Recently I got a text from Fr. Tom Weber about one of our favorite topics: Saint Ignatius sports. This text had nothing to do with an in-game update, but instead was related to the Wildcat presence in a news story emanating from ESPN. It seems that since the beginning of the Super Bowl era of the NFL there have been 721 players who have taken a snap as quarterback in a regulation game. It turns out that more NFL signal-callers got their start in the 44113 zip code than in any other, meaning that more Saint Ignatius alumni have gotten behind center than players from any other school.
Among those quarterbacks are Dave Ragone ’98 and Brian Hoyer ’04. Both had stellar careers at Saint Ignatius and went on to be very successful at the University of Louisville and Michigan State before entering the NFL. Ragone, a three time Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, is now the Offensive Coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. Hoyer was a standout at Michigan State, leading the Spartans to victories over both Michigan and Notre Dame (twice), and is the only member of the Saint Ignatius chorus (so far) to have earned a Super Bowl ring.
Those two, as well as Wildcat legends Joe Pickens ’90, Scott Mutryn ’94, and Tom Arth ’99 who each also spent time in the NFL, are a part of the litany of great leaders both on and off the field who were taught, coached, and mentored by newly-retired Offensive Coordinator Nick Restifo Hon. ’19.
The first, and only, Offensive Coordinator in the lengthy history of Saint Ignatius football, Coach Restifo is respected near and far for his ability to teach young men to be top quality quarterbacks and, more importantly, to model for them what it is to be a strong Christian man. He is respected by coaches on both sidelines and by men who have been very successful on the collegiate level. His humility in giving so much credit to his fellow coaches and to his players only makes his star shine that much brighter.
I know all of this first-hand since Nick is one of my dearest and oldest friends. We met in the fall of 1981 when we were both beginning our Saint Ignatius teaching careers and after 40 years together we have developed a friendship that transcends being colleagues who enjoy each other’s company. Nick is like a brother to me, and spending time with him, as I did yesterday as we shared a meal, speeds by as we talk about everything from our faith to football to food to family to school to you-name-it. We go down so many side paths that we often forget where we began our stories or what our original point was. But, that doesn’t matter because it is simply being together that matters.
St. Ignatius of Loyola called his group the Company of Jesus and when I’m with Nick I feel that we, who met through the school named for that great founder of the Jesuits, are embodying that original name. As the Spanish teacher in Nick would tell us, the word “companion” means “one with whom you share bread.” It would not be telling any secrets to mention that Nick loves to cook and to share recipes. One would not be surprised to find out that throughout his life Nick has been in households where food is seen as a sign of love. It is quite fitting that Nick so values the Eucharist, the ultimate sign in our lives of the love of God for His People.
I am saddened that the Kangol-capped head of Coach Restifo will no longer be roaming the sidelines or in the booth calling plays and lifting trophies, and I speak for the entire Saint Ignatius community when I say, thank you, Nick, certainly for all of the wins and the great memories, but even more for all you have done to hone not just talent but lives.
Grazie mille, mio grande amico!