Football: Do-it-all walk-on will kick for Wildcats

Chris Johnson

Say the name Matt Micucci to anyone well-versed in Illinois high school football, and the first thing that comes to mind is his quarterbacking ability – more specifically, his heroic performance in Stevenson’s 24-22 upset over defending state champion Maine South in the 2011 8A state playoffs.

“Not even kids in our own school gave us a chance,” Micucci said. “But when the game was finally over, it was a great feeling, especially because they beat us the year before and it was my senior year.”

Micucci will join Northwestern as a preferred walk-on next season, but it’s unlikely he will play the position that was his claim to fame throughout his high school career. He plans to become a placekicker for the Wildcats, a far cry from the high-profile status conferred upon a Big Ten quarterback.

Stevenson’s do-it-all co-captain began to focus on kicking just two years ago. Throughout his youth football career, Micucci played quarterback and linebacker. He began to hone his kicking skills while playing catch in the backyard with his mom, a former soccer player. From then on, Micucci focused on both kicking and throwing. He was a starting quarterback and kicker during his freshman and sophomore seasons; a backup quarterback, starting kicker and backup punter as a junior; and a starting kicker, punter and quarterback his senior season.

Micucci’s versatility was the key factor in Stevenson’s victory over Maine South, when he threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns, kicked a 28-yard field goal late in the second quarter and snapped the Hawks’ 16-game postseason winning streak, outperforming highly-touted quarterback prospect and NU verbal commit Matt Alviti in the process.

“For me, it was always more about quarterback and kicking came second,” Micucci said. “But as I got older, I started to focus more on kicking. I love playing quarterback, helping my team out however I can. But my main concern is kicking now.”

Most college kicking prospects are not offered scholarships and must go through the normal application-admissions process, often unaware of their status until April or May. Such was the case with Micucci, who was offered a roster spot with the Wildcats in late November. He committed in early December, but unlike other recruits, who are offered scholarships, Micucci was forced to wait until April for an acceptance letter.

“It was a great feeling, when I opened that (letter),” he said. “Just to know that I got in, it was a relief. Before I found out, I had those thoughts about maybe having to find another school. It was scary.”

Though Micucci won’t be lining up under center for the Cats, Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said his experience as a quarterback will help him as he transitions into major college football. McNamara described Micucci as a “high-quality person,” someone who will help NU both on and off the field.

“Matt really is the complete package,” McNamara said. “He’s a great overall football player, a great student and a hard worker. He’s the type of guy that pushes everyone else to get better.”

Besides NU, Micucci drew interest from Illinois, Iowa, Iowa State and Vanderbilt, among others. All of those schools recruited Micucci solely as a kicker, but he said his past experience as a quarterback made him a more attractive prospect – not only because he can contribute on offense, if need be, but also because of his experience as a leader.

“It definitely helps in the recruiting process when you can do a lot of things,” he said. “They know I’m an athlete, a good football player. I’m used to having that leadership responsibility, that helps.”

Kicker is Micucci’s position by name, but the senior distinguishes between players who are “kickers only” and those who are “football players first.” He considers himself a member of the latter category, a player whose never-say-die attitude transcends special team meetings and placekicking drills.

“I’m always going to be a football player first,” he said. “I’d love to play scout team quarterback – that way I can help out the offense. I’m a kicker, but I’m also the type of guy who likes to tackle kick and punt returners.”

The Lincolnshire, Ill., native took part in the Wildcats’ walk-on weekend, a recruiting event held for potential non-scholarship players at the end of February. Micucci, who hopes to major in engineering, was happy to learn that all engineering classes are held in two adjoining buildings, but said that his favorite part about campus was the Lakefill.

“I have nothing bad to say about the campus,” Micucci said. “But the lake really stuck out. It was small, (but) it was beautiful.”

NU coach Pat Fitzgerald often speaks to his recruits about the importance of maturing as both a football player and a “young man,” emphasizing the importance of character and work ethic. If McNamara’s words are any indication, Fitzgerald will be happy with what Micucci brings to the Wildcats.

“I know Northwestern has a reputation for only taking high-quality people on its team,” he said. “If that’s the case, then it’s going to be a perfect fit for Matt. I’m excited that he’s going to be a Wildcat. He’s going to do great there.”

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