In the four years Nick Antenucci played football at Pingree, the Highlanders boasted a 31-5 record, won two New England Prep School Athletic Conference Bowl Championships and had a 20-game winning streak that spanned into three different seasons.
And Antenucci would be the first to tell you one of the biggest reasons for the sustained success was the closeness and cohesion among players and coaches.
So, when Antenucci began searching for colleges to continue his football career, it was that same sense of unity that he maintained as a
top-priority and is a big reason why Antenucci signed his letter of intent with Division 2 Merrimack last Tuesday.
“I think the biggest part of the success (at Pingree) was because it’s a small school. Most freshman feel left out, but at Pingree all four
years the teams were so close and playing to win and doing what we had to do. It’s not about ‘I’, it’s about the team every single day,”
said Antenucci. “I really did feel that way about Merrimack. It was the biggest part of my decision.”
Antenucci will play for first year head coach Dan Curran, who is taking over for John Perry after he resigned this winter. Curran was the offensive coordinator at Merrimack the past three seasons and the team was a combined 16-14.
His position will be either safety or linebacker as he played both extremely well in his time at Pingree. At just over 200 pounds, he is on the small-side for linebacker but considering he is used to going up against bigger guys it’s a hurdle he is capable of overcoming.
Pingree doesn’t take post-graduates, but many teams in its division do and many of the Highlanders opponents had lineman upwards of
300 pounds. Sometimes, the opposing line averaged right around that mark.
If the Merrimack coaches wanted him to play guard he’d do it. That’s the type of teammate he is, according to his high school head coach
“I always say he is a team first, program first kid. It’s more important for the team to find success than for himself,” noted Powers. “He was our main running back but found himself blocking a lot for other guys. And he loves it. It’s not something he’d even question for a second. That speaks to the team success being important to him over his own accolades.”
Antenucci’s biggest asset against superior size isn’t his footwork — which is excellent — or his speed — which is almost supersonic — but his heart. The emotional leader on Pingree the past two seasons, Antenucci plays with as much emotion as any 18-year-old can.
“Ever since I was a little kid I always put everything I had into it (football) and I hate losing. It’s the worst part,” explained Antenucci. “You don’t want to let the other kids on the team down. You don’t want to let yourself down but more, you don’t want to let the kids you play with down.”
The 18-year-old Saugus native also likes the fact that he’s close to home, as his family is a big part of his life. Anybody who attended a
Pingree home football game the last four years heard the loud cheers from the Antenucci clan, who had lots to cheer for during his career.
Antenucci began getting significant playing time his sophomore year at safety. When he came to Pingree as a freshman, Powers remembers him as more of a hockey guy. But that didn’t last long.
“Right away, I remember him breaking two long runs and making two big tackles in the scrimmage. And every year he got a little bit stronger and a little bit faster. His work ethic allowed him to grow,” said Powers.
As the 2010 season continued on, Antenucci really impressed with his bone-crushing hits. After each season, Powers puts together a
highlight reel and ever since 2010, a majority of the top defensive plays centered around Antenucci delivering a knockout blow.
“They say that the guys that can dish it out have great technique and the ability to uncoil through their hips and core,” said Powers. “He
is a thick kid, not big, but he has that ability to uncoil his hips and explode through his legs. It’s punishing, especially last two years when he’s been a 200-pound kid.”
Antenucci made a name for himself with is big-hit ability, but by the end of 2010 the season, it was his big-play ability that really allowed the Highlanders to cash in big.
In the 2010 NEPSAC Championship game against Rivers played at Gillette Stadium, Antenucci fumbled in the first quarter. His chance for
redemption wouldn’t come until much later, when Kyle Jamerson blocked the game-winning field goal attempt in the final minute.
Antenucci scrambled to recover the ball and then returned it 84-yards for the game-winning score.
“He returns it for a TD and everyone is ecstatic,” said Powers, who remembers exactly what Antenucci did next. “He throws up. We’re getting ready to line up for the kickoff and he pukes on sideline. But we need him on kickoff. So he throws his helmet on goes out there and makes the tackle on the ensuing kickoff. His passion for football is unbelievable.”
Antenucci loves the game of football which is why he takes it personal. Which is why this year, when Pingree didn’t make a NEPSAC bowl game because it had two losses, it didn’t sit well with Antenucci.
“I think this year, losing two games you would have thought a family member died when you talked to him about it,” said Powers. “He took it to heart and took it personal and I think to him he felt like at the time, that he let the program and the guys before him down because
under his leadership we lost two games. If you ask me, we had an incredible season.”
Antenucci always had the utmost respect for his upperclassmen and learned a lot about winning and leading from them. Pingree’s varsity
football program is only seven years old but has had almost nothing but success thanks to Antenucci and the guys before him.
“That was a huge part for my entire career. They all played with such heart and desire to win. I learned from them about hard work and how
nothing was given to us ever,” said Antenucci.
It’s that same attitude Antenucci will take with him to Merrimack this fall. After all, he feels he’s just lucky to have the opportunity to continue to do what he loves most.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” Antenucci said. “It’s my favorite game. It’s my favorite thing to do. There’s nothing better than being able to play football. Four more years is a gift.”