Path to the Purple Fam: Michael Nicastro’s journey
By Shane Marshall
Nov 4, 2014
Bob Ford Field isn’t Asgard, and Michael Nicastro is no superhero, but the University at Albany middle linebacker looks eerily similar to Marvel comic icon Thor. At five-feet-11 inches tall, Nicastro’s long blonde hair and 210 pound frame could easily fill in for Chris Hemsworth if Stan Lee ever needed a stunt double.
Nicastro leads UAlbany in tackles this season, and with a combination of strength and speed, it’s fair to say Nicastro could be Thor’s Hammer. Anything he can do to read a play before the snap, he does. Nicastro is always looking for an edge. At his size, he’s not a prototypical linebacker, and he’s the first to admit he’s small for the position.
“I always try to look at the smaller linebackers,” Nicastro said. “It doesn’t matter who it is, I like to see how they play, because sometimes it’s harder. You can’t see much being a shorter linebacker.”
Born the oldest of three boys to Maria and Glenn Nicastro, Michael was always getting shut down by his father whenever he asked to play football. His father, a former tight end at Ohio University and Cleveland Browns tryout, was always worried that his son would get hurt. It wasn’t until his mom convinced his dad that young Michael should play.
“My dad was a pretty good coach,” Nicastro said. “He taught me everything I know, up until college.”
In third grade, Nicastro got his first shot at football with the Columbia Ravens.
“Back then I was a fullback and linebacker,” he said. “With a t-bone face mask not knowing what to do.”
As Nicastro progressed each season, his father constantly convinced him of the effort he would need to put into football. Games would get tougher, competition would get better, and talent alone wasn’t going to get Nicastro everywhere. He recalled, “My dad always used to say, ‘Your life is short so you have to love [football] to put all this hard work in.’”
In high school, Nicastro made the transition to playing only defense, being used as a linebacker and safety.
After his senior season at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, Nicastro doubted that he’d ever see the football field again. He wasn’t being recruited heavily by any large schools. He constantly heard of opportunities to become part of a D-II or D-III program, but none of those truly captured his interests.
“I was scared I wasn’t going to play football after high school for a while,” Nicastro said. “Signing Day was Feb. 1 when I was in school, Albany didn’t contact me until December or January.”
It might’ve been his only D-I offer, but what really sold Nicastro on becoming a Great Dane has been the team motto for the past few seasons, the Purple Fam.
“It felt like home,” Nicastro said. “When I visited, the whole UAlbany thing was ‘Purple Fam’ and it stood out to me that it held true. Even today, the older guys bring in the younger guys and no one looks down on anyone else. It’s all family oriented.”
Coming in as a freshman, it wasn’t a surprise that Nicastro barely saw the field. The first time he saw a depth chart, he was fourth on the list of outside linebackers. Following his first season, he heard over and over that it’d be tough for him to play with many seniors ahead of him. However, injuries to other players led to Nicastro playing in his second year, and he’s held on to his spot ever since.
This offseason, new coach Greg Gattuso named his pre-season captains, and Nicastro wasn’t one of them. Everything he heard growing up fueled a desire to earn his way to the captiancy.
“I knew I had to step it up a little bit,” he said. “It was definitely something I wanted. I had to start taking on more of a leadership role.”
Before the start of the season, Gattuso named Nicastro a captain, and his work ethic supports the coach’s decision. Nicastro loves watching film, and does so before each game.
Every season Nicastro realizes that new recruits are brought in to replace the veterans. It’s up to the veterans to determine how soon they get replaced.
“I never feel like I’ve made it,” Nicastro said. “I’m always working to get to the next step. I have to get better, there’s always a next step to your game.”
The dream for Michael Nicastro is the same as any football player who lives, breathes, eats, and loves his sport. He wants to get that rare opportunity to play in the NFL. He can’t picture his life without football in it. If it all were to end tomorrow, he’d want to be a coach, or anything to stay close to the game.
He isn’t the best player in the CAA, but he’s one of Gattuso’s young stars, with very high ceiling of potential. Nicastro is just another member of the Purple Fam trying to push that ceiling further upward. It isn’t going to happen overnight, but the change isn’t hard to see. UAlbany was 1-11 last season, and is currently 6-3 this season, their second year competing in the CAA.
With two more seasons left, Nicastro is expecting big things out of himself and his teammates.
“Individual honors are great,” Nicastro said. “But ultimately, I care more about what we accomplish as team.”