By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — Everyone could always tell when Nick Apostolu arrived. The stinging odor had a way of wafting through the Springfield weightroom each summer morning filling the nostrils of his teammates and coaches. Apostolu, his hair still wet from swimming practice, reeked of chlorine.
Then came the jokes. How did he fit all of that into a pair of Speedos? Did the water drain from the pool each time he jumped in? Apostolu would just laugh.
The 6-foot-5½, 290-pound Springfield (Delco) junior doesn’t need a bleaching agent to announce that he’s arrived this fall. He’s been absolutely dominating. The Baby Huey persona Apostolu once wore is long gone, replaced by someone who demands his team run behind him in crucial moments.
Apostolu, a two-way lineman at right offensive guard and defensive tackle, is a major reason why Springfield is 5-1 this season and primed to earn another high seed in the PIAA Class AAA District 1 playoffs.
He’s getting attention from a number of Division I programs such as Michigan, Temple, Penn State, Rutgers and Pittsburgh. His extensive swimming background—he swam competitively, yes, all 6-5½, 290 pounds of him, his freshman and sophomore years—have provided a great aerobic foundation and coordination.
The size, strength and athleticism were already there. All that was needed to complete Apostolu’s transformation into a menacing presence on a football field was a pinch of nastiness.
“I needed that,” Apostolu admits. “Believe me, that mean streak wasn’t always there. We had a linebacker last year, Tyler Morrissey (now at West Chester), who helped toughen me up. He kept telling me he was going to make me mean by locking me in a cage and beating me with a whip until I became mean. I’d also say an edge developed this summer between going to Michigan’s camp and some other camps. I found out I could play with the big guys. I got a little tired of being pushed around and now I’m the one who’s doing the pushing.”
Cougars’ head coach Tom Kline found out early this season his large lineman was different during an overtime game against Upper Darby.
“We had a fourth down in overtime and Nicky came running over and the first thing he says to me, ‘We better be going for it.’ I told him, yes, and then he said, ‘Good, run right behind me, because I’m going to drive my guy right through the end zone,’ and he did,” Kline said. “On film, we walked into the end zone, because Nicky opened a hole that was gigantic. He’s been doing a great job for us. The one thing I told him in the offseason that separates him from other offensive lineman is that mean streak. He wants to dominate the guy across from him.”
Kline envisioned Apostolu being this good. In fact, he goes a little further in describing his junior lineman, and he has no qualms about blaring it, “I think Nicky is the best offensive lineman in the Central League, and I thought he could be this good,” said Kline, who’s also the Cougars’ offensive line coach. “I know how hard he’s worked. He drives himself. He wanted to start as a sophomore and he did.”
Part of that attitude comes from Apostolu’s competitive swimming base. Apostolu couldn’t play football until seventh grade, because he was too large to play weight football. Instead, he found swimming, stemming from a swimming family. Swimming is unlike any other sport in the time required to be good, between morning swims and training. It’s a unique ability for someone close to 300 pounds.
“If Nicky was 150 pounds lighter, he’d probably be a great swimmer, because he’s good at everything else he does,” Kline said. “He’s going to be successful in whatever he does, because that’s the kind of person he is. I just told him I definitely don’t want to see him in a Speedo.”
There is also something else that sets Apostolu aside, something not many of his own teammates are aware of that may explain Apostolu’s character. The last two summers, he’s dedicated 10 days in late-June, early-July to work for the Appalachia Service Project, which helps needy families in the impoverished Appalachia area rebuild homes and trailers, some infested with bees and bugs.
“It’s eye-opening, because you see how many things you take for granted in life,” said Apostolu, who carries a 3.6 GPA and does the volunteer community service through his church. “I think I learned to appreciate things more, all of the little things. I’ve seen what real poverty is. The first year I worked on a trailer and this family didn’t have any electricity or plumbing. I think I’m a better person for doing it. It helps you keep things in a different perspective.”
Apostolu would love an opportunity to play for Penn State, even with its current situation. But he may have to weed through numerous offers before he’s through, namely other Big 10 schools like Michigan and Wisconsin, and Temple has shown a great interest in him, as, too, have Rutgers and Pitt.
No one has given Apostolu an offer yet. Though one thing is for certain, he doesn’t need chlorine to announce his arrival.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.