By Matt Noonan
Ryan Verria had a few thoughts on his mind during his initial practice with the Bridgewater State University football team in August of 2018.
His main focus was impressing the coaching staff, as well as a few friends he knew from growing up three miles away from campus. But he was also thinking about how he would tell his teammates that his father, Joe Verria, was the team’s head coach.
“In the back of my head (while going through our conditioning test) I was thinking about how to bring up the topic that my dad is the coach,” said Verria, who was recently elected one of the team’s captains last month for the upcoming season.
“You don’t always see (a father-son duo) at the collegiate level,” he added.
The team would eventually learn both Ryan and Joe were related. In fact, Verria said his teammates embraced the father-son relationship, claiming it was “pretty cool” that Ryan was able to play for his father, who had coached him previously through various youth sports leagues while growing up in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.
“I (have come) to realize how unique and special this experience is because not many people get to say they played for their dad at the collegiate level,” said Verria, who plays wide receiver for the Bears.
Verria didn’t plan to compete for his father initially after graduating from Boston College High School in 2017. Instead, he elected to leave the area to play football at John Carroll University in Ohio where he competed for the Blue Streak’s junior varsity program. Ryan made some impressive plays, according to his father, who recalls watching clips of his son’s games that the JCU coaching staff provided him.
But watching plays of Ryan on a phone or computer was only temporary as Joe would soon see his son make similar plays in person one year later when he transferred home to compete for the Bridgewater State football team as an incoming sophomore.
“It didn’t dawn on me that he would come back,” said Joe Verria when asked about his son deciding to return home to play football at Bridgewater State. “But when it happened, I thought this is going to be great.”
And so far, it seems the experience for both Joe and Ryan has been great as the father-son duo has celebrated a pair of Cranberry Bowl wins against Massachusetts Maritime Academy, including a dramatic come-from-behind win last season, along with a New England Bowl victory in 2018 against Salve Regina University.
Ryan credits his teammates for helping him grow and improve these past two years, as well as his father, who he is constantly conversing with about strategy both in-person and through text messages. The conversations, both after games and on Sundays also include offensive and defensive breakdowns to new routes the receivers could run during practice to some motivational tactics both Verria’s could use to inspire the team for a successful game day.
But as much as Joe enjoys these dialogues about the x’s and o’s with his son, it is truly the opportunity he has, both currently and in the past, to teach his favorite sport to Ryan while cracking a smile on game days when he makes a play on offense or special teams.
“You know, you’re sitting out there at practice and I am watching the offense execute and (Ryan) is running around and making plays, and you say to yourself, ‘man, I can’t believe he is out there,’ but it is kind of cool,” said Joe Verria.
Joe – just like any parent – is proud of his son’s growth and improvement over the past few years, as well as the leader he has become both on and off the field. He admires Ryan’s leadership – he considers his son someone that leads by his actions, not words, which is certainly one of many reasons why his teammates voted him captain for the upcoming season.
Ryan is honored to be a captain – he knows he is representing a well-respected program that his father competed for from 1976 to 1979. But excluding discussing his current captain duties, which currently pertains to staying in touch with his classmates and teammates this summer, Ryan lights up when chatting about the impact his father – and yes, his mother, too – have made on his life. Both parents have shared some important words of wisdom, along with some important advice that will continue to allow Ryan to thrive both on the playing field and perhaps as a future coach like his father.
“Yeah, coaching is definitely a possibility,” Ryan said with a smile.
But for now, Ryan will focus on being the best receiver he can be while enjoying one final season with his Joe as his head coach.