NORTH SMITHFIELD — It was early in the second quarter of a non-league tilt against Plainfield, Conn. on Friday night, Nov. 1 when North Smithfield High junior tailback Nick Cicerone hustled out of his stance to snag a middle screen pass from classmate Cody DeMarie.
Little did he know at the time it could be his last snap of the Northmen's so-far successful campaign.
“A lineman tipped it, but I went up for it and caught it,” the younger Cicerone stated while watching a recent practice from the sideline. He immediately paused and looked at a teammate.
“Did I catch it?” he asked, and the boy nodded. “Anyway, I got tackled, and some kid fell on my arm. I could feel it hurt, but I didn't know what happened. I did know we were already behind – a lot.”
He discovered the issue after his father, Mike Cicerone Jr., transported his son to Hasbro Children's Hospital; Nick had suffered a dislocated left elbow.
The Northmen eventually dropped a 46-14 verdict to Plainfield, but that's not what bothered Nick; he didn't know if he would be able to return to the squad, but – more importantly – he worried about how his brother, senior starting quarterback Mike, would take the news.
“It was really weird; we grew up playing Pop Warner football together, and throwing it around in our yard, (and) even when we were playing Madden (video games),” the elder Cicerone explained after the same training session. “It was strange not having him out there with me, with us, because he's my safety net.
“I knew I could go to him to bail me out on a screen or a run; he'd do anything to get us out of a rut,” he added. “I've thought about this for a while, and as a result of Nick's absence, I felt like I had to step up my game because he wasn't in there. I knew I had to play at the same level he would. He's pretty intense.”
Like most brothers, they argue; really, who doesn't? But it was obvious Mike really has missed the presence of his sibling, also a standout strong/free safety.
“He can drive me crazy when I'm driving my Ford Taurus, which my grandfather gave to me,” Mike grinned. “A big thing we fight about is the radio; he's always pressing the buttons. He has to have a song on, regardless of the length of the drive.
“We have like an eight-minute drive from here (the N.S. stadium) to our house, and he just needs a song, any song. It drives me crazy; it ticks me off because I'm trying to pay attention to the road. But when it comes to football, I want him out there with me, with us all.”
Nick certainly will not suit up for North Smithfield's Thanksgiving Day game at Scituate (slated for 10 a.m.), but he hopes to return to the gridiron when the Northmen face either Exeter/West Greenwich or North Providence in a Division IV semifinal the following Tuesday night.
“Will I be back? I don't know, but I really want to,” he stated.
Standing my his side, Mike immediately said, “Barring Mom. I think she's concerned about Nicky getting hurt again. I also think she's worried about (this upcoming) basketball season. (Last winter, the N.S. hoopsters, including the Cicerones as backups, captured the Division III state title with a perfect record, but eventually lost to Classical in the Rhode Island Open Tournament championship game).
“He has the chance to earn a starting job,” he added.
Offered Nick: “I want to come back. If I can play (football), I'm going to.”
That tough-as-nails approach has helped the Northmen not only post a 4-2 league record (4-4 overall) but qualify for the postseason for the second straight season.
Nick's contributions haven't gone unnoticed: Five rushing touchdowns, approximately 400 ground yards and one score through the air, that in a pivotal contest against Exeter/West Greenwich (an eventual 17-14 defeat) back on Sept. 28.
Defensively, he's intercepted two passes, and also plays a key role in the tackling department.
As for Mike, who doesn't play both ways, he's thrown for over 900 yards and eight paydirts while running for another.
“This is tough for me; I want to be out there banging heads, but the injury is preventing that,” Nick claimed. “When I got to the hospital, this lady (nurse) was X-raying my arm, and she kept turning it and bending it. It hurt like heck.
“I later was told I broke some bone in the elbow, a little one, and I spent four days in a cast and two weeks in a sling,” he added. “I can straighten it out somewhat, but not like I want to. I'm dying, missing these games (the remainder of the Plainfield contest and two wins over Smithfield, 36-14, and Central Falls, 61-8).
“These are a couple of the last games I'll ever get to play with Mike, plus (next Tuesday) is the first playoff game. It's bad enough I can't play on Thanksgiving, but I can't miss the semifinal.”
If there's any good news, it's the fact N.S. will carry a two-game win streak into that holiday clash against Scituate, which must reign if it wants to earn a playoff berth. Still, his teammates miss Nick, as does head coach Wes Pennington.
“We have plenty of running backs, but no one with his experience or ability to get open the way he does,” offered senior receiver/defensive end Peter Keenan, a key cog in the Northmen basketball team's tremendous 2012-13 campaign. “He finds holes and breaks tackles with the best of 'em.
“The thing is, he helps me out a lot,” he continued. “When we face another team, usually they double-team me, and that leaves Nicky open in the flat or wherever. It changes the defense when he's on the field.”
Noted Pennington: “It's been a challenge because we have one less talented guy out there. If there's one good thing: When he got hurt, I had a really nice rotation behind him with (senior tailback) Dylan Narodowy and (classmate) Cody DeMarie in the backfield. I also must include (fellow juniors) Devon Deragon and Ross Topik.
“Nicky's loss weakens that rotation, but those other guys are getting extra carries, and that gives them more experience,” he added. “I also have to say that if Dylan had played his sophomore and juniors years, I think he would've been All-State.
“This game (against the Spartans) is our biggest of the year, and it's the first time in a few years there are playoff implications for both teams. If they win, they're in; if we do, we'll be the third seed. We just have to take care of the ball. Nick has been a key cog for us for most of the season in that (backfield) rotation, but defensively, that's the most important part. He's our guy back there at either of the safety positions.
“He can cover anybody, and he's got good hands. We can't wait to get him back, but not at the expense of losing him for next year. I also know he wants to play basketball and baseball. Still, if he can't, I feel we can beat anybody if we're on top of our game. We still feel confident.
“We've had other guys stepping up, and Nate Palmer's one of them at free safety. Offensively, we've got Cody and Dylan, with Devon and Ross rotating in at fullback. Deragon's one of our fastest kids. We'd love Nicky back, but we have to move forward.”
Before the brothers left the field, the elder to change into street clothes, Nick issued one last thought: “If I can play, I'm playing! Sorry, Mom!”
He then exited, just moments from the opportunity to fiddle with Mike's car radio.