasn’t drafted, but that’s an even greater testament to maximizing his collegiate efforts.

6. John Yonakor (Dorchester, 1941-43) — Consensus All-America end on offense and defense for the 1943 national champs, he also won the National AAU indoor shot put title. His team high 15 catches averaged 21.4 yards and included four scores. Only reason he’s a little lower is this was the one year he was a full-time starter.

5. Frank Varrichione (Nattick, 1951-54) — Three-year starter as a tackle on both offense and defense on Notre Dame teams that finished in the AP Top 4 each season, he is often most remembered for his feigned injury spells to stop the clock and allow the Irish to tie Iowa in 1953. It can’t be forgotten that the All-American was the No. 6 overall pick in the 1955 NFL Draft and played 11 years there, earning Pro Bowl honors five times.

4. Nick Buoniconti (Springfield, 1959-61) — Joins Rocky Bleier as one of the greatest underdog success stories in pro football history, going from undrafted to NFL Hall of Fame after a brilliant 15-year career. At Notre Dame, he started at both guard and linebacker, finishing second in tackles (71) in 1960 and first (74) in 1961 to merit first-team All-America honors from Football News and second team from three other outlets, including United Press.

3. Wayne Millner (Salem, 1933-35) — First of six Notre Dame players ever enshrined in both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, his signature moment was the 19-yard touchdown catch with 32 seconds left in the epic 18-13 comeback win at Ohio State in ’35.

At No. 1, we had a two-way tie:

1t. Angelo Bertelli (Springfield, 1941-43) The first of Notre Dame’s seven Heisman Trophy winners, he is described to this day by 1947 Heisman winner Lujack as throwing the most beautiful ball of any Irish quarterback ever. As a 1941 sophomore he was the first at the school to pass for more than 1,000 yards in a season, thus inspiring head coach Frank Leahy to install the then revolutionary T-formation. Bertelli completed an unheard of 69.4 percent of his passes during the 1943 national title march before getting called into World War II service after the sixth game.

1t. Ken MacAfee (Brockton, 1974-77) — Named to numerous college football All-20th-Century teams in 2000, MacAfee stepped in as the starting tight end midway through his freshman year — succeeding All-American Dave Casper — and earned first-team All-America honors each of his last three seasons while grabbing 137 passes (including bowls).

Later an esteemed oral surgeon, his soft hands and powerful blocking earned him the Walter Camp Award for the 1977 national champs and placed him third in the 1977 Heisman Trophy balloting.


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