ATTLEBORO — All Joe Warzycha needs is to have a dog named “Shamrock.”
It would be most fitting for the former Bishop Feehan High School football player set to be inducted into the Attleboro Area Football Hall of Fame Saturday.
As a Shamrock football player, Warzycha played tackle on the offensive line and end on the defensive line, and he is proud to proclaim that he could still likely fit into his No. 76 jersey.
Warzycha was a member of the East Providence police force (SWAT Team and Honor Guard) and is in his 15th year as a lieutenant with the Pawtucket Fire Department. He has also been the executive director of the R.I. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for nearly a year.
Warzycha worked with the police department’s canine crew and started with the RISPCA as their cruelty investigator, but his few days a week turned into four or five days a week.
“I never had pets growing up in Pawtucket,” Warzycha said. “When I got on the police department, I became very fond of the canine units and started looking into that. For whatever reason, my passion for animals started to grow.
“There is no shortage of sad stories involving animals out there... It’s a big, emotional job.”
Warzycha met his wife, Kara, at an animal shelter where she was working.
He played for legendary Bishop Feehan High athletic director and coach Paul O’Boy for his first three years as a Shamrock, then former AHS coach Tom Crowe took over during his senior season.
A Pawtucket native who attended St. Cecelia’s School, Warzycha wound up at Feehan because his elder sister Tracy went there.
“I don’t know how she ended up there, but that’s how I got there,” he said.
“Without a doubt, it was probably the best four years of my life,” Warzycha added, reveling in the memories of Peter Galligan, Ed Gagnon, Chris Servant, O’Boy and the late Sister Pat (Harrington). “Seriously, I mean that wholeheartedly. My high school experience at Bishop Feehan was filled with great memories.”
Warzycha and his Shamrock football teammates kind of went their various ways after graduation.
“It was a weird generation before social media,” he said. “Honestly, I had one good friend (Rob Brennan) who was a year ahead of me. I kind of reconnected with a few people, but we kind of lost touch with each other.
“Life gets in the way!”
Warzycha earned an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy, played football at West Point for a season and then attended Dean College in Franklin. He graduated from Northeastern University in 1997.
With a lean, muscular physique, Warzycha was built more like a tight end than a tackle, but he was the lone lineman close to 200 pounds at the time.
Warzycha hardly came off of the field for Bishop Feehan, a fixture on both the offensive and defensive lines. It would be hard for him not to remember his senior season because the Shamrocks were winless through 11 games, with one 6-6 tie.
Warzycha was named to the Eastern Athletic Conference All-Star Team and was awarded with Feehan’s prestigious Gary Francis Flynn Award which honors a Class of 1965 Marine who died in the line of duty in Vietnam.
Warzycha was the epitome of a Shamrock football player — as tough as could be until the whistle blew and a true gentleman right after it. He led by example in actions and in words — be it making a big play when it was badly needed, or showing a young team how a leader acted in the face of adversity.
Along with Warzycha, representing Bishop Feehan as 2019 Shamrock inductees to the Hall of Fame are Rob McCourt (‘04) and Nick Schwieger (‘08).
Attleboro High’s Hall of Fame inductees are Jonathan Skinner (‘03), Brandon Mooney (’12) and Tim Walsh (‘14). And representing the Rocketeers of North Attleboro are Mike Hogan (2001), Kevin Kelleher (‘01) and Ryan Flannery (‘11), while longtime assistant coach Ken Nally is the recipient of the “Honorary” inductee.
There were 140-pound guards in front of a sophomore QB by the name of Nate Cote. As Cote, a member of Bishop Feehan’s Football Hall of Fame Committee recalled of Warzycha, “Joe was the undisputed leader of that team — no question at all.”
“He was the one guy that I looked up to where he would get fired up but actually follow through on it by making the play right after it,” Cote recalls. “He easily could have given up as his senior season was a long, winless season.
“We were inexperienced and not a very good football team. He stayed the course and told the young guys that we were going to build something special over the next couple of years.
“He knew that this was going to be after he graduated and still stuck to that message. He was truly a selfless leader and the impact he had on the Feehan program long after he left was substantial.”
When asked about some of his most memorable experiences, Warzycha points to sled drills with Coach Gagnon and Coach O’Boy’s double sessions, which he added “are not the same as the double sessions of today’s players!”
Warzycha directly pointed to his Feehan football experience as the foundation for commitment, physical endurance, teamwork, leadership, and dedication; many of the qualities and traits that have served him well since leaving Holcott Drive.
With many responsibilities during the week, there are not many hours for Warzycha to watch high school, college or professional football games.
“I’m one of those guys that if I’m home, I’ll put it on, but I’m not one of those guys who has to be home to watch a football game,” he said. “It’s the one sport that I do enjoy watching, but my life does not revolve around it.”
Warzycha does go to the gym for strength and conditioning work needed for his firefighting duties, but does not have much time for recreational activities.
Warzycha was on the field as a sophomore and junior, but didn’t start until his senior year.
“Those sophomores during my senior year were the guys who started to turn it around, have success and get to Super Bowls,” he said. “Let’s say that my senior season was a character-building season.
“Coach Gagnon (the defensive line coach) and Coach (Lou) Gazzola (the backs coach) bring back fond memories. Lou was my homeroom teacher, he was awesome.
“It was the years after I left Bishop Feehan that I was surprised to hear that I was nominated for the Hall of Fame.”
Warzycha played basketball as a Shamrock for Leo Charron and competed in track for Bishop Feehan coach Bob L’Homme.
“Bishop Feehan was my mentor; it gave me guidance, foresight, without a doubt,” he said. “It’s easy to get up every day and go out and practice when you’re winning. It’s so much harder when you’re not. It really builds character and I was a captain, so you had to motivate everyone else, never mind motivate yourself.
“Those are the things that you carry on in your later years.”