Riverside-Brookfield High School senior Nick Fucinato never imagined he would star in a football game.
That’s understandable because to be a football star one actually has to play football.
Fucinato had never done that, but it didn’t stop him from kicking three field goals in the Bulldogs’ 22-0 victory over Morton on Aug. 29. It was the first time in a decade RBHS had won its season opener.
“Everyone was congratulating me but it was more about the win,” Fucinato said. “We haven’t won [the] first game in like 10 years, so it was huge.”
The 5-10, 205-pound Fucinato was a reserve on the varsity basketball and baseball teams last year but had no prior football experience when RBHS coach Brendan Curtin discovered him one day over the summer kicking field goals with his buddies at the football stadium.
“I was walking from my office to the equipment shed and saw a couple kids at the 30-yard line,” Curtin said. “I got to the far hash and they’re like, ‘hey, Coach Curtin, you should take a look at this kid.’
“I stopped and watched and he drilled one from 40 yards and so I said, ‘Do it again,’ and he knocked another one in.”
Given the kicking challenges the Bulldogs have had in recent years, Curtin immediately was intrigued.
“I walked over and I had seen Nick around the building before, but didn’t know him personally,” Curtin said. “I knew he was an athlete. We started talking and I asked him if he’d be interested. Told him what it entailed and he was out the next Monday. The rest is history.”
Fucinato’s leg strength was developed playing soccer, which he quit after breaking his right ankle in seventh grade. He was booting footballs with his friends for fun and never thought about joining the football team until Curtin asked him to.
“One day we just came out kicking field goals and Coach Curtin saw me and he just asked me whether I wanted to come out for the team and I was like, ‘why not?'” Fucinato said. “Goofing around I knew I could kick it pretty far, so I thought might as well help the team. I knew there was an open spot at kicker.”
Fucinato’s debut was memorable but by no means easy. His first kick was not a point-after but a 38-yard field goal try in the second quarter with the game still scoreless.
Not only did Fucinato make that one, but he also connected from 36 and 26 yards. He later added an extra point [a second PAT attempt was aborted because of an errant snap].
“A lot of people were surprised I pulled the trigger for the 38-yarder on his first kick of his high school career,” Curtin said. “But I knew that was at about the top of his range and he looked pretty good during pregame and was looking good in the days leading up to that, so I said, ‘let’s give it a go.'”
Curtin said that Fucinato has had both good days and bad days at practice but is impressed by how he has stuck with it. The Bulldogs are thrilled to have a reliable kicker.
“Obviously, it’s a welcome addition,” Curtin said. “We’ve struggled with identifying a kicker and we’ve got a couple athletes on the team that can kick but they have other responsibilities. We want those guys scoring touchdowns, so it’s always nice when you can have a kicker who can dedicate his practice time to putting the ball through the uprights and making sure we get a good, deep kickoff.”
Fucinato said he’s kicked field goals as long as 45 in practice but never in a game simulation. Even so, a range out to 40 yards gives the Bulldogs some flexibility with their red-zone play calling.
“Any time you’re talking about putting points on the board it’s important,” Curtin said. “So as an offensive coordinator myself, it’s always nice to be able to get the ball inside the 20 and you know you can take a couple shots at the end zone and you’re still going to come away with points if you’ve got a good kicker.”
If any of the Bulldogs, most of whom have played the game for years and given three or four seasons to the program, are unhappy with the attention Fucinato received for his first-game feat, they haven’t shown it.
“I think this is a football team that really loves the game and enjoys the game and they’ve accepted him with open arms,” Curtin said. “They know that the role of the kicker is a little bit different than everybody else. He doesn’t do as much of the dirty work but obviously he’s under tremendous pressure when it’s time to perform.
“I think everyone admires and respects him for coming out. It certainly wasn’t an easy thing to do. These guys have been working at it for a long time and it does take courage to do what he’s doing.”
For his part, Fucinato knows he wouldn’t succeed without the protection of the offensive line and the sure hands of holder Dean Zigulich, a starting wide receiver who ironically would have been the kicker had Fucinato not joined the team.
“I’ve known most of the guys over the years from other sports and just hanging out, but everyone has been real accepting and it’s been nice,” Fucinato said. “The offensive line is great. The snapper is Frank Urbanksi; he does great. Even Dan Magee, who is the backup snapper, when Frank went down he did a great job. Dean does a great job holding so it was pretty much all him.”
Fucinato doesn’t have any plans to continue kicking in college. His main goal is to help the Bulldogs make the playoffs.
What message does he have for kids thinking about trying a new sport in high school?
“I’d say just go for it and why not,” Fucinato said. “If you work hard, you can do great things.”