Resilient Waldron Sets Lofty Goals For NHS Eleven
By KEN HAMWEY
Staff Sports Writer
Drew Waldron relies on some dynamic attributes that have enabled him to excel in football and outdoor track.
A Natick High senior, the 6-foot-1, 170-pounder, who’ll be a captain in both sports during the 2022-23 school year, is mentally tough, has a high football and track IQ, is instinctive and athletic, knows how to lead, has speed and quickness and he’s coachable.
But, the one attribute that puts him in the “special’’ category is mental toughness, which leads to his resiliency and his knack for bouncing back quickly from adversity.
After a freshman season of football starting at both wide receiver and cornerback, he was eager to get his varsity career underway. A fractured ankle, however, ended a sophomore season that never materialized.
“I suffered the injury in pre-season practice a day before our first scrimmage,’’ Waldron said. “I was in a boot, on crutches, and in a brace. After eight weeks of rehab, I was healthy but that season (fall 2) was shortened to five games and I missed the entire campaign.’’
Waldron’s recovery was a dynamic display of mental tough ness and resiliency. Another example of his intense mental approach showed in Natick’s 28-27 loss to Milford last year. The loss was difficult but Waldron displayed talent and skill as a kickoff and punt returner, running back a kick 87 yards for a touchdown that kept Natick in the game.
“I got great lead blocking and turned on the speed for that TD,’’ Waldron noted. “We had a chance to win the game on a two-point conversion but it failed. That game, nevertheless, showed that we handled defeat well because we bounced back and won our next six games.’’
And, when Waldron’s junior season of football ended, he had 20 receptions, 2 TDs on returns, and 27 tackles and one fumble recovery on defense.
“Drew is very explosive and instinctive,’’ said Natick coach Mark Mortarelli. “He had some terrific kick returns for us in big moments. Drew is also tremendous in track. A quiet captain, he leads by example. Our coaching staff was really impressed with him before the ankle injury. But, he came back strong and had a great junior season. He’s also an excellent student and should have many college opportunities.’’
Track is a sport that requires its participants to be mentally tough and the 17-year-old Waldron often displayed that trait.
A Bay State Conference all-star, he was on two relay teams that set Natick records (long jump relay and sprint medley relay). That sprint medley squad went to the nationals and finished sixth. And, as for Natick High’s outdoor track history, Waldron owns the third fastest time in the 400-meter run (50.1 seconds) and he has the third-best distance in the long jump (21 feet, 2½ inches). He also competes in the 200-meter run.
“I was new to track, and doing so many events so quickly put a strain on my body,’’ Waldron said. “Playing football, I was used to pushing through pain and injury, but in track I had to learn that being fully healthy is important to team and individual success, and I had to listen to my body and my coaches to make sure I was fully rested for each meet.
“I sat out the conference championship meet due to a hamstring injury to be healthy for Division 2 states where I placed second overall in the 400-meter and eighth overall in the long jump to help the team place fourth overall.’’
Waldron, who played a year of varsity basketball at shooting guard, also exhibits lots of mental discipline in the academic arena. A National Honor Society student and vice president of the Future Business Leaders of America Club, he has a 4.2 GPA and hopes to major in pre-law or business. “If I go to a Division 1 college, I’ll probably just focus on track, but if I choose a Division 2 o 3 school, I might try both football and track,’’ he offered.
Passionate about football, however, Waldron likes playing as a wideout and a cornerback. “A wide receiver can change the outcome of a game on one play,’’ he said. I enjoy trying to get open and beating a defender. On defense, I like the one-on-one matchup. Defense requires being instinctive and the key is to read your opponents’ moves.’’
Aggressive on offense, Waldron tends to rely on finesse when playing safety or cornerback. “Defense is more mental,’’ he said, “and it’s like being a mind-reader.’’
Natick had success in Waldron’s first varsity year but its playoff run ended when it lost for a second time to Milford after the Redhawks had beaten North Andover.
“My team goals this year are to focus on one game at a time, win the Carey Division of the Bay State Conference, qualify for the playoffs, then strive to win the Super Bowl,’’ Waldron said. “Individually, I want to be the best captain and player I can be. I’d like to become a BSC all-star and build a foundation for our younger players. Improving my stats really doesn’t matter because it’s all about winning consistently.’’
Four teammates Waldron believes will be prime contributors this season are Natick’s other senior captains — linebacker Henry O’Connor, center Jack Hubbard, tight end Jack McCarthy and receiver/defensive back Louie Linton.
“All are captains who’ll lead effectively and be role models on and off the field and in the classroom,’’ Waldron said. “They’re all talented and skilled at the positions they play.’’
Calling Mortarelli “a strong motivator,’’ Waldron admires his knowledge of football and his tactical know-how. “Coach Mortarelli allows us to have fun but we also know when the moment is serious,’’ he offered. “He runs the team as if it were a college-level squad.’’
A captain who leads by example, Waldron also will be supportive of his teammates and vocal when the need arises. His play in Natick’s home opener last year against Walpole was an early indication that he had leadership ability. “I had two pass break-ups and made three tackles,’’ Waldron recalled. “We won in overtime, 13-7. It was an exciting game, played on a Friday night in front of a pack crowd.’’
Calling his parents (Dave and Kimberly) role models for their support and encouragement, Waldron also is a fan of his twin sister Zoe, who’ll be a three-sport captain this year in cross-country and indoor and outdoor track. “She was a BSC all-star in outdoor track,’’ he said.
Relying on an athletic philosophy that focus on having fun, winning and reaching one’s potential, Waldron says that he’s learned valuable life lessons from sports. “A great lesson is learning how to be mentally tough,’’ he said. “Sports also teach how to be a quality leader and teammate, how to set goals and communicate, to treat all teammates fairly and to manage your time effectively.’’
Mortarelli knew early on that Waldron’s blood lines would probably be a plus when he reached varsity status. The reason? Waldron’s father (Dave) and Mortarelli were teammates at Natick in the early 1990s and Dave Waldron was recruited to play football at West Point.
“At Natick, my dad was a receiver and defensive back and coach Mortarelli was a tight end,’’ the younger Waldron said. “My father said that he and coach Mortarelli enjoyed being teammates and they helped compile a 7-3 record during their 1990 season. My father would have played football at West Point but knee injuries got in the way, so, he played rugby in college.’’
The younger Waldron was born in West Point, N.Y., and arrived in Natick as an eighth-grader after growing up in 11 different communities. “We moved around because my dad was in the Army for 23 years, finishing his career as a colonel,’’ Waldron said.
Mortarelli, who no doubt is glad his teammate returned to Natick, notes that “Dave graduated in 1991 and was a very good football player and an exceptional track athlete.’’
Drew Waldron is proof that blood lines matter and that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.