Pete Zuccollo and his family saw an opportunity. And just as any good defensive back does with an errant pass that comes his way, Zuccollo took it.
The senior safety, who was slated to play a vital role in the Bradley-Bourbonnais secondary this season, will head to Bradenton, Fla. later this month, where he will enroll at IMG Academy and play football.
Zuccollo’s opportunity came about just recently and in surprising fashion. While he was at the Northwestern University football camp in June, the Wildcats staff referred the hard-nosed safety to the staff at IMG, who sent Zuccollo an offer two days later.
“They were looking for two defensive backs, and the Northwestern coaches recommended me to them,” Zucollo said. “It means a lot for the right eyes to see me for once — it means a lot to go down and play for IMG Academy.”
With students and parents set to head down in two weeks, Zuccollo and his family had a brief, six week window to make a decision, one they ultimately reached when Zuccollo received his admission letter last week.
“I was a little iffy at first because everything happened so fast, but my opportunities are probably better down there for colleges,” Zuccollo said. “After thinking about it for a while, I was 100 percent locked in.”
Although there wasn’t much time to take a trip down to visit the campus before making his decision, Zuccollo has a pretty good idea he will enjoy what he’s in for in Bradenton.
“I’ve seen the videos on YouTube,” Zuccollo said. “It’s obviously different in person than on YouTube, but I was going to go there for sure anyways.”
The decision to transfer might have come quickly, but the hard work needed to be put in this position took years. Mike Zuccollo, Pete’s father, said Pete’s work ethic during his high school days can be a lesson for those younger than him.
“This has been three or four years in the making, Pete’s Saturday mornings spent in the gym or running 40-yard dashes,” Mike said. “This is a great life lesson [that] hard work and being persistent will pay off.”
IMG has become one of the biggest high school football powerhouses in the country during the past 10 years, churning out recruits such as Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson, former Alabama running back Bo Scarborough and former Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois, and ended last season as the third-ranked team in the nation, according to MaxPreps, CBS’s high school sports website.
Between recruiting databases at ESPN and 247Sports, Pete will have three classmates who are four-star recruits on his team this year, including fellow safety Lejond Cavazos, a four-star recruit on 247Sports who has committed to Ohio State.
But Pete, a two-year starter with the Boilers but a relatively unknown recruit until this summer, said he’s more excited than nervous to share a field with such prestigious prep stars.
“I don’t get too nervous or frightened by it; I kind of just go out there and play,” Pete said. “I haven’t talked to many of them yet since I don’t know any of them yet, but I’m sure I will when I get down there.”
The price of transferring to a prep academy isn’t a cheap one, both financially and socially. Tuition for a year is north of $50,000, and the school is 1,200 miles away from home, which meant sacrifice in the Zuccollo household had to take place.
Mike said the family will be moving along with Pete, something they intended to do upon his graduation in May.
“We planned on moving after he graduated; we just weren’t sure where,” Mike said. “At first, [Pete] didn’t want us to sell our house and whatnot, but he understands this move is best for everybody.
“Like we would miss any [of Pete’s] games — I don’t think so.”
Part of why Mike is excited for his son’s opportunity, aside from gridiron excellence, is the chance to receive a college prep school education at an academy that has an A-plus ranking by academic ranking website niche.com.
“This is college prep, and we couldn’t be happier with that aspect of it,” Mike said. “As [IMG] explained to us, Pete will come out of this next year ready mentally and physically to step on campus and onto a college football program, and you can’t ask for more than that.”
While leaving behind friends and family was one of the more difficult aspects of the decision, Pete said he has received nothing but support from all corners.
“My friends have been very supportive of me, telling me to go ... and my girlfriend has, too,” Pete said. “[Football coach Mike Kohl] has been very supportive of it and said I should go.”
Pete’s ultimate dream is to get a shot at an NFL roster someday, a dream that has received a sliver of reality in his eyes with the move to IMG. In college, he plans to major in criminal justice and enter the FBI if his football dreams don’t pan out.
With post-prep goals such as those, Pete said he knows what his goals have to be for his year at IMG.
“Academically, I’d like to get straight As or As and Bs,” Pete said. “Athletically, I want to have a good attitude, work out, give 100 percent, and everything will work itself out.”