By Joe McConnell
For the second time in as many months, Everett Pride was on display for the nation to see.
In January, former Crimson Tide football stars Mike Sainristil and Josaiah Stewart helped lead the University of Michigan Wolverines to the NCAA Division 1 championship. Sainristil continues to work out hoping to impress NFL (National Football League) scouts for the late April draft, while Stewart is set to return for his senior season as a standout Michigan edge rusher.
Last Sunday, Mike Borgonzi continued the Everett success story on the national level, when the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII, 25-22. The overtime thriller in Las Vegas was Borgonzi’s second Super Bowl championship as the team’s assistant general manager, and was its Director of Football Operations, when they won Super Bowl LIV four years ago. He’s been with the organization since 2008.
But it all began right here once again in Tide country. Mike grew up on Meadowview Road with his parents, Al and Doris, and younger brother Dave, who’s currently the Chicago Bears linebackers coach. Mike got his football career underway as an Everett Pop Warner Eagle, and it all culminated on the local level, when he was a star senior running back on the Tide’s first Super Bowl championship team in 1997, which completed a perfect 11-0 season. The program has since won 12 more Super Bowls, the last one coming in 2017.
After that championship campaign, he made the Boston Herald and Boston Globe All-Scholastic teams, and was also on USA Today’s honorable mention All-American squad.
Mike remembers those days fondly. “I started playing Pop Warner football for the Everett Eagles when I was eight-years-old,” he told the Everett Advocate earlier this week after Sunday’s championship celebration in Vegas.
“We had some good teams during my Pop Warner years, but I’m not sure if we had won any titles. It always amazed me that a city the size of Everett had two Pop Warner organizations back then, which spoke volumes of just how many kids in the city loved the game of football. As coach Dibs (former EHS coach John DiBiaso) once said, “when you’re born in Everett, they don’t give you a pacifier, they give you a mouthpiece.”
Many of those Everett players reached out to Mike after Sunday’s win. “I actually received over 300 text messages after the game, and quite a few of them came from my former EHS teammates,” he said. “We had a special bond growing up in Everett, and it’s always great to hear from them. I’m grateful for their friendship and support over the years.”
Mike will also never forget his roots that got him to this point as a successful professional football executive. “As far back as I can remember, football always dominated my household,” he said. “My father was a (New England) Patriots season ticket holder during the 1970s and 1980s, and we would spend a lot of summer days at Bryant College (in Smithfield, Rhode Island) watching the Patriots training camp practices.
“I remember begging my father if I could play organized football after seeing my older cousin Gino playing for the Everett Eagles,” Mike added. “I had to wait until I was eight to play, before then he ended up taking me down to Sacramone Park to sign me up.
“I had a lot of great coaches and teachers that taught me the game back then like Bill Crowley, Paul Crowley, Chucky Leo and the great Mike Milo, who ended up coaching me in high school, as well.”
But his admiration for Coach DiBiaso will always remain high on his list of athletic memories. “I really can’t put into words the impact that Coach DiBiaso had on me as a young student-athlete, not only in football, but in life, as well,” said DiBiaso’s 1997 senior captain, who played all four years on the varsity for him. “He instilled in me the importance of hard work, perseverance, teamwork and humility.
“At a young age, he showed me the blueprint for building and sustaining a championship team. His relentless work ethic, organization, attention to detail and the discipline it takes to build a winner had an indelible impact on me. He’ll go down as the greatest high school coach in the history of the state. The city of Everett was lucky to have him all those years.”
A close second to DiBiaso for Mike is the Everett High School (EHS) community itself. “Playing football at Everett High School was special for me,” he said. “As a kid growing up, you would always hear about the rich football tradition in Everett from the famous 1914 team that won the national championship after outscoring the opposition 600-0 to the great 1960s teams of Bobby Leo, so when I finally got a chance to play there in the 1990s, we were able to restore some of that championship tradition. And then to do it with some of your best friends growing up made it even more special.”
From EHS, Mike went on to Brown University to continue his football career. “I was fortunate enough to attend Brown. I played football there all four years, while earning my bachelor’s degree in business management. Those years were also special for me. Brown challenged me in a lot of different ways, both academically and athletically. I made a lot of great friendships there, and in my sophomore year we won the 1999 Ivy League championship,” said the three-time All-Ivy League selection at fullback.
At the conclusion of his collegiate career, Borgonzi naturally turned his attention to pro football. “My dream was to always play in the NFL,” he said. “I had some workouts with NFL teams before the draft, and ended up having a free agent tryout with the Buffalo Bills that spring (2001). After not signing a pro contract, I ended up coaching for a year at Amherst College, before signing on with the Green Bay Blizzard in the Arena Football Leaue. My time there was short after getting injured. I then headed home to Boston to work in finance.”
Borgonzi had a difficult time adjusting to life away from the game, but knew someday he’d be back in football in some capacity.
“My first real break in the (football) business was when I was hired as the assistant recruiting coordinator at Boston College in 2007,” he said. “One of my responsibilities there was being the NFL liaison with the team, which meant I was meeting with a lot of NFL personnel to talk about our players. At the time, we had a few first round picks on the team, including Matt Ryan, so there was a lot of scouts coming through BC. I was able to network with a lot of the scouts that I met there, and in the process developed a relationship with Scott Pioli, when he was with the Patriots. Scott was eventually hired by Kansas City as its general manager in 2009, and he brought me out there to work with him.”
After building up his reputation as a successful executive with the Chiefs organization, Borgonzi is now being wooed by other teams like Pioli was 15 years ago. “I had a great experience this past month interviewing for the Washington Commanders’ GM job. I met with owner Josh Harris and his search committee for nearly six hours in his Miami office,” he said.
Could the Patriots be in Mike’s future?
After the Patriots have recently moved on from the successful Belichick dynastic era, Borgonzi is not ruling out that possibility.
“You know ever since I got into the league 15 years ago, I’ve had thoughts of coming back home to work for the Patriots someday,” he said. “I was at the Super Bowl media night last week, and was actually approached by some Boston media outlets with that same question. That would be a dream of mine, for sure, just to come back home to try and help restore that championship level team that I grew up watching.”
The move back home, whenever that day might be, will be made easier, because his wife, Jill, is a North Reading native, and many members of their families still live in the area.
“But it’s still always tough to relocate when you have a young family, especially when the kids (son Joseph and daughter Nina) are in school, and have developed friendships over the years. It has to take that special opportunity for me to leave this city and this organization,” Mike said.
But vacationing every summer on Cape Cod to visit family and friends before training camp is a nice place to start in that decision-making process for the Everett High football legend with a championship pedigree.