By Lenny Megliola, MetroWest
It was never a mystery why Antonio Mitjans gravitated to football.
“My father was a coach.” Period. But there was no pushing, no shoving. The boy had to decide for himself. Pick a sport. Do what you can.
The fact that Mitjans soared to 6-foot-2, 230 pounds at Ashland High made it easier to choose. He became a two-way lineman for the Clockers.
Mitjans wanted to play in college, but there was no rush to his door from recruiters dangling scholarships. “Some 1-AA schools wanted him to walk on,” said his dad, Lazaro “Laz” Mitjans. Even after sending film of Antonio’s stellar senior year to a bunch of 1-AA schools, “they said, ‘Aww, he can walk on,’” the father recalled.
So when UMass Dartmouth head coach Mark Robichaud got into the conversation and was delighted to welcome Mitjans aboard, it all started to click. OK, UMass Dartmouth was Div. III. It didn’t matter; once Mitjans got on campus it just felt right. “I was comfortable. It made sense to me financially, academically and athletically.”
Except for one thing. “Honestly, I wanted to play defense,” said Mitjans. His dad was a roaming high school defensive coordinator at Framingham, Natick, the Rivers School and a head coach at Algonquin and Brookline.
But the UMass Dartmouth Corsairs – and file this under everything happens for a reason – were all set on the defensive side of the ball. There was a gaping hole that needed filling at center. Robichaud thought it might be a good position for the freshman and Mitjans wasn’t about to pout. “Whatever way I could get on the field the fastest,” he said.
How did it work out? Four seasons and 40 consecutive games later, Mitjans garnered MASCAC first team honors three straight seasons and was named the conference’s 2018 offensive lineman of the year. The honors were topped off recently when Mitjans was named to the Division II-III All-New England team.
“Antonio’s one of the most outstanding young men I’ve ever coached,” said Robichaud. “As a two-year captain, he was a tremendous leader. He started every game he played. That’s a credit to his incredible work ethic.”
“Antonio has a high football IQ,” reasoned the father.
UMass Dartmouth finished 5-5 this season, but the offensive line anchored by the now 265-pound Mitjans, paved the way for the Corsairs to rack up an average of 412 yards and nearly 28 points per game.
As a captain, Mitjans wasn’t exactly a fire-breathing dragon. “I was never the most talkative kid, so I had to speak up more this year. It was a skill I had to learn.”
After two years at the Rivers School in Weston, Mitjans and his twin brother Lazaro II returned to Ashland High. “It was cool going back and seeing the kids you grew up with.” Lazaro attended UMass Amherst and was a student assistant coach this season, working with the offensive line. Chances are he’ll follow his dad into the coaching ranks. “I love football, I think Lazaro loves it more than me,” said Antonio.
With a marketing degree soon in his pocket, Antonio might also work his way to the sidelines, starting as a graduate assistant somewhere. Whether it’s football or every day life, Antonio leans on his dad for guidance. “Your dad teaches you everything,” he said. “It’s like having a coach in the house every day.”
So Pop, what’s the best football advice you sent Antonio’s way? “Always compete, and have fun.”
When the boys got to college Laz and his wife, Lisa, chased the boys game to game, weekend to weekend. The parents drove six hours to Alfred State College in New York for one of Antonio’s games. When UMass Amherst played at powerhouse Georgia recently, the parents flew down for the game, surprising Lazaro. They also lent support to a daughter, Camille, who played lacrosse at UMass Amherst and graduated last year.
Laz pere recently retired from the State Police after 31 years. He was an assistant coach at Dover-Sherborn this season. How much longer will he roam the sidelines? He’s mulling it over.
He’s for sure done watching his sons play. Antonio went out in style. As coach Robichaud put it, “Antonio will succeed at anything he attempts in life. We will miss his personality, ability and dependability greatly.”
How much can you add to that?