Football was Lou Nazario’s top priority.
Then came Adriana.
Adriana is Nazario’s 3-month-old daughter that the Abraham Lincoln High School senior had with his girlfriend Rylee Sawchyn.
Since her birth, football has slid down on his list of things to do.
“I’m so proud of her, she always comes first,” Nazario said. “I’ve had to make some adjustments, and the football team has been great. I have to miss every Monday because I work an eight-hour shift, and some other days I have to leave practice a little early if I have work. When I’m there, I give it all I got, but my daughter comes first.
“I work at Big Al’s Italiano as a delivery driver. I usually work about 25 hours a week. Before football, maybe 35 hours a week and I’ll go back to that, maybe, when I’m done. The main thing I have to do is be there for my daughter, and I love coming home to her. But football is still important.”
Nazario knows how important it is because last year, he was told he’d never play again.
In May, Nazario, who lives in Mayfair, was in a three-car accident on Torresdale Avenue when another car turned into him and pushed him into a parked car.
He suffered a major knee injury that required surgery that put a metal plate, artificial cartilage and screws in his knee to hold it together. He was told his football career was likely over, and he certainly wouldn’t be ready to return in August for training camp.
But the coronavirus pandemic continued, and sports was wiped out for the Public League for 2020. And Nazario hit the rehab trail hard and worked himself back into shape. His recovery time amazed a lot of people.
“My doctor told me I was his fastest-healing patient, he couldn’t believe it, every time I went, I was able to do something else,” Nazario said. “I had to have another surgery, and that kept me from coming out for practice right away, I didn’t get here until two or three weeks before our first game. I really wanted to play.”
So much so that he changed everything.
During his sophomore and junior seasons, Nazario was the starting quarterback for the Railspittlers, and he took them to the playoffs both years. When he arrived this spring, Lincoln had a talented sophomore quarterback who was playing really well. Nazario could have competed with him, and there’s a strong chance the team would have given the job to the senior out of loyalty. But Nazario was happy to turn the reins over.
He went back to the drawing board and decided to try playing linebacker.
“I knew how to play linebacker and I liked that, but they had a really good linebacker corps, and I was a lot slower,” said Nazario, who played as a junior at 185 pounds but now weighs about 220 pounds. “I’m a lot slower, mostly because of my knee, but I wasn’t able to do a lot. I was playing mostly special teams, doing anything I could. I was on the bench. I wanted to play, but things were going well.”
Then an injury along the offensive line created an opening.
Nazario filled it. Happily.
“The coaches said to me that they knew I wasn’t a lineman, but they asked me if I wanted to play left tackle,” Nazario said. “And I love it. I like playing line. As a quarterback, you know how important it is to protect the quarterback. I remember if someone missed a block, I had to run for my life and I could have gotten hurt. I know it’s important. So I’m blocking as hard as I can. I want to help this team.
“It’s a really young team, but there’s a lot of talent. I’m here to help people where needed. I’m trying to do whatever I can to help. I’m having fun. I’m trying to do my best while doing whatever the team needs. I want to help.”
When Nazario takes his helmet off at the end of the spring season, it likely will be the end of his football career.
He grew up dreaming of playing college football, but circumstances have changed. The knee might not hold up, the plan now is to hit the workforce hard.
“The main goal is to become a cop, but I can’t do that until I’m 22,” the 18-year-old said. “So I’m going to work. I might try to join a union. My grandpop is a car dealer, I can help him. My dad drives a tow truck, so I can do roadside assistance. I’ll do something. I’m not afraid to work, I’ve always been a worker. I have a 2020 Impala that I bought from work. I like working.
“I dreamt of playing college football and it would be great to do that, but my daughter is the top priority and I’m going to take care of her. I get great support from my family, they’re great, they love her, they’ll help when we need it, buying diapers, but she’s my daughter, I have to take care of her.”
It isn’t the life he dreamed of, but he couldn’t be happier. He’s been able to play football in front of his daughter, who has made a few home games, and no matter how hard his long day of school, practice and work is, he’s as happy as he’s ever been.
“I’m really lucky to have great people around,” Nazario said. “(Rylee) is a great mom. The best mom. My family has been great. And I’m happy I had this year to play football. It means everything to me.
“I’ll definitely miss it. I’ll miss everything about it, but I’m thankful I had it. The coaches, especially Coach (Hakeem) Cooper and (Joe) DiGrazio. They’ll yell at you, but as soon as you make a play, they make you feel so good. And they push you because they want you to do well. They were great.
“I’m sad to stop playing football, but I’m very happy. I’m lucky to have a great family, a great daughter. I”m going to graduate and I’ll work. It will be great.”