Inside Stories

The Man Behind the Pirates

by Ben Gottschalk

Lowell – In Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, where the quiet charm of New England meets the pulse of suburban life, a young man’s narrative unfolds as his love of football fueled the engine behind one of the most prominent arena football organizations in the country.

This is not just a story of touchdowns and tackles, but one woven with passion and perseverance.

Take a step into the cleats of a man who embodies the heart and soul of the game: Jawad Yatim, the Massachusetts Pirates’ founder, co-owner, president, and general manager. His life has been intricately shaped by the pigskin’s trajectory. Jawad’s journey is a testament to the enduring power of a sport that goes beyond the boundaries of a field, uniting communities and inspiring dreams.

Like that of countless fans, Jawad’s journey into the realm of football began with a singular game etched in his memory—an event that served as his introduction to the sport. Long before delving into the intricacies of football business ventures and throwing touchdown passes, Jawad’s initial encounter with football dates back to the 1997 post-season clash between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New England Patriots. In a memorable showdown, the Patriots emerged victorious with a 20-6 score, propelling them to the Super Bowl.

“That was my first real vivid memory of taking in a full football game and just getting to digest it,” Yatim said. “From there, I fell in love with the excitement of the game, and it grabbed my attention even further from there.”

Following that pivotal game, Jawad found himself captivated by football’s allure. At the age of eight, he began playing Pop Warner football in Shrewsbury. Jawad displayed unwavering commitment and steadily progressed throughout his childhood, eventually becoming the starting quarterback at Shrewsbury High School. His tenure there was marked by impressive achievements as he established at the time a school record in nearly every passing statistic. In a crowning achievement, Jawad led his team to an undefeated 13-0 season, the most single season wins in school history, also becoming one of the first team’s in state history to achieve that mark as well. The season culminated with a championship victory and memories that would carry on for years to come.

Yatim said. “Being able to go out there and compete with the guys you grew up playing Pop Warner with and achieve the goal that everybody wanted to achieve together. Those are the memories that still stick with me to this day, i’m sure it’s a consistent feeling among those who have gone through similar experiences.”

Following an impressive senior year, the next step was college, but Jawad’s journey took a unique turn. Instead of the conventional route, he kicked off his post high school experience in New Berlin, New York, at Milford Academy, where he would go on to start quarterback at one of the top prep schools in the nation. Jawad went to Milford Academy on a unique post-graduate program, which allowed him to continue his education and develop further as a player while still retaining his full college eligibility. “The structure and atmosphere at Milford really instilled true discipline in me and my approach to the game and life itself. The academy is located in a secluded setting, it was just you and your teammates and not much more outside of that. It was a calming experience and one that helped shape me from an emotional and spiritual standpoint as much as from a physical perspective” Yatim said.

Jawad would go on to enroll at Coastal Carolina University before deciding on an alternate route, landing him at Dean Junior College in Franklin, Massachusetts. While there, he threw for over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns, initially splitting time before eventually taking over as the team’s starting quarterback.

Following an outstanding season, Jawad packed his bags again, this time going to Florida to play football for Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. “I loved it, it was certainly my favorite collegiate experience,” Yatim said. “It was a great program with a lot of pride and tradition, very competitive, and at the time consistently nationally ranked. Coach Jenkins brought a ton of passion to the program, it was very structured and centered around discipline, production and enthusiasm. I carry that influence with me today and have instilled it in the way we operate here with the Pirates.”

For personal reasons, Jawad decided to make another move closer to home, this time enrolling at Mount Ida College in Newton, Massachusetts. “I spent my last three semesters there,” Yatim said. “It was nice putting together some film to have a chance at playing football after college,” Yatim would go on to lead the conference in total yards and touchdowns after his first season; garnering all-conference honors, as well pre-season All-American honors going into the following campaign. Despite his short stint at Mount Ida, Yatim would find himself graduating as the school’s 3rd all-time leading passer.

Following his collegiate career, Jawad ultimately signed with the Cedar Rapids Titans of the IFL, then coached by current Pirate staff member Mark Stoute. Jawad would also go on to sign and play for the Billings Wolves, and the Tri-Cities Fever throughout his experience in the IFL. He enthusiastically embraced every opportunity as a player to understand the workings of the league beyond the game itself. “I was vigilant and attentive with the flow and execution of the day-to-day operations,” Yatim said. “I took a lot of mental notes, and began to visualize what starting an organization at home would look like.”

Following his time in the IFL, Jawad traveled halfway around the globe after getting drafted to play in the CAFL, the first professional football league in China’s history developed and owned by many of the important figures that made up the popular AFL in the US. Stepping onto the football fields of China was like entering a whole new playbook for Jawad. The game and platform had a different rhythm, a unique cadence that diverged from the familiar beats of American football, however Jawad approached it with the same passion that fueled his love for the sport and looked to make the most of his time in Asia.

“The people are extremely nice there, the food is amazing, and it was great experiencing a different culture and part of the world while still playing the game I love,” Yatim said. Eager to understand the nuances of the game’s operation in this unique setting, he delved into the intricate workings of arena football in China. “I pulled the league’s vice president aside and asked him general questions regarding operations and expenses,” Yatim said. “I was just curious, and that curiosity turned into knowledge, and ultimately, that knowledge turned into experience and success down the road.”

