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A Saugus High Inspiration

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Sachems senior Justin Belluscio played with heart during a football season overshadowed by the death of his dad to cancer

  Saugus High School football coaches and players call Justin Belluscio an inspiration to his teammates.

  The season began on an emotionally draining and sad note for Justin, who had to cope with his dad being diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer and later losing his gallant battle to the dreaded disease.

  “We found out this summer that his dad was sick,” Sachems’ Head Coach Steve Cummings said in an interview last week. “It was just eight weeks from the time of his dad’s diagnosis until he passed away.

  Justin, who was a two-way starter for this year’s Sachems football team – a slot receiver on offense and a safety on defense – missed a few practices. But he never missed a game – including one just days after his dad died.

  “The day before the game – which was two days after he found out that his father passed away, he was just standing in the locker room and looked right at me and said, ‘Coach, I’m playing. I’m playing tomorrow,’” Cummings told a gathering at the 50th Annual Saugus and Peabody Lions Clubs’ Annual Football Meeting and Dinner last week at Prince Pizzeria.

  “He wanted to be there with his guys. It was normal to him. This was how he wanted to grieve. To watch our guys take him and walk him through that difficult scenario …. To watch your young men be there and do that kind of thing for another human being is why we do this job,” the coach said.

  Justin received this year’s Saugus Lions Club Heisman Award – an honor bestowed annually to an unsung hero or the player who best represents himself as the heart and soul of the Sachems football team. “This young man has shown an incredible amount of character and an incredible amount of strength – more than you ask for any 17- or 18-year-old kid,” Coach Cummings told the audience in Giggles Comedy Club, where the senior players for Saugus High School and the Peabody Tanners football teams dined together a week before their Thanksgiving Day showdown.

  “So when we were asked to give an award at this banquet, there was really no doubt as to who we were going to give it to: the guy on our team who basically made this season everything he wanted it to be because of everything he was forced to go through this year,” Coach Cummings said.

A tragic start to the season

  Justin’s dad – Joseph A. Belluscio, Jr., 61 – had just retired from Massport after 40 years of work when he learned he had Stage 4 Lung Cancer. About two months later, he succumbed to Lung Cancer.

  “I’ve been going through a hard time and all of these kids helped me through it,” Justin said in a recent interview. “They helped me a lot. My teammates were part of the healing process for me,” he said.

  Brenton Sullivan, a defensive lineman, said he and his teammates rallied around their grieving teammate. “It was a very tough time for Justin when his dad died. We gave him support and he definitely powered through it,” Brenton said.

  “If anything, playing while dealing with that personal tragedy made him even better. He went out and played well that game after his father passed away. And going out and playing after all the personal adversity he faced, Justin was definitely an inspiration for his teammates,” he said.

  Last week’s award presentation at Prince Pizzeria wasn’t something that Justin was expecting. “I was surprised. I didn’t even know there was going to be an award presentation, “Justin said.

  “It’s been a good year and I want to thank every one of my teammates for being with me when I needed them the most and throughout the season. With their support, I played every game,” he said.

He hopes to play college football

  Justin said he hopes to attend college after graduating from Saugus High. He’s mostly an A and B student. And he has dreams of playing collegiate football.

  “When he came here as a freshman, Justin was one of those kids who gave you everything,” Coach Cummings recalled. “He’s been such a great kid,” the coach said. “His dad made it to a few games to see Justin play.”

  After the death of his dad, Justin essentially became the man of the house. It was just him, his mother and five sisters.

  “He never used anything as an excuse,” Coach Cummings said in an interview recently, recalling how Justin responded after the death of his dad. “Considering everything he was dealing with, he’s an incredible young man. At practice, you’d never see it affect him. He really enjoyed playing football. It was that time to get things off his mind – and all of the things he’s been going through,” the coach said.

  “He’s one of those kids who works really hard and does all the things you ask of him – even in just a very tough situation. I couldn’t be more proud of how he handled everything and persevered in the face of such adversity,” he said.

  Coach Cummings said Justin played the game with great passion. “As a player, he’s tough. He’s always in the right spot. He’s got a great nose for the ball,” Coach Cummings said.

  “Every once in a while, he shows up and makes a big play or is part of one. He’s always around the ball. He always seems to be around the ball and in the right spot. If there’s a ball on the ground, he’s right there and a part of the play. If a pass gets deflected, he’s near the action,” the coach said.

  “The great thing about this sport is the camaraderie that players seem to share – being around the guys who play. Really, there was not a lot of thought on who was going to get this award,” Cummings said.

Collecting the hardware: Justin Belluscio got to hold up two coveted trophies on Wednesday night (Nov. 16) – one of them that he took home as this year’s recipient of the Saugus Lions Club “Heisman Award.” His name will also be engraved on the giant “Heisman Trophy” that will be put on display at Saugus High to honor all past recipients.

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