ANSONIA >> Had Charlie Ricco not been a precocious and energetic 6-year old, his life path might have been entirely different.
“I was always really hyper,” Ricco said. “So my Mom got me into karate to see if it could keep me focused.”
Martial arts soon became a passion for Ricco, now 17. Ricco quickly progressed. In 2011, he became a Professional Sport Karate League (PSKL) world champion.
This in addition to the 20 state championships and nine national titles he amassed in weapons, forms and fighting events.
In his spare time, Ricco is a senior captain for the O’Brien Tech football team, where he’s a standout running back/defensive back.
The 5-foot-6, 150 pound Ricco, a Seymour resident, first played football as a freshman. His commitments to martial arts prevented him from participating in football prior to high school.
“I always wanted to play football, but karate always interfered,” Ricco said. “Karate was my true love, that’s what I was good at. Tournaments were on Sunday and, to be a champion, you have to train four hours a day, that’s just how it was. I went to school, did homework and then I trained for four hours. I could never go to football practice until high school.”
Ricco has learned to incorporate some of his martial arts skills while on the gridiron.
“I think everything is tied into martial arts,” Ricco said. “I think martial arts helped me out in general. I play running back, and I think I am pretty small to play running back, but I have pretty big calves. I think that karate people have pretty strong legs, so for running back that’s great for me. I think there are ties even with blocking in football. We have certain moves I know how to defend because I learned it in karate. It does help out. It plays a big role.”
Ricco no longer competes in karate, but he remains involved in that discipline by being an instructor at the Bushi Ban Martial Arts and Fitness Center in Seymour.
Since ending his competitive karate career, Ricco has trained for the past two years at the Marcelo Garcia Jiu-Jitsu Association of Connecticut in Bridgeport.
The recent rise in popularity of professional Mixed Martial Arts events, like the UFC, was a reason Ricco decided to learn another discipline.
“The skill is getting a lot better now, I think,” Ricco said. “I love watching it (UFC), it’s real interesting to watch. You learn things from watching it on TV. I learn moves and I use them. I love that part.”
Ricco won the bronze medal in the featherweight division at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation world championships this past summer in California.
The next step?
“To be a world champion in jiu-jitsu,” Ricco said.
Ricco, who is part of the HVAC program at O’Brien Tech, will likely enlist in the Marine Corps. The Marines offer a martial arts program, where Ricco hopes to become an instructor.
Football used to take a backseat to martial arts, but O’Brien Tech coach Nick Aprea said Ricco has shown a renewed interest in football this season.
“He gets flown all over,” O’Brien Tech football coach Nick Aprea said. “Texas. California. The fact that he could see the country basically for free is a pretty tough thing to say no to. This year he said no to it (martial arts) a few times, which really made me feel good in terms of how I think he feels about this program.
“He had a lot of things going on his freshman, sophomore, junior year as far as martial arts things. He would miss practice sometimes in the beginning of the preseason to go to (events), and that was fine; that was what he liked. But you could tell this year he really changed. He wanted football to be more of a priority.”
Ricco has rushed 26 times for 122 yards and one touchdown for the Condors (0-3) this season. He’s also made one interception.
“He’s a tough football player,” Aprea said. “We have him playing running back, and he’s undersized, but he’s tough. He’s taking some hits and he doesn’t seem affected by them. He does a good job on defense. He’s just as tough from a physical standpoint as anyone. He’ll get hit by anyone and he’ll hit anyone.
“I think he brings an understanding of what is required to be successful from an individual standpoint. He understands what it takes to be successful, and what you have to do to be successful at whatever it is you’re doing. I think (martial arts) also makes him understand what kind of attitude you need to have to be successful.”