PAWTUCKET – Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself when the last time was you did something nice for the benefit of someone else.
By nice, we’re referring to an action that was completely out of the blue and took the intended recipient by surprise. In other words, the feelings that emanated from the heart served as an emotional compass that pointed to just how much a person means to you.
St. Raphael junior quarterback Andre DePina-Gray – one of the main reasons why his team is playing for the Division II Super Bowl against Barrington at Cranston Stadium on Sunday night (7 p.m.) – has a story to tell about a selfless act of kindness that can be summed up as a major leap.
Not too long ago, he went by “Andre Gray.” In March, he legally changed his name to include “DePina” as part of his last name. It’s a course of action that was performed in tribute to Mike DePina, an individual who has proven to fill an important void.
“He’s been in my life a long time,” explained Andre. “He stepped up as a father figure when my biological father couldn’t. I couldn’t be more thankful.
“That’s why I thought it was time to take on his last name,” he added.
Before Mike entered the picture, it was Andre and his mother Adelia living in an apartment. Andre received his introduction to Mike at a young age.
“He definitely didn’t overstep his bounds when he first met me. He eased his way in. You have to develop that trust that a father and son would have,” said Andre. “Some step-parents don’t want to have anything to do with their significant other’s kids because they’re not theirs. I’m really grateful that he stepped into my life.”
What was a two-person family featuring Andre and his mom was bumped up to a five-person family, as Mike has two children of his own.
“I gained a brother and sister,” said Andre. “Now I have a family instead of just me and my mom.”
It was Mike who succeeded in convincing Adelia – a St. Raphael graduate – to allow Andre to play football. Mike was a defensive lineman at Dorchester High School. Mike was also involved on the pigskin coaching front when Andre played for the Darlington Braves during his middle school years.
“She wanted me to continue playing soccer. I had been playing it since I was a toddler,” said Andre, ranked seventh in his St. Raphael class and someone who’s received college football interest from a few Ivy League schools. “Once Mike showed me what football was all about, I fell in love with it. It’s been my number one sport since.”
Per Andre, Mike has and continues to serve as a valuable sounding board for all matters related to football.
“He’s the guy I turn to when I get into my own head. He’ll calm me down and help get me out of the funk I’m in,” said Andre. “He’ll also give me pointers to help me better myself on and off the field.”
Andre brought up the suggestion of legally changing his last name to his mom after Mike proposed to Adelia on her birthday.
“I pulled her into another room and asked if that was something I could do. She said she would get it done for me,” said Andre.
The wheels were set in motion last December. The timing of becoming known as Andre DePina-Gray coincided with Mike’s birthday in March.
“It was a big decision. My mom wanted to make sure I was okay with everything,” said Andre. “From the start, I always wanted to do something special for him. I thought it was the perfect thing to do.”
Not long after Adelia responded “Yes!” to Mike’s marriage proposal, Mike turned to Andre.
“You can call me Pops,” said Andre, recalling that Mike spoke to him in a playful tone.
On Mike’s birthday, Andre presented his stepfather with documents that signified that a major step was now official.
“Yeah, now I can call you Pops,” said Andre DePina-Gray, describing an action that speaks volumes of a gesture that helped make someone’s day.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03