All Michael Cucci wanted was a chance to show his skills.
He had three years of waiting and nothing to show for it.
Michael Cucci spent the majority of his high school football career lying in wait. The Lakewood Ranch senior started playing the game when he was 5 on the Police Athletic League Raiders youth teams. His father, John Cucci, coached him. When he arrived at Lakewood Ranch as a freshman, he learned then-coach Mick Koczersut’s pro-style offense, but didn’t see the field much. His sophomore season, Cucci hauled in a few catches, he said, but made a minimal impact.
Then during Cucci’s junior season, after Koczersut stepped down, he did even less. The triple-option offense of new coach Christopher Culton essentially turned the receiver's position into a blocking-first position. While a part of the game, that wasn’t what Cucci signed up for, nor was it where his skills were best utilized, and he knew it.
To him, it didn’t even seem like football, he said.
The team went 0-10. While some of Cucci’s teammates gave up on the sport during the season, Cucci stuck it out.
“I’m not a quitter,” Cucci said.
He’s happy with his decision. After Culton left for Parrish Community High, Lakewood Ranch hired Rashad West, whose spread offense is the most wide receiver-friendly scheme Cucci has learned. He did have to learn it though, and hitting the reset button on offense for the third time in his high school career was not easy. Cucci said he was happy to do it, though, for an offense and coach who believed in him as much as he did himself.
Cucci, who is 6-foot-4, said he viewed this season as a final chance to show colleges what he can do. Thus far, he has acquitted himself well. Cucci has seven touchdown catches in just three games, including an overtime game-winner against North Port High Sept. 13. He is the focal point of the Mustangs’ passing game and a main reason why the team is 3-0. In fact, he said, he already has more catches this season than he did the previous three years combined.
He’s not overwhelming opponents with athleticism. Cucci credits his success to his route running, something he has continuously worked to improve during his career. He is as comfortable running a button hook or a cross as he is a vertical route. He’s also strong, evidenced by his ability to win “50-50” balls, or passes where the receiver and the defensive back have to jockey for position to catch the ball. Although he wants to improve his acceleration at the line of scrimmage, Cucci is happy with his season performance, he said, and even happier the coaching staff gave him a chance to prove what he always knew he could do.
Cucci has been a leader on and off the field for the team. With a minute left against North Port, and the Mustangs trailing, Cucci kept reminding his teammates the game was not over. They still had a chance, and Cucci would keep the faith, even if no one else would. They gave him the ball on a slant, trying to pick up a first down, and Cucci took it 84 yards for the tying score.
“I knew I could turn this around,” Cucci said of the moment.
He’s turned around not only that game, but his future prospects. If Cucci keeps producing at this level, his coaches and teammates won’t be the only ones who notice.