Architect of the success nearly didn’t come back

(Editor’s note: This feature, published in the Dec. 9, 2012, edition of the Republican-American, examines the emotional year of Ansonia High football coach Tom Brockett after winning a state title.)

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — A 10-month-old boy replaced fire and brimstone Saturday morning in the bowels of Rentschler Field.

Ansonia coach Tom Brockett brought his son, Michael, into the locker room just minutes before the Chargers won their record 18th state championship in a 59-26 rout of North Branford.

Plenty of teenagers dressed in navy blue had special days on that chewed-up grass. Arkeel Newsome was special. Jai’Quan McKnight was special. Andrew Matos, Raeshaun Finney and Jh’mel Trammell were all special.

But that word — special — applies to no person who occupied that hollow, 40,000-seat stadium better than Michael Brockett.

It’s not because his first foray into a locker room was before a championship game at a college stadium. It’s not because he’s the newest child of Connecticut’s most successful young coach in history.

It’s because his dad wasn’t sure if either of them would make it to that time and place.

Tom’s wife, Nicole, gave birth to Michael on Feb. 18. Michael wasn’t supposed to arrive until the middle of May.

He was 13 weeks premature and weighed less than three pounds when doctors and nurses delivered him on a Saturday at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

“I can’t explain how, when I walked into that room and had no idea what to expect, how proud I was of him,” Tom said. “I’ve never seen someone fight like that.”

Michael survived and is now healthy, but the better part of 2012 was a drain on Tom. He spent more than two months away from the Ansonia football program he’s led since taking over for the late Jack Hunt in 2006, and he wasn’t sure when — or if — he’d come back.

“Football was the farthest thing from my mind,” Tom said. “For 77 days I had nothing to do with the program. It’s a credit to our kids that they stayed the course. Our assistant coaches, no calls had to be made (to them). They know what to do.”

Tom hasn’t made his family, including wife Nicole and 3-year-old daughter Alyssa, a secret to his team. But he wanted the pregame speech before his sixth championship appearance as a head coach to be memorable—for everyone.

“When I talk (to Michael) about these guys 10 years from now, I want to be able to say, ‘You were in that locker room. You remember Hezekiah Duncan,’” said Tom, who now has four state titles as a head coach. “It was one of my regrets in ’06, I was married and I didn’t have any kids, so they couldn’t be around Alex Thomas and Rashaad Bass and all the great kids we had.”

Michael may be too young to remember what happened Saturday morning at Rentschler Field, but the guys many years his senior said they won’t forget.

“For him to have his son here and for us to win for him and his son, that was just an incredible thing right there,” Trammell said. “It was truly, truly great. I feel blessed for that.”

“I know what he’s been through and we’ve all been together on this ride,” Ansonia assistant coach Steve Coughlin said. “I was just happy for him. This has been a very, very emotional ride this year. It was a tremendous thing.”

Now, a little more than two months short of Michael’s miracle first birthday, the Brocketts have yet one more reason to be thankful.

“It was a dream to have him here today,” Tom said. “The football part makes it all that much better. I’m looking forward to going home and celebrating with them.”

(Editor’s note: Here’s how the feature looked in print.)

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