|Nico Papas got his start in Watertown.|
Nico Papas grew up around football, first serving as a ballboy and waterboy for the Tufts University and Bentley College squads while his father, John, was serving as assistant coach for the teams.
Now the Watertown teen, who has developed into an outstanding player on his father's Buckingham Browne & Nichols School squad, has committed to attend Columbia University next fall.
Papas, a 6-foot-1, 228-pound fullback and nose guard for the Cambridge private school's New England Prep championship squad last fall, is ranked on rivals.com, a high school scouting website, as the sixth best fullback in Massachusetts, and ranked 21st in the nation by espn.com.
A first team All-New England Prep fullback last season, when he led Buckingham with 19 receptions, Papas will cocaptain this year's team.
"He's a prototypical fullback with good hands but what has caught national attention is his blocking," said John Papas, who is starting his fifth season as head coach, and started team preseason practices last Thursday. "He works as hard in the classroom as he does on the field and his goal has been to attend an Ivy League school."
"I wanted to go somewhere with a city atmosphere and relatively close to home," said the younger Papas, a three-year starter at BB&N who scored seven touchdowns last year. His introduction to organized football was in eighth grade at Watertown Middle School.
As a freshman at BB&N, Papas stepped right into the varsity on special teams and saw spot duty at fullback. After work in the weight room, he earned a starting position at fullback and nose guard as a sophomore, and was the only second-year player on the All-ISL first team (at fullback).
Last fall, he repeated his all-league honors, leading the team in tackles (68) while anchoring the defensive line, and finishing second on the team in scoring. It wasn't too long after the season that Columbia showed strong interest, and Papas was offered a spot on its football team last month.
"Growing up, it seemed every sport I played, I was coached by my dad," said Papas, whose sister, Delia, was a sophomore field hockey, basketball, and softball player last season at BB&N and a basketball captain. "What I learned from my dad is that hard work pays off. I was never a lazy kid, but his motivation definitely helped."
Papas has never played on a losing football team at BB&N, which was 6-2 his freshman season and 5-3 in 2005.
"We've had such great captains in the past and I want to continue that tradition of leadership and winning," said Papas, who attended several football camps and clinics this summer and has also worked out at Mike Boyle's facility in Winchester. "My main goal was to get faster over the off-season and I think I've achieved that goal."
Four other area players will join Papas in the starting lineup for BB&N: two-way tackle Xander Frantz of Newton, senior offensive tackle Ian Mahoney of Wellesley, sophomore tight end Blake Barker of Wellesley, and senior guard Zach Proman of Newton.