BAD TO THE BONE
If you are a fan of the offensive line (who isn’t?) you may want to search on line for videos of Nicholas Cattolico playing right tackle for the Blue Flame, the Philadelphia Police and Fireman semi-pro football club. They are must-see clips of extreme blocking.
The 6-foot-4, 375-pound former Delaware Blue Hen lineman doesn’t just block his opponents, he hammers them so hard, some would-be tacklers have literally gone airborne after being hit by Cattolico.
“I think every lineman takes pride in taking the man you line up against and just putting them in the dirt,” Cattolico said with a smile during a recent interview at Crunch Fitness in Huntingdon Valley. “I definitely, absolutely do. It’s funny, because a couple guys I’ve played against this year have called me a dirty player…I don’t think so. I personally think that they haven’t gone against someone who has put them on their back a couple plays in a row. I don’t think they truly understand what a dirty player is.”
Cattolico, who works in law enforcement in Center City Philadelphia, says he does not believe he plays dirty football.
“I don’t think that I am,” said Cattolico, who just finished his first season with the Blue Flame. “I think that I’m aggressive, I think sometimes I can be overwhelming towards a defensive player, but I don’t think that I’m a dirty player.”
Cattolico was asked what NFL player he admired growing up…no surprise here.
“Jon Runyan, I loved Jon Runyan,” Cattolico said of the former Eagles Pro Bowl tackle. “I thought that he was an amazing player. I loved the way he played. I thought he was a big, strong tough guy. He was my absolute favorite player to watch growing up.”
Cattolico was born in Philadelphia and lived in the Northeast until the seventh grade when his family move to Delran, New Jersey.
Cattolico said he had to play soccer before sixth grade. He was just too big for football at that age.
“I wasn’t allowed to play football,” Cattolico said. “I couldn’t find an unlimited team.”
Even finding an unlimited team that would let him play in seventh grade was a challenge.
“My eighth grade season I was about 6-1, 285 pounds,” Cattolico said. “So it was hard for me to find an unlimited team so I had to go out of the town to find a football team. I played for Maple Shade for two seasons, then my eighth grade spring season I played for Willingboro. I was 6-foot-4, 307 pounds my freshman year in high school.”
At Delran High School, Cattolico was a standout two-way lineman and one of the top offensive guards in South Jersey. He helped the Bears to three straight state playoff appearances. Cattolico, who also lettered in basketball, led his team to an 8-3 record and a playoff berth as a senior in 2008 and was named first team All-State.
Cattolico, who was recruited by several Division 1A programs, went on to a four-year career at Delaware. After injuries and other factors ended his college career in ways he says could have been better, he drifted away from football.
Cattolico said he decided to use his criminal justice education and start working. Years went by until he ran into Blue Flame offensive line coach Joe “Lugo” Lawinski.
“Coach Lugo, we ran into each other one night and he asked me if I played football.” Cattolico said with a laugh. “I said ‘yes I have.’ He asked if I was in law enforcement and I told him I was so he asked me to come out for the team.”
Cattolico said he was apprehensive at first about strapping on the pads again. He was almost 26 years old.
“I hadn’t played in five years,” said Cattolico, who is back living in Northeast Philadelphia. “My college career didn’t necessarily end well due to injuries and some off the field issues. I never thought I was going to play again. Then the opportunity arose.
“I needed my confidence back,” Cattolico continued. “I wasn’t sure if I could ever play football again. I had three surgeries in a month’s span. One was on my shoulder and two on my Achilles where they actually removed part of my heel because of a bone spur that was pulling the Achilles.”
Cattolico said he is glad he joined he Blue Flame.
“It’s been awesome just to build my own self confidence and prove that I can actually still do it,” he said. “Now I’m actually happy with myself again where the past five years I wasn’t. There was something missing. There was something in my life that I need to fill. The Blue Flame definitely helped me with that.”
The Blue Flame finished their 2017 campaign with a record of 5-1, their one loss came at the hands of NYPD, 42-13 at the beginning of the season.
NYPD is widely regarded as the best law enforcement tackle football program in the country. That loss kept the Philly-area team from post season action.
The Blue Flame will have to break through the barrier that is NYPD football if they want to make a title run. Cattolico believes the Blue Flame are on the right track.
“We absolutely have a chance to succeed and hopefully in the next year or so we make a championship game,” Cattolico said. “The key is to recruiting. You keep the players you have on the team now and build from it. I think we had a pretty successful year, with one loss to NYPD. If we can get some more good players and keep the ones that we already have, we’re looking at a pretty good team. We’re looking at a pretty good team for the next couple of years.”
What is difference between Philadelphia and NYPD football?
“The sheer numbers,” Cattolico said. “The pool that they have to draw from is significantly greater. The New York area has close to nine million people where the city of Philadelphia has 1.6 million.”
Cattolico would only talk about his position when he compared the Blue Flame to NYPD.
“You had five players who have never played together before,” Cattolico said. “Everyone knows we need time to jell. We need time to work together. I think we struggled with our zone blocking (against NYPD), getting to the next level, getting to the linebackers who were really talented, really fast. They were right at the line of scrimmage going right after the ball carrier.
“I think towards the end of the year, once we started blocking together, we started to learn how to zone block together,” he continued. “We were more successful with running the ball. We run zone pretty often with this team, we just needed time to mold together and play together. That takes time with five new guys.”
The offensive line is the key to any football team’s success at any level. At the semi-pro level, getting a good offensive line is the biggest challenge of any team.
“Nobody wants to play offensive line.” said Cattolico with a laugh. But he noted the Blue Flame have a group of linemen who are experienced and want to lead the team to the next level.
Cattolico talked about his teammates starting with guard Brett Brown.
“I’m next to Brett, Brett’s our right guard,” Cattolico said. “He’s been fantastic this year coaching me up and making sure I’m doing the right thing. He and Teddy (center Thaddeus Kavanagh) have both helped me. Having those two guys, they’ve been fantastic teammates to me. They’ve been great leaders. They’ve shown me the ropes, shown me how to play because I haven’t in so long.”
Brown talked about the impact a player with Cattolico’s background can have on the team.
“The addition of Nick was huge for us,” said Brown, a Philadelphia Police officer. “Not only because of his size and ability but the mentality he brings to the table. We have become a unit that shows up in a bad mood, wants to put the offense on our backs, and finish every block with a mean streak. Nick is a huge part of that and will be moving forward into our off-season program and next season. Playing between him and Teddy make my job much easier. We return next season as an experienced group with Teddy entering his eighth season, myself and Alex McChord in our fourth, and Nick and Al Ortiz in there second. As a group we have great chemistry, the ability to communicate, make in-game adjustments, and play with an aggressive attitude.”
Any football coach will tell you it all starts in the trenches. For the Blue Flame, the start of the new season looks pretty good. *