Noah Mick is strong.
The senior fullback at Millard North can practically lift the weight room. His bench press and clean are both more than 300 pounds. As the man in the middle for head coach Fred Petito’s option-heavy offense, he needs all that strength.
But he’s more than a battering ram.
“He’s as good a runner as we’ve had,” Petito said. “He can make you miss or he can make you pay.”
That is a monster of a statement from the high school coach who turned out Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch. But Petito has the facts to prove his opinion isn’t hyperbole.
“At a Rivals camp in Columbus, Ohio, he tested out fourth of over 1000 kids. He jumps well. He runs [the 40-yard dash] in the 4.52 to 4.58 range.”
— FIRST PICK PERF. (@FIRSTPICK_NE) August 27, 2017
For a fullback standing 6 feet tall and weighing in at around 190 pounds, those numbers are eye popping.
But football is about more than who is the strongest or the fastest. There’s toughness to consider, both physical and mental. And the last 12 months have tested Mick’s mental toughness in ways nearly unimaginable.
It began in the first game of the 2016 season. Millard North took the field against Omaha North. Noah Mick did not.
“It was an internal thing. Not a big deal,” said Petito.
Big deal or not, the Mustangs missed Mick. Defending their 2015 state championship win, Millard North was thoroughly beaten, losing 41-21 to Omaha North.
Mick regained his starting spot in game two and went on to have a stellar 2016 campaign. In nine games, Mick ran for 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns. With Mick on the field, Millard North didn’t lose another contest. Following a first round playoff win (and a 250-yard performance from Mick), the Mustangs found themselves matched against Creighton Prep and Class A’s top passer, AJ Hubner.
But just as the season began, it ended. No Noah Mick and no victory. An internal decision again kept him on the sidelines. For Mick, it was a learning experience.
“You can’t take things for granted,” he said. “It makes this season 10 times more important.”
And there were more tests of fortitude on the horizon. In March 2017, Joe Rigatuso, a Millard North football player, took his own life. The shockwaves of his untimely and tragic death rippled through the community.
“The service was tough. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, to get up and talk,” Petito said. “We’ve got a tough-minded bunch of kids, though.”
For Mick, it was a blow that hasn’t fully landed.
Lost a brother. Gone but never forgotten. #76 pic.twitter.com/8uKfwHNJgL
— Noah Mick (@noahmick22) March 17, 2017
“I’ve known him [Rigatuso] since about sixth grade,” he said. “I guess it hasn’t really happened yet. Like, is he really not here anymore?”
In keeping with the personality of his head coach, Mick said he knows only one way forward.
“Mental toughness. That’s what we work on every day. It’s definitely got to be mental toughness.”
It doesn’t take a towering intellect to see what Mick means to his team on the field. The Mustangs were 9-0 when he played and 0-2 when he didn’t. But his impact reaches beyond the white lines.
“Noah leads because it doesn’t matter if it’s Tuesday afternoon at 4:30, he’s playing the same football he’s playing on Friday night,” Petito said. “The kids see that. And that’s the purest form of leadership.”
It is perhaps these qualities that have made him a potential target for the Naval Academy.
“I don’t have any offers on the table yet,” Mick said. “But I’m not really worried too much. I’m just kind of focused on the first three games. If I have a good first three games, then everything will kind of fall into place.”
For a Millard North team that returns a runner the caliber of Noah Mick, alongside second-year starting quarterback Cade Elwood, things could fall into place rather quickly.
Ultimately, the success of a high school football team, and often individual players, depends on a litany of variables. Injuries, the development of younger players, the whims of teenagers, and coaching decisions are just a few. Millard North in 2017 will be no exception. But at least some of the success they have will come because Noah Mick is strong.