September 9, 2013
It’s probably 5:10 a.m. by the time my eyesight actually comes into focus. This was not a long night, it was a long week, and it was all business—no play. I’m tired and unrested. I grab my ringing cell phone and the screen is lit up by one incessant caller, my daughter, Bree.
Not good. This is bad news. I go from a grouchy morning mood to instant alert mode. This is not about a boyfriend. This is not a mother daughter GIG. This is serious, urgent. Otherwise my phone doesn’t read “Bree” on a Sunday morning at 5.
“Bree, Bree… What’s up?” Sobbing, her reply comes in a rush, “Daddy, Nick died last night.”
“Of what?” comes my startled reply. I’m confident the young man does not engage in drug use.
“He got run over by a car, Daddy!” By this time, tears are running down my face. I’m baffled and inclined to question her. “Are you sure he didn’t bounce up and avoid the following tackle?” I ask. I mean, how could a random car make a fatal tackle on Nick Pasquale? “This is a dream, right?” “He got run over by a car. If it was not a dream, the car would have missed.”
My mind reels. You know how some guys you play against—guys you hate but like to compete against—you know how these individuals just bounce up, no matter how hard you hit them or literally smash them, they squirm for extra inches in a goal game of 100 yards? These individuals in whatever competition: football, basketball, rugby, men’s softball, hardball. They all bounce up no matter how you trip, hit or neck-tie them. Bounce right up like nothing happened. If he lost or gained a yard, you’d never know unless you listened to the announcer. These are usually the smaller guys who made up their mind a long while ago that size didn’t matter. My heart’s bigger than your stature, attitude.
They balance their brain to perform, and in an almost-uncanny revelation, God’s blessing for them is the ability to bounce back. The bottom of their feet find forward traction, no matter how daunting the physical obstacle. These are the guys you dislike unless they’re on your team. They get hit, smashed up, yet spring into a fighting stance, like it never happened. In fact, they have convinced themselves it didn’t happen. Stop me? Never!
Their attitude is that if it’s a goal game, they’ll score. And if it’s a game of speed, they’ll be quicker. If the sport requires a racquet, extension bat or golf club, they’ll perfect their muscle memory. If it’s a game of horse, they’ll come up with a shot no one else can make. If it’s a challenge of height, they’ll find a path. It’s a determined mind, a healthy and competitive attitude with a capital “A.”
Nick was one of those guys. He would bounce, dodge, slide or slither past opponents, ram headlong into a pile of giants and squirt out the other side for the first down or a touchdown depending on field position. This, and his gregarious smile, is how I will always remember Nick. Not to mention his respectful politeness as a young gentleman, always addressing me as Mr. Wright.
The night of September 7, 2013, was no different. I was on the sidelines for the Tritons football game at Thalassa Stadium, as I had been most Friday nights during fall season for the last 25 years (long before any of my own children suited up). If the Tritons play at home, and I’m in town, I don’t miss it for anything.
Nick and I hung out for a while that night, and I remember thinking about the fact I had essentially watched this kid grow up. I asked how he liked UCLA. “It’s great, Mr. Wright, awesome and I got to play in the game last week. Camp was tough, but I loved it and can’t wait to get back. We have a bye this week.” To this, I looked impressed. “I feel like I got a hall pass just going to hang out with my friends all weekend, because it’s back to business right after.”
“I hear Tanner’s been kicking some ass out there,” he comments, referring to my sophomore son who Nick spent countless hours helping over the last couple years.
He flashed that awesome smile and said, “See you next time, Mr. Wright.” Then he strutted off, a bounce in his step, to hang out with his bros and watch the rest of the game.
I’d never see that smile live again.
I wasn’t as close to Nick as some parents around the program, but my kids were extremely close to him. AJ Pasquale, Nick’s brother, was my son Colby’s roommate at Northern Arizona University. They played side by side in high school. My daughter Bree obviously loved him. And my younger son, Tanner lamented Nick as his “hero, mentor, teacher and off-season coach.”
Nick helped shaped Tanner into a starting safety on varsity as a sophomore. Nick would call Tanner during breaks from UCLA and say, “Hey, let’s work on your footwork, run some patterns, talk ball.” He was more than an inspiration to Tanner; he was his second big brother. It will take Tanner a long time to deal with the tragedy of losing Nick.
A funny story about Nick is the time when Colby recruited him to help move my office. I’m both a UCLA and USC fan, having been born in L.A. yet attending neither school. I handed Nick an Anthony Davis signed helmet and then a football autographed by the “Nortre Dame Killer,” and handed him four Heisman Running Backs (limited edition signed by Mike Garret, OJ Simpson, Marcus Allen and Charles White)—pretty rare piece because they will never sign again.
Nick had just signed with UCLA. He gave me this funny look and said, “Mr. Wright, can we wait for Colby to get back from the truck? I’d hate to purposely drop these items.” Then he flashed that smile. I chuckled and immediately agreed.
So now here I was, shaken awake at 5 in the morning to the horrific news that Nick was hit by a freakin’ car. No longer was I convinced it was a dream. I knew now it was in a full-blown nightmare. I learned the first car missed Nick. That’s when I knew I was wide awake.
Goodbye, Nick Pasquale. Never known a child more loved in all my life.