This project took many trips and left turns. What started as a football preview, turned into a feature on two kids and their life growing up as friends and in football. The story came to fruition after finding out about their backstory in the orginal preview. After doing the reporting, I would soon find out on the players was injured adding another wrinkle to the story
WEB SUM: Bishops quarterback Neil Sanders and running back Nic Tardanico met in the fifth grade playing Weymouth youth football. Now, seven years later, the pair of best friends have Archbishop Williams on the path to success after a three-win season.
BRAINTREE — Neil Sanders and Nic Tardanico go way back.
All the way to the fifth grade, in fact.
Now the two Weymouth residents, longtime friends and three-year starters, are trying to end their high school football careers on a high note by helping Archbishop Williams snag a playoff berth. Sanders is the Bishops’ quarterback; Tardanico, currently on the shelf with an ankle injury, is a running back.
“At that time,” Sanders said of their youth football introduction, “I played running back with Nic. He was number 21, I was number 22. We always had the plan to play football together. We got to play all the way up ’til eighth grade when we made our decision to come to high school. We both ended up coming here.”
The connection for Sanders and Tardanico goes beyond the field.
“We will hang out and do anything. We will go to the beach together in the summer, anything that we can do together,” said Sanders. “I would consider him one of my best friends.”
“We are always together,” Tardanico agreed. “We are close.”
The duo appeared poised to accomplish big things this fall for a Bishops team trying to make amends for last year’s three-win campaign. But after a solid Week 1 win over Quincy — 28-0 with Tardanico rushing 19 times for 190 yards and three touchdowns — Williams suffered a blow as Tardanico fractured a bone in his ankle in Week 2. Sanders picked up the slack, throwing for 111 yards and a TD and rushing for two more scores in that 43-8 win over Pembroke, but it’s been tough sledding since then.
Williams has been competitive in Tardanico’s absence but has nothing to show for it. The Bishops lost to Silver Lake in Week 3, 23-20, on a last-second field goal and then were blanked, 3-0, by North Quincy last week.
“We definitely miss him,” Sanders said of Tardanico. “When you lose one of the best players on your team, it is a huge impact. Everyone else has stepped up to the plate and done their job a lot better than they have before. I just hope when Nic gets a chance to come back everyone keeps their same level of intensity that they have right now.”
Although coach Matt Reggiannini is cautious about bringing his star back too soon — “If he comes back, it changes the dynamic of the team. However, that is not what we are counting on” — Tardanico vows to return “soon.” He also acknowledges that sitting out part of his senior year has been difficult.
“It is always tough” not playing, he said. “Football is the game I love and I work pretty hard year-round for it. But supporting the guys is definitely important for me because they are my team and just to play with them is an honor.”
On the field, after eight football seasons together, the connection between Sanders and Tardanico is palpable.
“There is an understanding between those two. It is non-verbal and you can tell that they played together,” said Reggiannini, who has coached the pair since their freshman seasons. “They definitely have good chemistry together. You can tell they have been playing together awhile and are both good leaders and lead by example.”
As the quarterback, Sanders does not want anyone else by his side in a tight situation.
“I trust Nic with everything. If he is going to block, I want him on my back,” said Sanders, who threw for 316 yards and four TDs through the first four games this season. “I look for Nic out there on the field. He is just a great player. He is a great kid to have on your team. He is always going to be an impact and an influence.”
Tardanico returns the compliment, saying, “Everything (Sanders) does makes it easier for me. We don’t have to lean on the pass or the run. We can do it all.”
After a 3-8 season last year, the Bishops still believe this year will be different.
“They have stuck through thick and thin,” Reggiannini said of his players. “It was kind of a down year (in 2018) and they played as hard as they could from the first game to the last game.”
Said Sanders: ”(The program) is starting to take off again. It fells really nice, especially since we only won three games last year.”
Sanders and Tardanico were voted co-captains this season. Despite Tardanico’s injury, he still participates in the pre-game coin toss with Sanders.
“It means so much,” Tardanico said of Friday nights (and the occasional Saturday afternoon) with his buddy. “We have both talked about this since we were 10 years old, just playing together. We created a family at Weymouth, and we created a family at Archies.”
Sanders and Tardanico often go to camps and clinics together during the summer. “The other kids see they go to the camps, they go the clinics and that it is really a 12-month sport for them,” said Reggiannini. “I think it is great for the other kids to see that.”
Neither Sanders nor Tardanico has made any college choices, but both want to play football at the next level. No word yet on whether they might wind up at the same school, but even if they finally end their playing partnership they figure to stay in touch.
“I don’t know if we are going to play football together in college, but he is a lifelong friend,” said Sanders. “Somebody that I look at as family. Somebody who has always been in my life, like a brother.”