Altavilla brothers promote 'football family' at Baldwin
It wasn't too long ago that Nick Altavilla was a ball boy for Baldwin's varsity football team. As a quarterback on his eighth-grade team, he loved watching his older brother, Doug, from the sidelines toss the ball around as the Fighting Highlanders' starting quarterback.
“When (Doug) was a freshman, I would just come up and watch him throw before the games with his wide receivers,” Nick said. “I wanted to play football with him because I knew he would make me better.”
Fast forward two years, and the Altavilla brothers are both starting at Baldwin
Doug, a junior, still is the team's quarterback, while Nick is a sophomore wide out and defensive back.
“I actually love it,” said Doug of having his brother on the team. “Wherever I go, he's always there. Our timing is good. I trust him. I always know where he's going to be. We have that bond as brothers.”
Growing up, the Altavillas had the chance to play on the same team only once, when they were 7 and 8 years old.
Instead of connecting through the air like they do know, Doug remembers opening holes for his younger brother.
“I used to block for him,” Doug said. “I was an offensive lineman and he was a running back.”
Doug started playing quarterback in eighth grade, and won the varsity job the next year as a freshman at Baldwin. In three years behind center he has thrown for 2,783 yards, and so far this season has passed for 1,461 yards and 19 touchdowns, including one to Nick.
“He's always there to help me out,” said Nick of his older brother. “If I don't know something, I can ask him and he lets me know what to do. He knows what every guy is doing.”
Head coach Pete Wagner says the extra time the brothers put in at home helps them tremendously when they're on the field together.
“They're both very cerebral type of kids,” Wagner said. “They're very easy to coach because you know they're doing their homework at home. They bring a lot of leadership intangibles to the table.”
Nick has snagged eight passes for 66 yards and a score, and has one interception on defense.
During his first varsity game, Nick admits, he had some nerves, but Doug was there to ease the anxiety.
“That first game he was helping me out,” Nick said with a laugh. “I was a little nervous.”
Wagner added, “Any time you have someone in the household with as much game experience as Doug, that's someone you can lean on.”
The Altavillas are one of three sets of brothers — along with Enzo and Rocco Ruscitto, and Justin and Josh Zinsmeister — that start for Baldwin, which gives new meaning to the term “football family.”
Enzo, a senior, starts on the offensive line while Rocco, a junior, starts at outside linebacker.
Justin, a senior, is an inside linebacker; Josh, a junior, is a defensive end. Both also split time on offense at the tight end position.
“It's good because not only is it a tight-knit relationship with those individuals, but that also transcends within the locker room,” Wagner said. “It's easy to set expectations with them because those types of things are being reinforced at home as well.”
Baldwin closes out the regular season Friday night at Bethel Park. At 4-4 overall and 4-3 in conference play, the Fighting Highlanders still are in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoff hunt.
A win would clinch a playoff berth, and also would lock up the program's first winning regular-season record since 2003.
“It's something our kids have always had in the back of their minds since we started this journey,” Wagner said, “but we're still approaching it as any other game. With us being in the playoff run and having an opportunity to get a seat at the table, our kids are very hungry and motivated.”
Justin Criado is a freelance writer.