The Next Episode
This article appears in the September 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Everett senior quarterback Matt Nuzzo has a habit of getting nervous before games. So nervous that he throws up on the sidelines before he straps on his helmet.
To the casual observer, Nuzzo looks like he's not ready to play. But to the Everett coaching staff and fans, Nuzzo's pre-game ritual of relieving his anxiety is a sign of good things to come.
Nuzzo, who's entering his fourth season as a starter this fall, has a 34-1 record as Everett's quarterback and has led the Crimson Tide to three straight Division 1 Eastern Mass. Super Bowl titles. You'd think someone with that pedigree would be calm and collected before games.
But not many players have to live up to the expectations and deal with the pressure Nuzzo faces each time he takes the field.
"Coach (John DiBiaso Jr.) coined the phrase, ‘When kids are born in Everett, they're not given a pacifier, they're given a mouthpiece,'" says Nuzzo. "It's such a rich tradition. You grew up watching all the great players. Now you're in it and you're like, ‘Wow!'"
In fact, possibly no other community in the state supports its high school football team quite like Everett. Pictures, posters and team schedules are strewn all around town. There's even a billboard in town for Whidden Memorial Hospital that features Nuzzo, senior defensive end/running back Theluxon Pierre and team doctor Jack Lynch.
"Playing in a community where everyone gets involved in the program and comes to watch the games is great," says Nuzzo, whose collegiate favorites include Wisconsin, Syracuse, UConn, Maryland, Harvard, Columbia and Boston College, among others. "The backbone of this city is the football program. I'm just happy to be a part of it."
The program's storied history dates back to the 1890s and has come to define excellence in Massachusetts football. The Crimson Tide have won 22 Eastern Mass. championships and produced more than 20 NFL players, including current Kansas City Chiefs fullback Omar Easy.
Despite the many talented players who've come through the program, Nuzzo became the first freshman to ever start at quarterback for Everett when he stepped under center in the season opener against Lynn English in 2001. Coach DiBiaso made the decision to start Nuzzo when the Crimson Tide scrimmaged state power Bridgewater-Raynham during the preseason that year.
"It was the first time he was on the field in varsity competition, but he looked like a senior," says DiBiaso, who has compiled a 112-14 record with five Super Bowl titles since taking over at Everett in 1992. "Right there and then I decided we were going to start him."
In Nuzzo, DiBiaso saw a winner, not a skinny freshman who looked more primed for JV action than starting at quarterback for the state's top program. DiBiaso was so confident in Nuzzo that he gave the frosh jersey No. 16 in honor of Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana. And like Montana, Nuzzo proved to be a winner, even in his first season at the helm.
Due to his age and inexperience, the coaching staff brought Nuzzo along slowly for most of his freshman season. The Crimson Tide had that luxury with All-Scholastic running backs Gennaro Leo and Darryl Doe in the backfield. With Leo and Doe putting up big numbers, Nuzzo had just one rushing and one passing touchdown the entire season.
While Nuzzo's numbers were far from eye-popping, he still led Everett to an 11-1 record and a spot against Bridgewater-Raynham in the Super Bowl at Boston University's Nickerson Field. It was in that game that Nuzzo elevated his play to a whole new level.
Bridgewater-Raynham held a 7-0 lead over Everett with just more than four minutes left in the game, and the Crimson Tide were faced with the prospect of driving from their own 20 with a freshman quarterback at the helm.
But Nuzzo played with the composure and poise of Tom Brady, completing two big passes that kept the drive going. Nuzzo's older brother, Frank (then a sophomore), capped the drive with a touchdown run with 32 seconds left, and Leo ran for the game-winning two-point conversion thanks to a crucial block from Matt.
"How many quarterbacks do you have as your key blocker?" says DiBiaso. "Not too many, I think. It tells you something about the kid. He's a football player."
With Leo and Doe gone in 2002, Matt and Frank formed one of the most lethal duos in the state. Matt passed for 12 touchdowns and rushed for seven scores while Frank rushed for 17 touchdowns to lead Everett to its second straight Super Bowl title with a win over St. John's Prep.
As a three-year veteran last year, Matt led Everett to an 11-0 record, its ninth straight Greater Boston League title and its third straight Super Bowl championship. The Crimson Tide were so dominant that they outscored opponents 397-73 on the season, and the Nuzzo brothers played sparingly in the second half of games due to the lopsided scores.
Frank was named Gatorade State Player of the Year and Boston Globe Division 1 Player of the Year after rushing for 550 yards and 19 touchdowns on offense and making 100 tackles as a linebacker on defense. Matt, meanwhile, was named All-Scholastic by both The Boston Globe and Boston Herald after racking up 627 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air and 866 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
But this season will be different. The past three years — even when he was a nervous freshman starting for the first time — Matt had his big brother right beside him for support. Now, with Frank playing football at Brown University, Matt has to step up for Everett to continue its winning ways.
"It will be a lot different," says Matt. "I've played with him my entire life, and we've always been together. It's the same task this year, just with different people."
"It's going to be difficult at first because Frankie was the more emotional of the two," adds DiBiaso. "If the team was flat, he would get it going. Now we're counting on Matt to fill that void."
Everett certainly has the pieces to win its fourth straight Super Bowl title this fall. Along with Nuzzo, the Crimson Tide boast such stars as Pierre, senior linebackers George Paone and Justin Sullivan and junior tight end Richard Accime.
With such high expectations, Nuzzo feels the pressure to win more than ever.
"Each year, the pressure usually gets less and less," he says. "But I feel it even more so this year because it's my senior year."
In other words, don't expect his pre-game ritual to change anytime soon.