By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
North Arlington High School head football coach Anthony Marck makes no bones about the way he feels about his standout quarterback/defensive back A.J. Nocciolo.
“He’s as good of a football player as I’ve ever coached,” Marck said of the senior. “He’s the best player on the field every game. He’s always been a leader, but now, he wills his team to follow him. It’s nice to see it all come together at this point. No matter who we play, we have a chance, as long as he has the ball.”
Nocciolo has developed into a complete physical specimen of a young man. He stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 230 pounds, developing close to 25 more pounds of muscle in the offseason.
“I worked very hard all offseason to get ready for this year,” Nocciolo said. “I worked my tail off in the weight room, running in the early morning, then again at night. I knew that no one was going to stop me this year. It’s my last year and I want to make the most of it.”
Nocciolo did one training routine that came from the pages of his favorite football player.
“I pushed my car up a hill with my teammates in the car,” Nocciolo said. “I’d put two in the front, two in the back. I saw my idol Tim Tebow (of the New York Jets) do it and realized that I wanted to do it as well. I do some of the workouts that he does, flipping tires, running hard.”
Nocciolo does another drill that includes putting his cousin on his back and running with the cousin on his back. By the way, the cousin is not a child. He’s a freshman in high school.
“It’s just some of the things that Tebow does. I felt like I needed it. By adding the weight and muscle, I feel like I’m a better football player. All the things I’ve done to this point mean one thing. I want to win badly.”
Nocciolo knew that he was going to have to be a major leader this season for the Vikings.
“Because of the experience I have (a four-year varsity starter), I had to take the leadership role, embrace it and run with it.”
Last week in a 46-0 win over Wallington, Nocciolo did a little bit of everything in leading the Vikings to victory.
Nocciolo carried the ball 10 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns. He also completed 8-of-10 passes for 200 yards and three more touchdowns. For some high school players, that’s a career. Nocciolo did it all in one game.
For his efforts, Nocciolo has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Marck said that all of Nocciolo’s rushing yardage came on designed plays.
“We ran counter and power sweeps with him,” Marck said. “It’s no secret what we’re trying to do. We have a 230-pound quarterback who has the ball and he’s coming after you. It’s up to you to try and tackle him. It’s not rocket science. The plays are designed exclusively for him.”
And for the passing plays? “Oh, he can throw it,” Marck said. “He can do both. There aren’t a lot of people who can do both as well as he does. Seriously, he accounts for about 85 percent of our offense.”
After last week’s performance, Nocciolo ranked second in the entire state in total offense.
“By being two-dimensional, he can do so many things,” Marck said. “And he’s not just a quarterback. We put him at safety and he makes tackles all the time. He lays the wood.”
Nocciolo had no idea how much he transformed his body over the offseason.
“I didn’t realize it until I saw a picture on Facebook with some of my teammates,” Nocciolo said. “And I saw how much bigger I am than anyone else. I just didn’t want anyone stopping me from my goal.”
Nocciolo’s goal is a college scholarship.
“It’s why I do all of this,” Nocciolo said.
He has already received some looks, but not a ton of solid offers. He’s also opened eyes.
“He went to the UConn individual camp and a coach who worked with both Jay Cutler (of the Chicago Bears) and Alex Smith (of the San Francisco 49ers) said after the workout that A.J. was the best he’d ever seen. George DeLeon (the assistant coach at UConn) said that A.J. is definitely a quarterback on the next level. He’s a man now and he’s acting like it. Some colleges may think he will play another position in college, but he’s a quarterback.
Added Marck, “He’s a wonderful kid and it’s been my pleasure to coach him.”
Nocciolo didn’t even realize he had such a big game against Wallington.
“I had no idea I had that much yardage,” Nocciolo said. “But it’s definitely a confidence builder. We’re going to look to thrive off that feeling.”
The Vikings face Waldwick this weekend at Rip Collins Field.
“I’ll be pretty pumped for that one,” Nocciolo said. “I just hope this all leads to my ultimate goal and what I’m chasing.”
When the letters of intent come pouring in any day soon, then the goal will become a reality.