Nicky, the last - and by acclaim the best - of the five Galasso brothers of West Islip, still gets a lump in his throat when he and his teammates sit down for their pregame ritual.
One by one, the Lions use a black magic marker to trace the letters "C'' and "G'' vertically, in calligraphy style, on their legs. They are the initials of Nicky Galasso's mother, Cindy, who died of lung cancer in the summer of 2004.
She was so popular among Nicky's teammates, having been with them from their early days in youth lacrosse, that when he started his first full varsity season in the ninth grade in 2007, the 'CG' tradition began as a tribute. "I was a momma's boy," Galasso said, his voice full of pride. "Once I leave, it will probably stop, but it's still kind of a motivating thing for me."
That was especially true last season, when Galasso and several of his best friends who were seniors combined to lead the Lions to their third state Class A boys lacrosse title in four years. "Those guys - Ian Braddish, Mike McCormack, Shane Craig - I played with them as a kid when my Mom was around."
With profound insight rare for a teenager, Galasso speaks openly about his mother. "If she were still around, my life would be so much different," the two-time Newsday All-Long Island player said. "I would probably be less mature. I'm more mature now because of what I've had to deal with. Twelve is young to lose your mother."
Maybe that's why Cindy Galasso is never far from her son's mind. "When we win the states, I get upset a little bit, thinking about it and wishing she were here," Galasso said softly. "But winning three state championships in four years of high school is a pretty good accomplishment. I know she'd be proud."
Yes, Cindy would enjoy watching Nicky chest bump a teammate after goals, sometimes pausing to point skyward to her. His chest should be plenty sore this season. The North Carolina-bound senior attack was Long Island's leading scorer as a junior with 136 points (71 goals) and is Newsday's reigning Suffolk Player of the year. He scored eight goals in West Islip's first two games this season. His stick-handling and shooting skills, honed since he was a first-grader playing with the third-graders at Coach Craig's summer camp, are in a class by themselves.
The family bond is tighter than the lacing on his lacrosse sticks. "He has a pure love of family and good recognition of right and wrong," Craig said. "He's the best of the five brothers that played here and when he's all through, he might be the best player in Long Island history."
Galasso says that's all because of his band of brothers - Sal, 26, Danny, 24, Victor, 23 and Vinny, 20. "They all accomplished a lot. They were all great athletes," Nicky said. "I get all my talent from them."
Brotherly love, however, meant tough love when Nicky was younger. "When I was 10 and I was a fat little kid, they'd chase me around in their car to make me run," he said, now able to laugh about it. "They'd go slow and bump me. I'd be crying the whole time. They did a bunch of things to get me in shape. They made me tougher."
Then Nicky hit his growth spurt in middle school and the baby fat was gone. Today, he's a rugged 6-0, 190 pounds. Galasso may be tough on the outside, but inside beats the heart of the momma's boy he remains.
"Last year, there was a special-ed kid in one of our elementary schools. He wore a jersey with [Nicky's] No. 5 and had a No. 5 shaved into his head," Craig said. "Nicky finds out and at Stony Brook, after our Long Island championship while everybody else is still celebrating on the field, he goes up into the stands and gives the kid an autographed stick. He didn't tell anybody beforehand and he didn't make a big deal of it. That's the kind of kid he is."
The kind of kid whose mother would be so proud.