Hillard and Titans thankful for the Mom Team

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NASHUA – Garrett Hillard wore that clever grin after a recent Nashua High School North football practice that so many have come to expect.

The question was simple: What is this year’s best pre-game meal that the Titan Team Moms have whipped up this season?

“The buffalo chicken dip has been pretty good this year,” the Titans senior offensive lineman said. “A lot of the Moms have made that, I’ve enjoyed that. “After the games we’ve had like a barbecue thing. I’ve really enjoyed that. I always go over there,have a plate, and take a plate home for the next morning. But I’ve been really into the buffalo chicken dip this year.”

The post-game spread, which players were looking forward to after Wednesday night’s annual North-South Turkey Eve Bowl, is more of a special occasion for Hillard than you think. He lost his Mom, Teri, to cancer when he was in the seventh grade, and ever since, for whatever team he’s played for (either PAL or North), a group of women – mothers of other players – stepped up and have whipped up pre and post-game team meals, and have watched out for Hillard.The nucleus of the so-called “Mom Team” has included Courtney Gillis, Susan Ouellette, Sherissa Ciardi and Heather Scalera. They are the Moms of Titan seniors who were also set to play in their final game Wednesday night – Nicholas Scalera, Aidan Gillis, Harley Ciardi and Austin Ouellette.

Teri Hillard was so appreciated for her Team Mom efforts that a memorial in her honor is located just outside Stellos Stadium.

“Ever since my Mom passed away, seventh grade football is when I lost her, and she was a Team Mom,” Hillard said. “But there were moms who weren’t Team Moms that were always at the games. And they stepped up. So instead of having just one team Mom, it’s like we have six Team Moms. It’s a big community.”

And Hillard is certainly glad they did.

“I’m very appreciative,” he said. “Football’s family. They’re always very good, very nice. … I was grateful they’ve been helpful all the years. They took over my Mom’s role, and that’s been so helpful.”

The women have done this as a tribute to Teri Hillard.

“Teri made everyone feel included,” Gillis said. “She was the biggest reason our team has always felt like a family.”

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When Teri Hillard passed away in 2013, while many were mourning her loss, there was also a question of what would happen next with the PAL Force off-the-field activities.

“When we lost her, nobody wanted to step into those shoes initially,” Hollins said. “As our eighth grade season was approaching, having our ‘Mom Team’ seemed like the only way.

“Our coach at the time, Eric Fowler (now the North freshman coach) agreed. Our team has always been very close, like a family. While the coaches took care of everything on the field, we took care of all of the other stuff – tailgates, prepping and sending meals on the buses for always games. When the boys were younger, we’d all help each other out driving our four boys and Garrett to and from work outs and practices.”

Hillard is a popular teammate.

“Great sense of humor, very likeable character, big personality,” North coach Dante Laurendi said. “Beyond that, does a lot of things from a maturity standpoint on his own that’s very impressive for one, a kid his age, and two, a kid that’s experienced the loss that he has. In a lot of areas in life, he’s shown a lot of maturity.”

There’s a core of players that have been teammates since their Pop Warner days, some as far back as the third or fourth grade, and it’s made for what Laurendi has praised as a close knit senior group. And their moms have been there the whole time.

“It was good that they are helpful,” Hillard said.

“The families are close,” Laurendi said. “It’s important for (Garrett) to have those group of moms. And I think it’s important for them to have him. They take great pride in kind of embracing him and making him feel like he’s special.”

But it was Teri Hillard who set the tone.

“Throughout her cancer treatments she still showed up to practices with the families and gave some classic pull yourselves together speeches to the boys after rough games,” Scalera, said. ” When she died not long after the seventh grade season ended, the boys pulled together and leaned on each other.

“As the eighth grade season approached, we knew we could never replace Teri on the field or in their hearts, so we decided to form a Mom Team instead of having a Team Mom. Teri inspired us to not just step up for her son, but all the boys on the team. They each became special to us.”

But first, special attention was paid to Garrett Hillard after he suffered such a huge loss.

“We made sure Garrett knew we were here for him, whether it was rides to and from practice, inviting him over for dinners, or bringing him with us on college tours,” said Susan Ouellette, mother of Titan receiver Austin Ouellette. “We wanted him to know, as well as the Hillard family, that we were here for them and we always would be.”

“Teri would have done the same for any of us and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be there for my friend, even though she can not,” Mom Team member Sherissa Ciardi said. “Garrett has become my third son and I love him as I do my own children.”

Thus, it’s obvious the Mom Team’s influence has gone beyond just meals. During Hillard’s sophomore year, when he didn’t have a car, he would get a ride to school or practice from them. “Just little things,” he said. “They’re always there to help.”

It’s good that the Moms have kept Hillard well-fed, as he’s been one of the Titans best linemen. He’s been playing since the third grade and hopes to play in college next year.

He’ll play defense occasionally, but as he headed into this final high school game Wednesday night, he prefers to be on the offensive side of the line.

“I love pushing people around,” he said. “I love being able to eat whatever I want and not having to stay skinny.”

Laurendi noted that Hillard has great strength for a lineman, working hard in the weight room while also being good at film study. “He’s a big kid,” he said, “but he’s able to play well because he understands what’s going on in the game. He kind of gets it.”

What don’t people know about the life of an offensive lineman?

“We don’t get a lot of credit, but that’s all right,” Hillard said.

Hillard has been grateful for all the recognition his mother, who was a nurse at Tewksbury (Mass.) Hospital, has received in her memory. In addition to the plaque outside Stellos, T-shirts were made up, etc.

“It made me feel good,” he said. “She helped out a lot, and she definitely deserved it. At her hospital, too, there’s a tree there for her too.”

Thus, Thursday will be the first day of post-North football for Hillard, who says he’s going to return to wrestle for the Titans after taking a couple of years off. That could be more Mom Team duty, but first, there’s a day for giving thanks.

“I like spending time with my family,” Hillard said of the holiday. “Every year it changes, because I have a ton of family. We end up going to three houses.”

But, as Hillard’s days of relying on his Team Moms are now ending, he made it a point to thank them earlier in the year.

“Garrett has grown into an incredible young man,” Gillis said. “He is a good leader on the team. He looks out for the younger players, encouraging them to elevate their own game.

“He always greets me with a smile. Always polite. During two a day practices this summer, he came over to us after a lunch and said his usual, “Thank you Moms” while most of the other boys were thinking about getting back to practice, Garrett took a moment to express his gratitude for the lunches we prepared for the team. Not a huge deal, but it speaks volumes about Garrett’s character.

“I know Teri would be very proud of him. We all are.”

A lot of reasons for Garrett Hillard, his teammates, and the “Mom Team” to give thanks while honoring the special memory of Teri Hillard.