A father’s perspective
Nicco Fertitta has always had a passion for hitting on the football field. Such a passion that he would cut in line for the chance to do so more often.
The Notre Dame safety signee of Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, who holds a national reputation of delivering cold-blooded hits on the gridiron, took up football before he entered middle school. However, it took some convincing before his father, co-founder of Station Casinos and chairman and CEO of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Lorenzo Fertitta, would sign him up.
“It was in the 5th grade when Nicco really pushed me to let him start playing,” Lorenzo said. “He started playing football before his older brother did. He kept harassing me to sign him up, so I finally did. Our family is big into football, so he grew up around it and always watching it on television. It was something he liked and wanted to try it for himself.”
While most kids in youth ball, and even a majority of high school prospects, prefer the ball in their hands, Fertitta gravitated toward the opposite.
“When he first started playing, they had him playing slot wide receiver, and he did really well with it,” Lorenzo said. “During the season though, he persuaded his coach to let him play defense. That’s what he really wanted to do. He just liked to hit. And, obviously he found his home pretty quickly.”
Nicco’s first offer came during his sophomore year at Bishop Gorman when Utah put a scholarship out to the undersized defensive back.
“It was about the 7th or 8th grade when we realized he had potential,” Lorenzo said. “Local scouts took notice. He played varsity football at Gorman as freshman and was competing well with the older guys.”
Offers from Boston College, Hawaii, Indiana and Villanova, where older brother Lorenzo Fertitta is a junior defensive back, would follow. Nicco would first jump on Notre Dame’s radar during the spring of his sophomore year.
“Notre Dame first noticed Nicco when they were at Gorman to visit some older kids,” Lorenzo said. “The summer in between his sophomore and junior year he visited Notre Dame’s camp. He had a really good conversation with Tony Alford, who told him they wanted to see film of his junior year.”
Throughout his junior season Fertitta called Notre Dame his leader, even without an offer.
“He had no sense a Notre Dame offer was coming his way until [Notre Dame assistant] Mike Denbrock flew out to Las Vegas to see him,” Lorenzo said. “When it happened, he was just very happy because Notre Dame was at the top of his list. Other schools like Boston College and Arizona were starting to come after him hard, but Notre Dame was the offer he really wanted at that point.”
After picking up the Irish offer in January, Fertitta would hold off on making a commitment until later that spring.
“At the end of the day, he’s 17-years old, and going through the recruiting process is fun,” Lorenzo said. “You have a full mailbox every day, and coaches are pulling you out of class to offer you, and you’re getting a lot of attention. So, part of him wasn’t so sure he wanted it to stop.”
The constant recruiting action around Bishop Gorman in previous classes helped Fertitta figure out how to move through the process and eventually end it.
“Committing when he did was something he talked to me a lot about because he saw guys older than him at Gorman go through a lot of stress their senior years with recruiting and choosing a school,” Lorenzo said. “He wanted to make the decision early on and get it behind him.”
In April, father and son flew to Notre Dame to visit.
“He wasn’t necessarily planning on committing when he did,” Lorenzo said. “Once he got to campus and got a sense of the entire staff and what the University was all about, he knew. He saw the locker room and the stadium and everything that Notre Dame stood for, and he knew.”
“He told me right after the visit that’s where he wanted to go, and that’s when he called coach (Brian) Kelly.”
For Fertitta, allowing his son to fully soak up the recruiting process was important, but Notre Dame resonated differently with him from the onset.
“From a parent’s perspective, I knew he had a lot of good options,” Lorenzo said. “Every school has good points to sell in recruiting. But, it was pretty obvious what Notre Dame stood for. It’s the tradition. And, knowing Notre Dame has the No. 1 ranked business school is important from our family’s standpoint.
“Part of me inside during his decision process was like, ‘what are you waiting for?’ I knew what Notre Dame was all about.”
Nicco checks in at 5-foot-9, 175-pounds, and the lack of prototypical size has been a consistent knock on his game. Factor in critics linking Lorenzo’s status to Nicco’s offers and it’s created an axe for the family to grind.
“Yeah, we talk about that,” Lorenzo said. “At the end of the day, it’s not me making plays on the field or lifting weights. With social media, people will say things because they’re behind a computer screen and not in front of your face. He’s learned to shrug off that negativity. It’s not so much about proving everybody wrong for him - he just wants to be the best he can be.”
Being immersed in his father’s business doesn’t go without its advantages, though.
“He doesn’t have a lot of time to be super involved,” Lorenzo said. “But, he’s learned a lot in the sense that he’s grown up around very elite athletes and has seen what it takes to compete at that level of competition. One of our bright young stars, Conor McGregor, and Nicco have really developed a great relationship. He grew up watching guys like Forest Griffin.
“It’s more about the mental toughness that Nicco’s observed, and he has seen it takes a different type of mentality to succeed at the level they do. A lot of it has rubbed off on Nicco.”
Nicco grew up boxing and hopes to participate in Bengal Bouts, a five-day boxing tournament at Notre Dame held to benefit the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh.
On the football field, cracking Notre Dame’s two-deep and its special teams rotation as a freshman is the goal. Come Sept. 5 at Notre Dame Stadium, if there’s a newcomer delivering a devastating hit to Texas on the opening kickoff, it might be that kid who used to cut in line.
“He really can’t wait to put on that gold helmet,” Lorenzo said. “He’s ready to go.”