Nick Masi’s Connetquot High School football teams may not have been the biggest, or fastest, or the most naturally talented, but Masi didn’t really care about any of that. He only cared about what he could control: toughness and preparation. And, in that area, no one could top Masi’s group.
Masi, who was the head football coach at Connetquot for 13 years, was a film junkie, hunkering down every chance he had to make sure his squad had an advantage on Saturday afternoons. During the football season, Masi was usually on the field or in his basement.
"He made sure that they were prepared," said son Chris Masi, 43, of Ronkonkoma, of the team. The younger Masi played for his father from 1992 to 1995. "Basically, before a game, every night he was watching games with the other coaches down in the basement. Then, a couple hours after the game, they’d be down watching the game that we just played."
Nick Masi, a father of three who was a physical education teacher at Connetquot and Ronkonkoma Middle School for 33 years, died Jan. 13 at his home in Ronkonkoma after a nine-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease, his family said. He was 75.
"I don’t think we had the most talent in the county, but we became the best team behind his ability to make every aspect fun for us," said former player Pat DiClemente, 48, of Smithtown.
After coaching at Islip High School from 1982 to 1985, Masi coached at Connetquot from 1986 to 1998. While at Connetquot, his teams went 65-42-7 and won the first Long Island Class I Championship in 1992. His team returned to the Long Island Championship in 1994 and lost. In 1989, Connetquot finished 8-0-2 and won the Suffolk Large School championship, according to Newsday records.
Masi also served as an assistant coach at Commack North High School and New York Tech, his son said.
"He had such a passion for us to succeed, like all coaches do. But, some are just better at it than others," said former player Chris Kiernan, who was a co-captain on the 1989 Connetquot team. "He was able to motivate us all week. We were usually overmatched or ... [outsized] every time we stepped on the field that year, and somehow every time we ended up on top."
"You’d run through a wall for him," said former player Jimmy Melchiona, 45, of Bohemia. "The winning was just a byproduct of what he taught us — discipline, toughness, work ethic and respect. He taught us those things and they were life lessons forever. He touched a lot of lives."
Masi and offensive coordinator Bob Ambrosini, who died last month, were practically attached at the hip. They shared a physical education office and were the brains behind many of Connetquot’s greatest teams, Chris Masi said.
"They were a great combination together," Kiernan said. "Their tight friendship overtook the whole team. For the years to come, we felt like we were very fortunate to have them."
Former player Chris Lamb, 49, of Sayville, added: "[Nick Masi] was a very motivating individual, intimidating at times, especially during practice. But, by game day, we all knew we had a job to get done and we certainly didn’t want to let him down, him and coach Ambrosini."
Born Nov. 22, 1945, in Jackson Heights, Queens, Masi grew up in Copiague. He played football at Copiague High School and, after graduating in 1963, attended Minot State University in North Dakota, where he played offensive and defensive tackle. He graduated Minot State in 1968 with a degree in physical education and started teaching at Connetquot that fall.
"He was a hard-nosed guy on the field, but he was a person that would do anything for you," said lifelong friend Joe Colloca, 75, of Port Jefferson Station. "You could just call him and he was there. Anytime I needed something, he’d be there in a minute, and that was for anybody."
Nick Masi lived in Ronkonkoma for 42 years and was an avid golfer who played three times a week at Timber Point Golf Course in Great River.
"He was basically my best friend," Chris Masi said. "From the time I was 4 years old, I was going to [football] camp in upstate New York with him every summer . . . It was tough playing for him, but when it was all said and done, you realize the lessons that you learned in life and how important they were."
In addition to his son, Nick Masi is survived by his wife of 53 years, Janet; son Nicholas Jr. and daughter Gina Cerone, both of Ronkonkoma; a brother, Americo, of Florida; and eight grandchildren. Visitation will be held at Moloney’s Lake Funeral Home and Cremation Center in Lake Ronkonkoma from 4 to 8 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 17. A funeral will be held at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Ronkonkoma at 10 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 18. Nick Masi will be cremated, his son said.
With Andy Slawson