---- — Area fans who’ve seen an awful lot of football say few did it any better than Bill Gosselin.
“What a great football player he was at Central Catholic,” recalled Charlie Samataro, 79, of Derry, a Salem High Hall of Famer. “He was tough as nails. Oh, my God, was he tough. I remember him at linebacker. One game he had over 20 tackles. He hit like a ton of bricks.”
Walter “Skeets” Scanlon, 88, of Lawrence, a member of the Mass. Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, said, “(Legendary Central Catholic coach) Dick Moynihan said he was the best player he ever coached in high school.”
Gosselin, who had been in failing health the last year, passed away last Saturday at age 84. He was remembered as a humble war hero, a loving family man, gifted athlete, a hard-working coach and a respected athletic director. He is survived by his beloved wife of 60 years, Irene Berube Gosselin, seven children and 10 grandchildren.
“He was a real nice guy, a straight shooter,” said Scanlon, the longtime Methuen High baseball coach and one of Gosselin’s dear friends. “He could do almost anything he wanted to do as far as sports. He was an all-conference center, linebacker and split end at Arizona State. Week to week, he’d change positions and do a tremendous job. He was one great guy. He’d do anything for you.”
Mild mannered off the field, the former Central Catholic class president was tough as a player and as a coach.
“He was 29 and I was 21,” began Samataro about their days coaching football at the old Woodbury High in Salem. “Woodbury had no budget. I was going into the Marines the next year. He asked if I wanted to coach the JVs. Bill coached like he played. He was tough as nails and disciplined. It was repetition and do it right.
“He was a Woody Hayes type. The kids respected him and he put out a good team. He wasn’t a jerk, but boy, he’d get in your face. He motivated them. You had to hit. It was probably the first good hitting team Salem had.”
According to a 1957 Eagle-Tribune story about Gosselin and Woodbury, “he was doing the coaching job of the year in Greater Lawrence” and “boys in the school idolize him.”
Gosselin didn’t forget those who were good to him. Samataro recalls Gosselin arranged for the Salem Men’s Club to give him $100 after the season, a welcome gift for a young guy going into the military.
Gosselin declined a tryout offer from the Los Angeles Rams to join the Army.
According to his obituary, he received the Purple Heart, Parachute Badge, Korean Service Medal with Bronze Star, and the Overseas Bar United Nations Service Medal.
“He was in Korea as a paratrooper,” said Scanlon, who played baseball at Arizona State. “He’d never talk about it. Not too many people knew it.”
Among his many jobs, he was an assistant to Andover’s Ed Doherty at URI and an assistant at Lawrence High. He also was head football coach for four years at Woodbury (he went 15-15-1 and his 1957 team won the Division 4 state title) and then for six years at Methuen (17-29-1 from 1959-64).
He finished his career as the athletic director for 23 years at Methuen High. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, he oversaw the glory years of Methuen sports when the new high school was built. The Rangers won three straight Division 2 Dalton Awards from 1979-81, symbolic of the top overall athletic programs in Eastern Mass.
In a 2007 Eagle-Tribune story, Methuen Superintendent Dr. Paul Zdanowicz said, “Most of the credit has to go to Bill. He was the guy out there hiring the coaches and running the whole thing.”
The South Lawrence native was a member of the Central Catholic (the first class of inductees), Methuen High and Tilton Prep halls of fame.
He was only about 170 pounds as a three-sport star at Central (football, school record 300 points in a season in basketball, baseball), which scared off the college recruiters. He put on 10 pounds at Tilton and, with help from Lawrence High’s great coach Mark Devlin, finally landed a scholarship to Arizona State, which was coached by Andover’s Doherty.
In a 1986 Eagle-Tribune story, Gosselin said, “I was scared to death. New Hampshire was the furthest away I’d been from South Lawrence. I’ll never forget the look on Doherty’s face when I stepped off the plane. He took one look at me and his face dropped. He didn’t think I was that small.”
It turned out he was plenty big enough. He was a four-year mainstay and was even a finalist for the AP National Lineman of the Week one week.