Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Familiar names on Gorman rosters
Rapper Snoop Dogg is just like the other parents of players at Bishop Gorman High School on football game days.
He sat with his wife about 10 rows up from the field near the 50-yard line, wearing a blue “Gorman dad” shirt, occasionally bobbing to the music on the loud speakers. He proudly smiled when his son, senior wide receiver Cordell Broadus, made a play, and cheered when the Gaels scored a touchdown. After the game, he greeted his son on the field and took a family picture.
Broadus, one of the nation’s most sought-after college prospects, had 13 catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the first three games of this season.
He transferred last winter to Gorman from a school in California, bringing his famous father to Las Vegas. To be eligible under transfer rules, the Broadus family had to establish residency in Las Vegas. Snoop Dogg’s daughter also attends Gorman.
Broadus isn’t the lone Gorman player with a well-known relative.
Sophomore running back Biaggio Walsh is the grandson of Muhammad Ali. Walsh, considered the fastest player on the team, is one of three running backs in the regular rotation.
Last season, Gorman’s quarterback was Randall Cunningham II, son of the UNLV and NFL great with the same name. Basketball Hall of Famer Gary Payton’s son, Julian Payton, plays basketball at Gorman. And the baseball team’s Chase Maddux is the son of Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.
It’s the beginning of summer and temperatures in Las Vegas already have hit triple digits. Nicco Fertitta, a senior safety for Bishop Gorman High, doesn’t care about the heat.
There’s no practice this June day at Gorman, where the football team is nationally ranked and a five-time defending state champion, but Fertitta doesn’t want to waste the afternoon. He’s messaging friends, trying to get a group together for training. He already has one session in the books, lifting weights in the morning.
“Nobody works harder,” Nela Otukolo, Gorman’s senior linebacker, says about Fertitta. “He’s a grinder. Every opportunity to get better, he takes it.”
When Fertitta closes his high school career this fall, his next opportunity will be at Notre Dame. He verbally committed there this summer. But some think Fertitta’s scholarship to one of the nation’s most storied college football programs has nothing to do with his talent and drive.
They say that at 5-foot-9 and 177 pounds, he’s too small to play at Notre Dame. They say he was recruited because of his family — the Fertittas own Station Casinos and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“The truth of the matter is we all know Notre Dame was not recruiting this kid and he is an average player,” a commenter posted on lasvegassun.com. “But his family is responsible for the national powerhouse that we have here in Las Vegas so just let it be because his situation will play itself out for sure. Notre Dame?!?”
The criticism is nothing new.
Fertitta has been called undersized since youth football but has refused to let outsiders dictate the way he plays or diminish his passion for the game. He has the reputation of being a hard hitter, always looking for contact and to make game-changing plays.
With Gorman nursing a three-point lead in overtime Sept. 5 against a ranked opponent, Bingham (Utah) High, Fertitta lived up to his reputation. Bingham was at Gorman’s 8-yard line, close to scoring the game-winning touchdown and derailing Gorman’s hopes for an undefeated season, when Fertitta rushed the quarterback from the edge. He made a jarring hit to force a fumble that was recovered by a teammate to end the game.
Earlier in the game, also with Bingham deep in Gorman territory, Fertitta made an acrobatic interception to stop a drive.
“I have always been like that,” Fertitta said of his aggressive style. “When I first started football, my dad taught me to play like that. He was also undersized and a big hitter. So that’s how I’ve always been.
“I like when guys are bigger, especially from a receiver standpoint. They are bigger targets.”
Fertitta is able to make those plays not only because of his ability, but because of his preparation.
His skeptics don’t see what happens behind the scenes leading up to game day or the season. Fertitta typically arrives early to practice and stays late to watch game video or do more weight training (he bench presses 285 pounds). At home, he continues studying video on his tablet or smartphone.
In the first quarter of Gorman’s season-opener against Brophy Prep of Arizona, Fertitta’s preparation paid off. On a fourth-down play in Gorman territory, Fertitta correctly read a swing pass and tackled the receiver for a loss to force a turnover on downs.
“He watches a ton of film, and he’s always coming in asking questions,” Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said. “A lot of young kids don’t spend much time watching and being students of the game. That has helped him on the field because he is a step ahead.”
Notre Dame wasn’t the only school to recruit Fertitta. Scholarship offers started coming in before the start of his junior season.
Evaluating services such as Rivals.com list him as a consensus three-star recruit (on a scale of five stars). Arizona and Utah of the Pac-12 Conference, Boston College, Indiana, Houston and others made offers to him.
“Even when I was a freshman on varsity, I never thought there was a difference between me and anybody else,” Fertitta said. “If you can play the game, you can play the game. And nobody works harder than me. What you put in is what you get out.”
Although outsiders’ criticism seems harsh — he is still a teenager, after all — it pales in comparison to his biggest critic: himself. Last year in a game televised by ESPN, Fertitta dropped a ball he likely would have returned for a touchdown against No. 1 ranked Booker T. Washington of Miami. Had he made the play, Gorman might have won. Instead, the Gaels lost.
Fertitta repeatedly watched film of the play during the offseason, thinking back to what he could have done differently and using it as motivation to fuel his training. He vowed to make the play the next time — and he did against Bingham.
Still, despite the strong start to the season, he knows reversing the opinion of others is impossible. They’ll likely comment negatively on this story.
“Anybody can sit behind a computer screen and (type) whatever they want,” he said. “You just don’t know if they know what they are talking about.”