MERRIMACK - After 18 years, 10 championship-game appearances and four state titles, Mike Beliveau has coached his final game at Souhegan High School.
Several members of Beliveau's family joined former Souhegan players and coaches at Merrimack High School for the longtime mentor's final Turkey Bowl, a 41-14 win for the Sabers, who have now won 11 of 16 Thanksgiving games in Beliveau's tenure.
"I didn't really care if this one last game was a win. I didn't," said Beliveau. "What I cared about was this moment, a beautiful, sunny Thanksgiving day with family present ... the ex-players ... so it couldn't have ended any better. Yeah, we got a 'W,' but that was really just the icing on the cake."
"Great guy, great coach," said interim Merrimack head coach Justin Smith, who coached with Beliveau in last year's Shrine Game. "He's had a great career at Souhegan. It was an honor to coach against him in his last game, and I wish him the best of luck going forward."
Bedford head coach Kurt Hines, who in five years has built a perennial powerhouse at BHS, credits Beliveau for the many lessons and practices now applied on the Bedford gridiron.
"I coached under him for seven years (at Souhegan). He gave me my first job," said Hines. "There's just so much I learned from him, not just the game of football, but building a program. There's just so many intricacies that go behind everything that most people don't see. And that's why I came today, and that's why I stayed to the end of a game that wasn't too close."
Hines also noted that several other talented young coaches, including Goffstown's Justin Hufft, Merrimack's Joe Battista and Hollis-Brookline's Milt Robinson grew from Beliveau's tree.
Yet it was the student athletes, he said, that most benefited.
"I think Mike's record speaks for itself, but I think what a lot of people don't know about Mike is how much he cares about the kids," said Hines. "You know, anyone can say that, but he truly does, and I think it's evident by how much he helps the kids get to the next level."
Beliveau has helped dozens of young athletes – including this year's star quarterback, Tyler Young, and standout lineman James Kennedy – advance to college football, but there are hundreds of others, still, who he set up for success off the field.
"As far as my career goes, I can sum it up this way: 'my heart is full of joy,' mostly because I know that the young men are going to live healthy, caring-for-other-people, productive lives," said Beliveau. "I know that they're going to have memories and football stories that will never go away, and no matter how many we won or lost – and by the way, we did win a lot – it doesn't matter. They loved football and that's all I care about. I really think those bonds I have with them are for a lifetime."
Though Beliveau admitted he's battling empty-nest syndrome with the departure of his children onto college and other life ventures, he told the Nashua Telegraph that he wants to watch his son play football at St. Lawrence University and possibly pursue coaching positions for college teams.
He left his former players with one promise, however.
"I'm going to be around for awhile," he said. "I'll get to see them in different ways. You know, I want to see them as family men, and all of that, so it's going to be great."