Jawad returned to the United States with a desire to launch his own franchise. Armed with the insights gained from his experience in the IFL and CAFL, he turned that vision into reality by teaming up with his father, Hassan, who serves as the CEO and co-owner.

Reflecting on building and running a franchise in tandem with his father, Jawad said, “It’s a great experience, we’ve been able to go through the ups and downs of running an organization together. I’m certainly grateful for it and will carry this period in my life with me forever.”

The journey of arena football ownership kicked off when Jawad shadowed the Jacksonville Sharks for a game in 2017. After this firsthand experience, he engaged with league executives to initiate the vetting process for their ownership group. Ultimately following their approval as owners in the National Arena League, Jawad had suddenly became the youngest owner and operator in the history of professional football, achieving this milestone at the age of 27. However the journey had just begun and it was time to begin preparing for a season and turning thoughts and goals into reality.

“We started working on medical partnerships, insurance, housing, team composition, marketing, media partnerships, team branding and merchandise, designing and ordering a field, establishing a cheer squad, uniforms, equipment, setting ticket prices and establishing a seating chart, marketing, gameday entertainment, and so on.” Yatim said. “We really dove head first into the fire, and there really wasn’t an option. This business doesn’t wait on anyone you’re either going to be ready or you’re not and for us the latter wasn’t an option. At that point nothing else in my life mattered outside of executing at a high level and placing the Pirates in a position to succeed.”

Jawad served as the Pirates’ sole full-time employee during this initial building period, as he had worked alongside two of his childhood friends, Brandon Perotto and Ryan Massad, who were with the team on a Part time basis but did a tremendous job assisting with preparation for the inaugural season in 2018. Other active and former operators and owners in arena football had lent a helping hand throughout the first season as well. “I learned a lot from Jeff Bouchy of the Jacksonville Sharks and Brady Nelson formerly of the Spokane Shock, we would communicate often and they would provide insight and experiential advice and make sure I was on pace to get done what we needed to get accomplished prior to kickoff,” Yatim said. “In order to execute at a pace we wanted to it was going to take more than just hard work, it was going to an efficient plan and direction so that we we’re consuming time correctly.”

The Pirates would hit the ground running in their inaugural campaign which included the best regular season record in the league, 11 total wins, a head coach of the year recipient, a league MVP recipient, as well as also generating the highest average attendance among all expansion teams. One eye popping stat from 2018 was that the Pirates had established a lead entering the 4th quarter in each of their first 14 games in franchise history.

Following a two-year stint in the NAL and two playoff berths, the Pirates’ third season was canceled due to a global pandemic, which provided the team with an opportunity to join the newly formatted IFL. Their success was immediate as they finished their first campaign with an overall record of 14-3 while securing a victory in the United Bowl against the Arizona Rattlers in 2021, their first championship in franchise history. With this win, Jawad made history again by becoming the youngest owner and operator in the history of professional football to win a championship at the age of 31.

Since then, Jawad has done nothing but continue to prove why he belongs. Over their first five seasons, the Pirates have carved out an impressive all-time record of 53-29, including a 32-9 mark at home. They have clinched playoff berths in every season of their existence, accumulated a 14 game winning streak between the 2021 and 2022 season, and also maintaining a stellar track record without ever finishing below .500. In addition to this success, Jawad has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the top recruiters in the sport.

Jawad’s recruiting prowess is evident in the Pirates’ remarkable feat of having 70 plus players signed by the NFL, CFL, XFL, USFL, and AAF since 2018. This achievement stands as yet another record mark in arena football since the organization’s inception in 2018, underscoring the impact of Yatim’s leadership and the Pirates’ commitment to player development.

“We are in a position now where players want to be here,” Yatim said. “We are an attractive avenue for the player market because they know there is a legitimate opportunity at elevating if they come here and produce at a high level. At this point it’s not an opinion of mine, it’s a fact. Just go by the statistics and our track record. It takes time to develop a culture that people believe in and want to be a part of and we’ve been able to do that but every year rent is due and you need earn your respect and our current focus is finding ways to improve as an organization and get a win opening night next month.”

Jawad doesn’t limit his aspirations to elevating his players; he envisions a journey that extends beyond the arena. As he works tirelessly to guide and empower the athletes under his leadership, he simultaneously harbors personal growth ambitions, aiming for a bigger stage within the professional football landscape.

“That’s one of the primary reasons behind the origin of the Pirates: just being able to continue to gain valuable experience within the game, build my resume and give myself an opportunity to do this in the NFL, no different than anyone else at this level of competition with the exception that my plate is a little larger in terms of responsibility given that it is my business at the end of the day,” Yatim said.

However, the ambitious 34-year-old’s pursuit isn’t solely about climbing the ranks to reach the NFL. Jawad harbors a deeper ambition-to carve out a lasting legacy that extends beyond his personal achievements. “I want to be remembered as a champion and a winner,” Yatim said. “but also as someone who made a difference and played their part within the community while also providing opportunities for our fans to create lasting memories with their friends and loved ones through our organization.”

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