Following New Canaan’s 20-17 victory over Notre Dame-West Haven in the Class L state semifinals, New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli had this to say about Green Knights senior Nico Ragaini:
“If he’s not the best player in the state, he’s in the top two,” Marinelli told reporters. “I don’t know who the other guy is.”
Ragaini finished with 150 all-purpose yards, 11 tackles, an interception and scored on a 61-yard punt return in that loss. It was just business as usual for the multi-talented Ragaini, the 2016 Register Area Most Valuable Player.
The punt return touchdown in the second quarter gave Notre Dame a 9-7 lead.
“I was excited when they punted to me,” Ragaini said. “When I saw the ball coming up in the air, it was a little bit to the guy to the left of me, Jordan (Gargiulo). When it’s to his side he usually gets it, but I had to take my chance and I went and got the ball. I caught a couple of blocks, it was great. It worked out.”
A starter since freshman year, when he caught 28 passes, Ragaini has contributed at several positions during his career. His favorite one?
“I just love wide receiver, I love making plays,” Ragaini said. “I’ve been blessed, really, with all the great quarterbacks that I’ve had.
“Freshman year I started with Christian (Lupoli) and we had three great years together. He was tremendous, it really made it easy on me. Then this year, I had another big quarterback with Chris Elias. It really took the slack off me having such really great quarterbacks.”
Ragaini was truly the quintessential triple-threat, able to beat teams on offense, defense and special teams.
“He has a great combination of skills,” newly retired Notre Dame coach Tom Marcucci said.
“He’s a great leader and competitor, but a humble kid. He can do anything on the football field — anything. He’s just a great football player and, at the same time, he never let anything get to his head.”
As a senior, Ragaini caught 59 passes for 988 yards and six touchdowns. He also rushed for five scores and finished with 1,591 all-purpose yards. In addition, he made 41 tackles, two interceptions and caused one fumble. Ragaini hauled in a state record 222 career receptions.
“Every pass he caught was in a meaningful situation,” Marcucci said. “To me, he’s as good as they get.”
Marcucci had two different stints as head coach: 1982-99 and 2009-16. He finished with a 179-82-6 record and state championships in 1991 and 2009. Marcucci considers Ragaini one of the best players he’s ever coached.
“He’s in the top 3 or 4 kids,” Marcucci said. “I don’t like to put them in any category, but he’s the first Notre Dame football player to be named all-state three times. He could hurt you on special teams, on offense, on defense; he’s just a player. He rises to the occasion in every game.”
Ragaini made a verbal commitment to play lacrosse at Cornell but has since entertained the idea to continue his football career. Depending on which school he eventually chooses, Ragaini may be able to play both football and lacrosse.
“He may end up at a prep school,” Marcucci said. “He’s under-recruited. He has several Division I-AA offers — Fordham, New Hampshire, Army, Maine, and some Ivy League teams are interested for football. He’s still undecided. He’s a Division I football player. He’s not 6-foot-3, he didn’t go to all these combines and camps but, to me, he’s a Division I football player.”
Notre Dame qualified for the state playoffs in Ragaini’s final three seasons, including a trip to the state championship game in 2014.
“It’s been awesome,” Ragaini said. “Great coaching, great players all three years. We work our butt off every single year to get back there. That’s the goal: to get to the playoffs and win the championship. Sadly, we couldn’t win the championship in Marcucci’s last year but it’s definitely been the best four years of my life.”