PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth High School football coach Dustin Almeida walked off his team’s home field turf on Thanksgiving Day for the final time after the Patriots beat Middletown 20-0.
Almeida, who’s been coaching for almost 30 years and who became the Portsmouth head coach in 2019, made it known to those in the program at the season’s onset that this would be his last season.
Still, Almeida wasn’t outwardly emotional Thursday after the victory.
“When it comes to game day it’s never about me,” Almeida said. “It’s always about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Honestly, it was like more routine than anything.
“I just wanted to be here with the guys and the kids. The other team, I know the coaches well and I’m friendly with their kids. So for me, it was just getting out and doing it today with a lot of people I care about being around. It’s a beautiful day.”
Apparently, Almeida’s emotions welled up after practice the night before the final game of the season.
“Last night we kind of all stayed around here in the middle (of the field) and each senior got up and talked to the team,” Almeida said. “That was pretty good. I try to keep it as tight as I can but it’s a group of guys that I really care about.”
Emotional bonds formed with senior class players
Almeida has coached most of those seniors through youth football and now through high school. Unbreakable bonds have formed. Portsmouth senior Luke Brennan was slated to be the team’s starting quarterback but he suffered an injury early in the season and never got the chance to lead the team.
“A lot of people don’t know how much I struggled being out for the whole year,” Brennan said. “But the whole time along the way he helped me. He basically made me feel like a coach on this team along with the players.
“I love that guy. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve had him since I was like 2 years old. He’s like a second father to me. I don’t know what I’m going to do without him but I know he’s always there for me.”
Almeida, a 1991 Middletown High School graduate, coached his alma mater's freshman team in 1994 and was the varsity team defensive coordinator the next three years. He moved to Florida in 1999 where he was a teacher and defensive backs coach at Riverview High School. He spent three more years there, the last as the team’s head coach.
Almeida returned to Rhode Island where he coached youth football and high school football. He had two stints as an assistant coach at both Portsmouth and Middletown high school before landing the Portsmouth head coaching position. He told the people he wanted to know that this season would be his last.
The time was right for Almeida to retire from coaching
“Everybody knew about it. It’s just time,” Almeida said. “Nothing negative. I love the place. I love working here. I’ve had a blast coaching here.
“It’s just me getting a little long in the tooth and my son leaving and going off to college. I just want to kind of put some time in with my family.”
Almeida was named the Division I-B high school football coach of the year by the Providence Gridiron Club his first season at Portsmouth. He guided the Patriots to a 6-1 regular-season record and to their first state Super Bowl berth in 10 years.
Almeida dealt with the team’s ups and downs during COVID as the Patriots continued to play winning football. His Portsmouth teams compiled a 26-11 overall record (.703 winning percentage), made the playoffs all four seasons and played in two Super Bowls.
“He’s a great coach. His teams are always well prepared,” Middletown High coach Matt Kestler said. “What’s great about him is he’s kind of poked his head in all these different communities and yet he’s had success at every single one of them.
“I told him before the (Thanksgiving) game what a great run he had and how impressed I was with what he’s done year in and year out because that’s the challenge. You can have a good year and a couple down years but here they are two Super Bowl games in (four) years which is an incredible accomplishment.”
Almeida brings stability, success to the program
Almeida instilled a family environment and stabilized the Portsmouth program in the wake of a former player’s death by suicide two years prior. This Portsmouth team loses 18 seniors to graduation but there are 61 probable returnees to the program.
“I’m very proud of what we did here and I think it’s on the way up,” Almeida said. “I feel like we left it in a way like it can keep going. Community and all the stuff we worked on. Everybody’s in right now so I think it’s time for that transition to occur. It’s not just me. I just feel like it’s a good time for the program to make that transition and still be at a very high level and winning a championship.”
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Almeida has met numerous people during his coaching career and holds those connections close.
“For me, it’s really about all the relationships you form with everyone you meet regardless of what they do,” Almeida said. “I know it sounds corny but I feel like I’m one of the luckiest guys around because of those relationships.”
Almeida has been all-in, 24-7, since he arrived and now will have considerable downtime to ponder what’s next.
“I haven’t really thought of that yet. We’ll see,” Almeida said.
When asked what his wife says he’s going to do now, Almeida responded with a chuckle, “That’s exactly right. That’s really the true answer right there.”
This article originally appeared on Newport Daily News: Portsmouth High School football coach Dustin Almeida steps down