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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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See-food diet adds bulk to Bull
The family restaurant helped Nick Capogna finally get onto the field.
By Greg Auman
Published July 17, 2007
NEWPORT, R.I. - Senior center Nick Capogna was honored when coach Jim Leavitt asked him to represent USF at the Big East preseason football media gathering today.
But forgive him that he also was excited about the clambake the league hosted Monday night. Football and food have always been integral parts of Capogna's life, so the trip to Rhode Island is symbolic of the way the two have come together perfectly for him.
Until a year ago, food was a punch line of sorts for Capogna: How can you have trouble putting on weight when your family owns an Italian restaurant?
He came to USF weighing 225 pounds, which was fine as a fullback and linebacker at Clearwater Central Catholic. Signed as a tight end, he quickly moved to center. But after three years of playing mostly on special teams, he still weighed just 230 pounds. And as coaches considered him for the starting center job, the scales worked against him.
"I could compete. I had the technique. But my body was getting beat up not having weight to throw around," Capogna said. "It's just my metabolism. I grew up in my restaurant eating two big meals a day of big pasta and not gaining weight. People looked at me like I was crazy."
Finally, in spring 2006, something changed. USF had no centers with game experience, and coaches tried to motivate Capogna by shifting defensive end George Selvie to center to give him more competition.
"It worked," he said. "It clicked in my head, and I just went after it."
With a fork and knife, that is. So instead of second string, he had second servings. What got him into the starting lineup, where he stayed all of last season? Hard work and dedication, sure, but just as much, it was his father, Al, insisting he stick around for more at Capogna's Dugout in Clearwater, which has been in the family since Al's father opened it on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in 1972.
"If I order two steaks, my dad's making me three. If he knows I'm home for dinner, he'll bring a large pizza home," Capogna said. "He's been doing it since I was young. I just didn't take advantage of it the same way. Thank God for that restaurant."
So he ate. His favorite dish at the Dugout is the Mediterranean pasta - to get it a la Nick, drop the tomatoes and add a chopped chicken breast. He sought out all-you-can-eat buffets, "crushing them" at Golden Corral and Perkins.
"It's sad when the waitresses there know you by name, know your order by heart," he said.
The restaurant has contributed more than ballast. It taught him discipline, from his days as a busboy or, when his grades in high school weren't up to Al's standards, doing dishes or manning the heat of the pizza grill. Most of all, the regulars at Capogna's inspired him early in his USF career.
"That first year, it questions your love of the game," he said. "I'd sit in the bottom of the Sun Dome, sweating, wondering if I wanted to be here anymore. I'd think about the regulars, coming in and asking how you're doing. I couldn't go back and tell those guys, 'I couldn't cut it.' I owe it to them."
He put on enough weight that he was listed at 275 pounds last year. He admits by the end of the season, he was back down to 255. But hey, he's working on it.
"I think we all wish we could eat the way he eats. He eats so much he gets tired of eating," said his mother, Barbara, whose grandfather, Park "Tumble" Crisp, played pro football alongside Jim Thorpe for the Canton Bulldogs 90 years ago. "He's given my American Express card a good workout."
He also has filled out as a leader in the past year. Capogna was a captain at CCC and has always sought such a role at USF. Stepping into a starting position last year lent him more authority with younger teammates as does today's spokesman honor, which he has alongside another senior, linebacker Ben Moffitt.
"It's a tremendous honor to me," said Capogna, whose older brother, Vinny, walked-on at USF and was a teammate in 2003 before becoming an undergraduate assistant.
"You put five years of work in, to finally do something like this, it's a special moment. Our leaders in the past have done this, so I've got a lot to live up to."
Not just a USF center, a food critic, too
Just so he isn't plugging only his family's restaurant, we asked USF center Nick Capogna for five more of his favorite places to eat in the bay area. After finishing off three lobsters at Monday night's Big East clambake, he had his answers:
Olga's, Clearwater: "Great breakfast. Heavenly, and the prices are ridiculously cheap." Capogna gets the steak and eggs.
E&E Stakeout Grill, Belleair Bluffs: "It's delicious. The surf and turf is as good as it gets."
Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, Clearwater: "Get the mahi-mahi sandwich or the grouper. They've got it all."
4. Tokyo Sushi Bar, Tampa: "Little, small place. Get the spicy tuna. I get three orders every time."
5. Ker's WingHouse, several locations: "Crawford Ker's dad actually worked at our restaurant, was a cook for a while. When I go there, the Philly cheesesteak is as good as it gets."