A few minutes early for class, running back extraordinaire Nick Nuccitelli plops himself down for what will undoubtedly be an all-too-long lecture on money-market mutual funds or straight-line depreciation.
The last-minute preparations for class--asking a fellow student for a pen and hoping, no, praying there won't be a pop quiz--are quickly dropped, however. Two people are talking about him in the front row.
They are wondering where this new kid on the gridiron block came from.
Nuccitelli's amusement peaks when they turn around and ask him if he knows who this Nuccitelli kid is.
"I don't know," he answers with a smile. "I haven't seen him."
Such is life for the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Nuccitelli, who simply hands the ball to an official after scoring a touchdown.
"I don't really try to get known," says Nuccitelli who, whether he likes it or not, has raised several eyebrows with his recent play at Monroe High. "I never wear my jersey (to school) on Friday. I don't need to shine out and have people go, 'Oh, there's that (football) guy over there.' "
Thanks in part to his last name, which has suffered numerous casualties in game programs and box scores, Nuccitelli has managed to keep a reasonably low profile. Even the school paper garbled Nuccitelli's name three times in a recent article.
Such trivial mistakes don't matter much to him. There are, after all, significantly more important aspects of life.
Take his grandmother, Frances Nuccitelli.
Nick moved out of his parents' home and in with her immediately after his grandfather, Joseph, died in September, 1993.
Since then, he has helped out Grandma in any way possible, mowing the lawn, taking her to the hairdresser or simply taking out the trash. "I could write a book on what he means to me," Frances Nuccitelli says. "He's a very unusual young man and we're lucky God gave him to us."
Ranked fifth among area City Section running backs with 1,110 yards rushing in 132 carries, Nuccitelli (pronounced nooch-uh-TELL-e) could walk around Monroe with an inflated head. He chooses not to, probably because nobody, himself included, predicted he would be where he is now.
Nuccitelli, a senior, didn't exactly fall out of the cradle with a football in his hand. Not only is this is his first year at running back, it's his first full year of football.
He didn't play the game until last season, when as a junior, he picked up his class schedule and found himself accidentally enrolled for football. A conditioning or weightlifting class sounded more like it for the in-shape but never in-pads Nuccitelli, but a friend on the team begged him to give football a shot.
He came out for the junior varsity but did not play in the first five games. In the sixth, he showed such unusual tenacity on special teams he was promptly named starting linebacker. Carrying the ball came later. It took untold begging and cajoling before he was finally put in the backfield.
Nuccitelli carried the ball once in the season finale against Van Nuys. He ran 35 yards for a touchdown. Since then, he has been a ball carrier rather than a ball chaser.
Nuccitelli shows off the dings and scars that come with being the star of a running-oriented offense. Most memorable is his right pinkie, which splays out at an ugly 45-degree angle thanks to a dislocation.
"I don't think I could ever wear a ring on that finger," Nuccitelli says with a laugh.
Vowing to be the first in his immediate family to attend college, Nuccitelli wants to be a mechanical engineer or a marine biologist. A football scholarship at Northern Arizona or Lewis and Clark, schools Nuccitelli has had contact with, would help accomplish that.
"In his situation, (a football scholarship) would mean a difference of everything in terms of having financial backing," Monroe Coach Fred Cuccia says. "As soon as the season's over, videos of him go out and I'll make phone calls to schools. I'm sure he'll also be getting some letters from schools because of the 286."
That would be Nuccitelli's 286-yard performance in 23 carries against Poly earlier this season, a mark that led to an influx of letters from colleges.
"I just got two more in the mail today," Nuccitelli says proudly.
An Italian American born and raised in Southern California, Nuccitelli is constantly reminded of his roots. If it's not his grandmother trying to force-feed him her special pasta (plenty of meatballs, but hold the onions), it's his teammates telling him to load up on Italian carbohydrates before each game.
When Nuccitelli is not on the field or in Grandma's kitchen, he hangs out in his . . . garage?
More often than not, he can be found tinkering away on the newest family automobile--a race car. His father, Joseph, drives in the Grand American series, a step down from NASCAR. After a game against Canoga Park last month, the younger Nuccitelli left in a hurry for a race at Mesa Marin track in Bakersfield.
"That's my big thing now," Nuccitelli says. "If it's not football, I'm always working on race cars."
Maybe that's why Monroe running backs coach Rachel Gagliano compares him to . . .
"A machine," she says. "Give him the ball and he'll run."
Gagliano, a former scoring machine herself as a kicker for Monroe, likes what she sees in Nuccitelli. "He's like a quiet force," Gagliano says. "He doesn't say much in practice. He gets done what needs to be done. He's got an aura around him and everybody sees him just working so hard, they want to fall in behind him."
But don't tell Nuccitelli that he has an aura. Or, for that matter, that this story is in the paper. He'd prefer it that way.