For Hebert, Thanksgiving game more than trophy
Trophy named after Burrillville LB’s uncle
BURRILLVILLE — The Dave Hebert Memorial Trophy holds special meaning to the Burrillville football program because not only was Hebert a standout quarterback and wrestler in his schoolboy days, but as an assistant coach and head of the Burrillville Gridiron Club, he helped usher in the recent run of success that features division titles all the way from Division IV to Division I.
For one Bronco who will start in Thursday morning’s clash against Ponaganset at The Reservation, Hebert was more than just a great football player and coach.
He was family.
Burrillville sophomore linebacker Riley Hebert grew up hearing about the exploits of his uncle and when Hebert died in November of 2013, Riley was given his uncle’s Bronco helmet, which he keeps in his bedroom.
“This means a lot to me and it means a lot to my grandparents,” said Hebert prior to Thursday’s practice at Eccleston Field where Hebert’s jersey hangs in the clubhouse. “I got to play in this game a little bit last year, but this game will mean so much more because I’m playing on varsity with all of my boys. It just means so much to me.
“My uncle just did so much for this program. Everything just started with him and it means so much to be playing in this game named after him.”
Hebert is one of a number of talented sophomores who will take the field Thursday along with quarterback Logan Gelinas and wide receiver Jack DiChairo. Hebert starts at linebacker and tight end, which would mean he likely wears a number in the 50s or 80s, but Hebert wears number 10.
That’s because prior to the start of the season when Burrillville coach Gennaro Ferraro was handing out uniforms, he held back 10 as a legacy number. Dave Hebert wore the number when he played over four decades ago.
“We’ve had a couple of legacies down the line and I’ve reserved the number for that and when certain decisions were made, I just knew we needed to save number 10,” Ferraro said. “I gave that to Riley. He’s as steady as they come and is very coachable. Nothing but ‘Yes, coach,’ comes out of his mouth and he works hard. He’s a great teammate, which says a lot about you in our program.”
Long before Riley Hebert was born, Ferraro was a newcomer to Burrillville in 1995 after accepting a teaching job following a scholastic career at Westerly. Ferraro knew nothing about the inner workings of the state’s premier small-school football program, but Hebert was there to guide Ferraro along the way before Ferraro took the reins of the program over a decade ago.
Hebert, who worked in town at the Water Treatment Plant, Ocean State Power Company and Wright’s Farm during his adult life, was the perfect ballast for the energetic Ferraro in his early days in town.
“He was the first one to show me the town and the people and got me in the proper channels,” Ferraro said. “He introduced me to the coaches and the blue bloods of the town and that’s when I fell in love with the town because I came from a place that was similar in the way it loved the town. We started coaching together and became friends and he became part of my family and I became part of his.”
The last championship Hebert saw the Broncos win came in 2005 when the Broncos rolled to the Di
vision III title. He wasn’t alive to see it, but Hebert’s hard work was a big reason the Broncos went to four Super Bowls and won three of them from 2014-2017. The program went on to successful campaigns in Division II and Division I before struggling this season to a 2-8 record.
“Dave Hebert was a very competitive coach and when I was a young coach with my tail waging a hundred miles an hour, he was also the one who understood the big perspective,” Ferraro said. “Every action he had and everything he did was with the big picture in mind. He was a great mentor for all of us and a great balancing factor of that staff. He brought us together.”
Burrillville still has a chance to achieve its first goal every season – win the Dave Hebert Memorial Trophy. Since the trophy was na
med for the former Burrillville and Ponaganset assistant coach, the only time the trophy has made its way west to North Scituate is for three hours on Thanksgiving morning every other year.
Even though the Chieftains have experienced success in the last few seasons, they’ve been no match for the Broncos. Burrillville, which holds a 21-14 advantage in the series, has won the last seven meetings and none of them have been particularly close. Burrillville beat the D-IV champs 42-0 last season and that came after a 42-6 win in 2018 and a 41-14 win in 2019.
“This is our first goal every year to beat Ponaganset on Thanksgiving,” said senior wide receiver Eli Diallo, whose mother graduated from Ponaganset. “We’re ready and we’re excited to play the game. [Dave Hebert] was a big reason for
our program getting back on track and he was also a big part of Ponaganset’s program. It just means a lot to us to keep it here.”
Better times are ahead for the Burrillville football program, but nothing is more important than riding back down Route 102 Thanksgiving Day afternoon with the Dave Hebert Memorial Trophy in tow.
“I was only eight when my uncle passed, but I remember talking to him and listening to him,” Hebert said. “When I see that trophy, I just want to make him proud and my pepe and my parents proud. I’ve been putting in a lot of work because this means a lot to me. I can’t explain how important this is to me, but I just want to make them proud.”