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Fertitta’s Irish story motivated by doubters

| Friday, November 9, 2018

Standing at 5-foot-9, undersized safety Nico Fertitta was pegged by many to not have the physical capability of making it big in football. That lack of confidence in his abilities is exactly what drives Fertitta to keep playing.

“I’m an undersized guy, I’ve never been the biggest guy on the field. It’s not very often that you see guys my size suiting up in a golden helmet, coming out and playing on Saturday’s in front of the world,” Fertitta said. “Something that’s always driven me is: I want to be that difference, I want to be the guy that other kids who are smaller and at a disadvantage, give them the belief that they can come out and make it too, because at the end of the day, [size] is not something that matters it’s just something that’s wanted.”

Zachary Yim | The Observer
Irish senior safety Nicco Fertitta watches the action from the sideline during Notre Dame’s 31-21 win over Northwestern on Nov. 3 at Ryan Field.

Fertitta fell in love with the game of football when he was 10 years old. He would watch his older brother, Lorenzo, play and was eager to become better than him. Fertitta’s father, being a huge football fan, was proud to see that his sons took up the sport.

In high school, he helped his football team, Bishop Gorman, win four straight Sunset-Southwest titles. In addition, Fertitta recorded three tackles and broke up two passes in his senior year state title game, all with a hand injury. Irish fans might recognize Bishop Gorman for another reason as well, as current senior tight end Alizé Mack also went there. Fertitta says that he appreciates the opportunity to play alongside Mack, someone he calls a brother.

“Alizé and I, we were always close in high school, but we got closer senior year in particular. It’s been a blessing having him here, someone from home who can relate to you, and someone who is your best friend, your brother. Having him here has been amazing,” Fertitta said.

Born and raised in Las Vegas, Fertitta grew up in a family that cheered for Notre Dame. He
recounted a time in which he visited Notre Dame’s campus as a sophomore in high school and he told his friend he dreamed of coming to South Bend.

After not hearing much from Notre Dame’s recruiting office, Fertitta came to the assumption that the Irish were backing off. At the end of junior year however, the offer to play for the Gold and Blue came in, and Fertitta immediately took the offer.

“I knew, no question, I was coming here,” Fertitta said, on receiving an offer to play for the Irish.
Once on campus as an official member of the football team, Fertitta remembers one of his first moments as a player. Under the impression that the Notre Dame workouts were tough, Fertitta and Mack made sure they would be in shape.

“Me and Alize actually ran the entire campus because we were so nervous that we weren’t going to be in shape … We turned out fine, we prepared the same way but, we were worried about what we were getting into,” Fertitta said.

Overcoming challenges on the football field was not the only thing that Fertitta did. Admitting that balancing football and academics had not always been his forte, Fertitta was nervous to be a student at an elite academic school, but he was able to find his groove in managing athletics with rigorous academics.

“I come from a pretty well-off high school that prepared me well for college but, Notre Dame is an elite school, elite academics and it’s never easy balancing that with football. That’s something I haven’t particularly done well in the past with but, coming here they really taught me how to take hold of that and taking advantage of all the resources,” Fertitta said.

Through his years at Notre Dame Fertitta has played on special teams, playing in almost every game of the season. His favorite moment as a player came in his sophomore year, at USC, when he viciously tackled running back C.J. Pollard.

“As a player, my favorite moment of my career here was sophomore year at USC, I knocked out the running back. Got ejected, but that will forever be the highlight of my career and something I’ll never forget,” Fertitta said.

The senior is about to play his last home game, against Florida State. After all his time here, Fertitta says that being at Notre Dame has toughened him up and molded him into someone that’s ready to take on anything.

“I came in here a young man — I was 18 years old — and [Notre Dame’s] shaped me through its
excellence. The grit that you have to have here to maintain your career here, as well as the flat-out grind, has made me a tougher person, it’s made me someone that is going to be able to make it through any circumstance that comes my way,” Fertitta said.

Fertitta’s family will be in attendance on Saturday, having been at every game in Fertitta’s collegiate career. He admits that it will be a surreal feeling for him to walk to the 50-yard line with his parents.
With graduation coming next spring, the art history major is still uncertain of what his post-graduation plans will be. Fertitta is interested in working in the music industry, particularly on the production side, but he also wants to use his art history knowledge and possibly obtain a job at a major auction gallery or exhibit.

With a near four seasons behind him and a whole life in front of him, Fertitta has one final message for Irish fans: “Thank you for the support through over these years. I appreciate the love through the good times and the bad.”

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