Setta turns special teams into positive for Irish
By NOAH AMSTADTER
Assistant Sports Editor
The year was 1994. The event was the Pop Warner eighth-grade national championships in Daytona Beach, Fla. The game remained close until the final minutes, the team from Lockport, Ill., hanging with the boys from St. Louis.
In the final minutes, Lockport scored to pull within one point. In Pop Warner, a point-after kick is worth two points. Up came the kicker and placed the ball through the uprights for the national championship.
Saturday's game-winning 38-yarder was nothing new for the sophomore playing in his first season, who has been piling up athletic accolades since before high school. Yet ever the star, Setta puts the team before himself.
"He's always been a team player," said sophomore Becky Lyman, who attended grammar school with Setta. "He's always had confidence in his abilities, but he's worked hard to get there."
It was this unflappable confidence that so impressed Irish head coach Bob Davie.
"I remember the first time I met him, when he walked in what a confident — almost bordering on arrogant — kind of guy he was," Davie recalled after Saturday's game. "I spent two or three hours over at that high school and everybody said what a tremendous competitor he is."
Growing up in Lockport — a working-class town southwest of Chicago where high school sports is often the focus of the community — Setta's athletic talents emerged early. His freshman year he earned the position of starting kicker, but had more than just football in mind.
Setta also emerged as one of the top runners on the Porters' cross-country squad, creating an interesting conflict where Setta competed as a member of both teams during the same season. Incredibly, the cross-country team – which competes for the state title nearly every season in Illinois — adjusted their practice schedule so that Setta could kick field goals after school before getting his running — as much as 40 miles per week in during the evening.
"Those guys realized the situation I was in, the possibility of winning a state championship," Setta said. "They made the sacrifice of waiting for an hour and a half or two hours until I was done with football. It was a big sacrifice for them and I really appreciate it."
Setta even competed in both sports during the same day, finishing among the top runners in a grueling three-mile race before a Saturday afternoon football game.
"The next thing you knew he's getting driven by his dad and walking on the field ten or 15 minutes before we get going," said Brad Kooi, Lockport's football coach. "He wouldn't even hesitate. He'd come back and say his leg feels fresh."
Setta feels that his dedication to both sports ultimately paid off in giving him more energy to devote to his kicking.
"I'm able to kick a lot more," he said, "I have the ability to do a lot of the kicking and not really get tired."
While Setta competed in sports year-round at Lockport, he always found time to practice his kicking.
"There were times that my kids and I would walk out to the football field to play around, and he'd be out there kicking with his dad and his brother," Kooi said. "It didn't happen once, it happened all the time. You'd head out there in the summertime, in the spring during track season, and he'd be working on it."
Setta's dedication paid off in record-breaking fashion while at Lockport. During his sophomore season, Setta booted a 59-yard field goal, by far Illinois's state record. The next year, Setta hit the uprights on a 72-yard attempt in a playoff game, a kick Kooi claims Setta has made during practice.
Setta's determination and experience paid off in the form of a scholarship offer from Davie in February of his senior year. After sitting out his freshman year behind Jim Sanson and David Miller, Setta performed well enough in this fall's camp to earn the nod at starting kicker, a decision that Davie claims was not an easy one.
"David Miller's a good kicker," said Davie, "It was a gut feeling about Nick Setta, because he is so confident. He doesn't get rattled."
As the clock ticked down with the game on the line Saturday afternoon, Davie recalled the confidence he sensed back in that office in Lockport. He looked at his young kicker and simply said, "This is what you came here for."
Davie then looked at his kicker, playing in only his third collegiate game, and marveled at his confidence.
"There was no doubt in his eyes that he enjoyed that moment," Davie said. "He was looking forward to that moment."
All Sports Stories for Monday, September 18, 2000