Football bond unites Jefferson Hills brothers, family
The Natter brothers are playing different positions, on different football teams in different states competing at different NCAA levels.
Still, in some ways, the two Jefferson Hills natives are on the field together each Saturday.
Bruno Natter is a redshirt junior and the starting middle linebacker at Division II Mercyhurst University. His brother, Angelo, is a freshman nose tackle at the United States Military Academy, which is a Division I member.
Both have teammates to lean on and coaches to look up to, but the brothers turn to each other for advice, support or just someone to listen.
“My brother, he's my mentor,” said Angelo, who is three years younger than Bruno. “I always look up to him for advice. He's the hardest worker I know. If I'm in a tough spot, he is only a call away.”
Bruno said he's always happy to look out for his brother (not to mention the duo's younger sister, Rosina, a junior at Thomas Jefferson).
“It's great to have a brother also playing college football. I can talk to him, and I can relate to him really well,” Bruno said. “When he was still in high school and I was in college, we were on different pages a little bit. But now we're on the same page more.”
Even though he's the older brother, Bruno also looks to Angelo for guidance.
“We pretty much rely on each other when we need someone to talk to,” Bruno said.
Bruno Natter was a standout athlete at Thomas Jefferson, earning all-conference honors twice. He chose Mercyhurst over other Division II and Division III schools, and has become a force in the middle of the Lakers' defense.
He redshirted as a freshman in 2012, saw limited action as a reserve in 2013, earned significant playing time last year, and locked down a starting job this season.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Natter ranks third on the team with 58 tackles. Dan Blume, the Lakers' linebackers coach, said Natter's mental game is even better than his physical approach to the game.
“Bruno has done a great job. I've been with him for four seasons, so I've seen him grow,” Blume said. “He really understands his strengths and weaknesses. He knows how to capitalize on his strengths and limit exposure to his weaknesses.
“His two biggest strengths are his (physical) strength and his knowledge. He takes good angles. He's not the biggest or the fastest guy, but he does a good job of getting off of blocks and making plays.”
That knowledge especially is crucial in Bruno's role as a middle linebacker, a position that is expected to call much of the defense for Mercyhurst.
“He's a leader on the field for us. He puts in a lot of his calls, makes sets and adjustments,” Blume said. “He's a coach on the field at middle linebacker.”
Bruno relishes manning the middle linebacking position.
“I enjoy the role. It's what I want,” he said. “I always try to be where I'm supposed to be. In a leadership role, you've got to do everything right because younger players are looking at you. How you present yourself, how you adjust, that's all going to show the younger kids how they're supposed to do it.”
Angelo Angelo was a four-year letterman in high school, his first two at TJ and his final two at Central Catholic.
He played four positions in high school, and was selected all-conference four times. He then played a year at the Unites States Military Academy Preparatory School.
The 6-3, 250-pound Natter is still a freshman and, like most freshman, he's not seeing varsity action.
However, Army does field a junior varsity squad, and Angelo is making plenty of plays in those games. In a JV game earlier this month, he made several key stops on a goal line stand, catching the notice of Army head coach Jeff Monken.
Additionally, Angelo's playing on the scout team — preparing Army's offense for upcoming opponents each week — and he's also turning heads in that role.
“He's a great kid who comes from a great program,” Monken said. “He's doing a really good job playing on the scout team this year, and on our JV team, going against prep schools and other JV teams. We're excited to have him in our program, excited to see him grow.”
While Angelo has eyes on gaining more playing time and eventually seizing a starting job, he embraces his current role.
“My role, as a freshman, is to make the team better in any way that I can,” he said.
Angelo faces the physical rigors and time strains that any collegiate athlete faces. However, as an Army cadet, he also has to balance that with his top priority: his military duties.
“Every day is hard,” he said. “I get maybe six hours of sleep. Every day it's get up, class, football, studying. I just show up every day and work hard and do my job.”
As rigorous as it is, Angelo wouldn't have it any other way.
“I was always interested in the military lifestyle,” he said. “My dad always taught me that academics come first. I asked myself, if anything were to go wrong with football, what would I do? So Army was an easy choice.”
Fall Saturdays are crazy for the Natter family, with Bruno and Angelo playing often at the same time in different states.
Thankfully, grandma steps in.
“Texts will go flying around from my dad, from my brother. And my grandma will text us all about what Mercyhurst did, what Army did,” Angelo said.
Both teams are entering the home stretch of the season.
Mercyhurst is 5-4 overall, 2-4 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division after a 41-13 win over Seton Hill last week. This Saturday, the Lakers travel to California (Pa.) University.
Army, which competes as a Division I independent, is 2-6 overall. The Black Knights travel to Colorado on Saturday to take on Air Force (5-3).
Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.