CHATHAM – For Chatham resident and D-Y senior Mark Pawlina, football has been a lifelong passion. Recently, that passion gave a little something back when the Dolphin quarterback received a letter announcing that he’d been selected as one of just 33 student-athletes to be honored by the Jack Grinold Eastern Massachusetts Chapter of the National Football Foundation.
It was an award Pawlina might have seen coming but didn’t assume he’d win.
“My coach got an email asking why I wasn’t nominated for it,” Pawlina said, adding that in response, all of the necessary info was submitted and the rest, as they say, is history. “I was surprised. I didn’t think I was going to win it.”
Pawlina was in first grade when he began playing for the Lower Cape Bluefins, a youth tackle and flag football program for players from the Lower Cape area. Pawlina said football was something he’d been interested in from an early age.
“I’ve always been naturally drawn to it. It was a way for me, my dad and my brother Jacob to bond,” he said.
Pawlina’s father, Mark Pawlina, Chatham’s police chief, said he knew even back then that his son had an affinity for the game.
“In youth football when he wanted to play the quarterback position, I told him that would be great to try out for the position,” Mark Senior said. “He responded by saying, ‘Dad, I’m not trying out, I’m going to be the quarterback.’ I then saw him throw and run the offense and I was amazed at what a natural he was to be a quarterback.”
After making his way through Chatham schools, all the while garnering attention for his efforts with the Bluefins, Pawlina opted to enroll in the D-Y district in sixth grade after his brother transferred to the high school. Though concerned that changing school systems might be daunting, Pawlina said he made friends immediately.
“It was actually pretty easy,” he said. “I met kids right away. They were all so nice and so accepting.”
As Pawlina got older, football became that much more competitive, with key differences between the youth and high school programs, which he began to understand when he played for the D-Y Dolphins.
“It was definitely a huge jump in competition,” he said. “In youth football we won lots of games. In high school everyone is that good.”
Inspired by former Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, Pawlina played for D-Y during his freshmen and sophomore seasons, then tried his hand at attending Monomoy during his junior year. The experience taught him that different programs came with different approaches.
“It was two very different approaches between the schools,” Pawlina said. “At Monomoy it’s definitely very laid back, and at D-Y they have playoff goals, so it’s a little more intense.”
Pawlina had been on the bench with the Dolphins when they won the Super Bowl in 2017, a victory that deepened his love of the game.
“There’s just nothing like it. I’ve never found a sport that even comes close to football,” he said.
At Monomoy, Pawlina stepped into the role of varsity quarterback for the Sharks, and while they didn’t win a championship, they added some big victories to their tally, including wins against Holbrook/Avon, Diman, and Tri-County.
“As a quarterback, it is not just athleticism, but knowing and understanding the plays and seeing defenses,” said Mark Senior. “I was very impressed with his ability to know how to play an opposing defense.”
“It’s definitely a little stressful because you’ve got to know everybody’s job including your own,” Pawlina added.
That season, according to stats on MaxPreps, Pawlina had four touchdown passes, 24 pass completions, and 348 yards. This season, Pawlina’s senior season, he returned to D-Y, leading the charge as the Dolphins defeated Nauset, Hanover, Falmouth, Lawrence, Plymouth North, and Sandwich. His dad said the game he won’t soon forget was against Nauset, his last high school football game.
“He was very sick with a fever and chills and vomiting on the sideline, but he stuck it out for three quarters of the game,” said Mark. “He played his heart out and still had a tremendous performance and won the game buy a big margin. It showed his leadership and toughness.”
For Pawlina, his most memorable game was against Hanover.
“It was a consolation game against a team that had made the playoffs ahead of us,” Pawlina said. “We ended up scoring 42 points in a half as kind of a statement that we should have made the playoffs.”
But football isn’t just about the wins and losses, yards gained, and yards given up. It’s deeper than that.
“It’s probably the bond between teammates,” said Pawlina about what he appreciates most. “As young as I can remember we were always playing football.”
Then there are the lessons. Pawlina’s father hopes his son remembers the significance of being part of a team.
“Like all sports, the concept of being part of a team and working together as a group is so important because everyone on the team plays an important role,” he said. “I know that having that team experience will help Mark in all he does in working with others into the future.”
While the COVID-19 crisis put a heartbreaking end to Pawlina’s final high school lacrosse season, he’s looking forward to playing on a club team at the University of South Florida where he plans on majoring in business analytics and information systems, bound for a career in cybersecurity.
“I’m definitely sick of the cold weather,” he said of his impending Florida adventure.
And what lesson did football teach Pawlina?
“Others before yourself,” he said. “It’s just one of those sports that you can’t do alone.”