Nick Polo won’t play football this fall, but he’s already scored an unforgettable touchdown.
The sophomore had a brain tumor removed during a 12-hour surgery in July and he’s undergoing daily rounds of radiation treatment.
In spite of the physical and emotional toll, Polo plans to be there when classes begin Thursday at the South Huntington parochial school. The 15-year-old from Wantagh comes from a family of stout football players who don’t know any other way than to tackle adversity head on.
“Two of my brothers went to college to play football,” said Nick, the youngest of five Polo children. “I just want to follow in their footsteps. Maybe a shot at the pros?”
Courage comes in many forms. Polo, who stands 5-foot-5, has lost 15 pounds since the ordeal began. Radiation followed by chemotherapy has weakened him. He loses his train of thought and suffers bouts of stomach-churning nausea.
But he smiles through it all, appreciative of the support he’s received and eager for the day when he can be a typical, healthy teen again.
“God definitely has a plan for me,” Polo said. “I wasn’t always into health sciences. With all this going on I’ve taken an interest in my body. It’s been an experience for me.”
Polo’s freshman year at St. Anthony’s was marked by promise. He was a safety on the freshman football team.
Older brother Vincent is a safety for Stony Brook University while another, Anthony, played at Hofstra before the program shut down. Both starred at . In fact, Anthony was named the best linebacker in Nassau County in 2006.
So the youngest Polo hit the gym in the spring, eager to bulk up for the junior varsity and live up to his family pedigree.
“He came home one day and had some pain in his neck,” said his father, Rich Polo, who owns a football equipment supplier in Bellmore. “We figured he pinched a nerve.”
Father sent son to a physical therapist. When the neck pain morphed into headaches, everyone thought the issue was viral. Polo went for blood work. Nothing showed up.
By June, the symptoms worsened. Nick Polo was throwing up.
“He was sick on his birthday,” mother Cindy Polo recalled. “We never put it together.”
“We didn’t know what was going on,” Rich said.
Nick Polo was on a travel baseball team, but rarely made it to games.
“Every time he would get ready for the baseball game he was throwing up, sick in the morning,” Rich said. “He couldn’t play.”
The one game he did dress for, Polo had to leave the field because he couldn’t see. That scare prompted a trip to the neurologist. That’s when the tumor was spotted on the pineal gland. One day later Polo underwent a brain biopsy.
That was followed by an exhausting surgery July 5 at to remove the fingernail-sized tumor, which was found to be malignant.
“Such a small thing for such a big [problem],” Nick said.
Polo is two-thirds of the way through 32 treatments of radiation. He also receives a round of chemotherapy once a week. He’ll then take two weeks off before embarking on a new six-plus month cycle of chemotherapy.
“The first thing he said was, ‘I’m ready to go. Let’s get this thing over with. I want to get back on the field,’” Rich said. “We’re all crying and he’s ready to go. His personality, his strength – by far – is what’s holding this family together.”
The phone rang recently at the Polo home. On the other end was Rutgers University Football Coach Kyle Flood with an invitation to attend practice.
Nick Polo spent a recent Saturday with the Scarlet Knights. He ate lunch with the players then watched them scrimmage from the sideline. The tone changed quickly.
The teen was ushered into the backfield as the offense worked on its goal-line drill. In an instant the snap hit quarterback Gary Nova’s hands, he pivoted and handed the ball off to Polo. The youngster showed the instincts of a pure runner as he cut back through a gap in the line and found the end zone.
Soon he was mobbed by Rutgers players and hoisted off the ground like a trophy. Watch video of the play attached.
“They treated Nick like he was a recruit,” Rich said.
It was a priceless moment for a budding athlete who badly needed a lift. Sports is therapeutic in this family.
While Nick Polo still has a personal struggle ahead, he is not alone. The at a fundraiser last week. Neighbors leave trays of lasagna on the doorstep.
And St. Anthony’s Coach , who recently gave Polo a , wants the youngster on the sideline of his . He’ll chart stats while measuring his own progress as the Friars march toward another CHSFL title.
“That’s where he wants to be,” Cindy Polo said.
“I’d rather be in the huddle,” Nick Polo chirped.
That attitude will carry the young Polo. And the multitudes in his corner will make sure he does not falter.
But as our interview concludes, he heads for his room. He needs to lie down and rest.
No doubt he'll dream of better days ahead and of a touchdown scored against some very big men and an even bigger foe.