August 4, 2023

Hogan: Nicastro’s Presence Being Felt

When Peter Nicastro first stepped onto the field at training camp, it almost felt like the Argos were debuting a new all-star free agent.

The status was legitimate; he was the CFL East Division’s All-Star centre in 2021. He was also recognized as the team’s Most Outstanding Rookie and Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman; all that despite suffering a season-ending injury in late October of that year.

It would keep him out of the lineup for the entire 2022 season.

The return of the player selected seventh overall in the 2021 CFL Draft made an already good group even better, as did the addition of free-agent Darius Ciraco, a teammate of his at the University of Calgary. Nicastro doesn’t recall meeting Ciraco for the first time but remembers how well he was treated as a freshman.

“In my first year there were some big names on that o-line,” he told Argonauts.ca. “Ryan Sceviour, who’s with the Stamps, Ciraco; they were the guys. As a freshman going in, you’re a little bit nervous, but they were all super welcoming. Ciraco’s always been a good guy to me and now we’re here. We’ve gotten pretty close, it’s great to be back with him.”

Unfortunately, Ciraco won’t be able to play Friday night when the Argos play in Calgary as he’s dealing with a non-football related issue. Nicastro will slide over from right guard to fill in for his friend. Nevertheless, Nicastro is looking forward to returning to his hometown to play on the field he and Ciraco both starred on.

The only downside is that he has to find tickets for his friends and family. How many is he on the hook for?

“I don’t even know,” he said with a smile. “To be honest, people are getting their own tickets because I can only get so many; there’s too many for me to get.”

The main thing is that he’s able to go home and play. Despite winning the Grey Cup last year, Nicastro’s presence was missed, and not just on the field. Offensive line coach Kris Sweet loves his talent on the field, but his disposition as well.

“He’s a great kid from a great family,” Sweet told Argonauts.ca. “He’s like a little kid; he loves life, he works hard, he askes good questions. He’s a coach’s dream in terms of being a hard-working kid who practices hard; he’s there early. I have no complaints whatsoever.”

Sweet has been coaching in the CFL for a dozen years and almost as long at the collegiate level. Over that time, he’s had to deal with players returning to the lineup after suffering serious injuries. He’s treated Nicastro the same way he’s done with every player coming back after an extended time away due to injury.

“My business card says coach, not doctor,” Sweet said with a smile. “He was cleared to play, so he plays. We didn’t hold back. He’s still rusty, but I don’t think there’s been any side effects injury wise.”

If Nicastro has played this well while “Still rusty,” that’s not good news for opponents down the road as the lineman gets closer to playing at one hundred percent.

The 25-year old has been able to play equally well at both guard and centre, which is a bonus for a coach trying to make sure the best five players can find their way onto the field at the same time.

For Sweet, finding the right spot for him hasn’t been problematic.

“No, because the other guys, like Darius (Ciraco), were playing so well; it worked out perfectly for us. We just try to find the best five guys. At times you have to ask where a player feels most comfortable. With both of those kids (Nicastro and Ciraco), neither one of them had a preference so it’s worked out really well.”

It has. The Argos are undefeated so far and have the chance to improve their record to 7-0 with a win against the Stamps; no easy feat since the Argos have won just once in their last eight trips to McMahon Stadium.

Nicastro is not only happy to be heading home, but also thrilled with the team’s start and his ability to contribute.

“I feel good, it’s good to be back. Last year was a long year; it’s good to be back with the guys and be in the locker room again. I’m loving it.”