Kyle Gattuso’s favorite word is underdog.
Since the Wilkes University freshman could remember, he’s always been the smallest player on the field or court. He’s always had to work just a little bit harder. Now, his 5-feet, 6-inch frame is taking on NCAA Division 3 tacklers.
Gattuso just finished up his freshman season on the Wilkes football team. The Colonels finished with just two wins, but Gattuso went from primarily a special teams player to a key piece in the Wilkes’ offense.
“It was a huge adjustment from high school,” Gattuso said. “I wasn’t getting much playing time at first — just special teams. As the season went on I started to get on the field more.”
Gattuso appeared in all 10 games this season one way or the other. In all, he returned three kicks and one punt. In the latter half of the season, however, he began to be a weapon for Wilkes. The Colonels began putting in plays for the former Patriot star.
Offensively, Gattuso finished the season with five catches for 37 yards. In a win against King’s College in the annual Mayor’s Cup game, he had one carry for four yards and also caught a pass for seven yards.
“The coaches began to get more confident in me, and I was more confident in them,” he said. “They saw my potential.”
At just 160 pounds, Gattuso is always one of the smallest players on the field. But coming out of Pittston Area, he was also one of the strongest. Cupped with his speed and footwork, Gattuso has been able negate his size with his will to put in the work.
For four years, Gattuso has seen the rivalry between Pittston Area and Wyoming Area on the football field and on the basketball court. Now at Wilkes, he has a new rivalry.
Separated by mere blocks in downtown Wilkes-Barre, King’s College and Wilkes University are much closer than Pittston Area and Wyoming Area. Annually, the two teams play for the Mayor’s Cup at the end of each football season. Wilkes came out on the short end this year, but the rivalry is always intense, Gattuso said.
“I was coming off a great tradition I am kind of used to that,” Gattuso said. “The King’s-Wilkes game is something I’ve never been a part of. You don’t want to lose that game. You know the kids on the campus want that cup. You do whatever it takes.”
Although the game of football is on the mind of Gattuso most days, he didn’t go to Wilkes to get on the football field.
Gattuso received the Presidential Scholarship out of Pittston Area. As one of Pittston Area’s valedictorians during his senior year, he was named to the Pennsylvania Football News Academic Gold All-Star team. That honored required Gattuso to carry a 3.8 grade-point average or higher during the season.
While studying finance at Wilkes, Gattuso is currently carrying a 3.7 GPA. He must hold at least a 3.4 to keep his scholarship. Eventually, Gattuso wants to go to law school. Besides time management, one of the keys to a successful academic career is you have to love it, Gattuso said.
“It’s definitely hard,” he said. “My hangout time is when I’m at practice. If you don’t love it, then you can’t do it.”
In his senior year with the Patriots, Gattuso accounted for more than 80 percent of the offense. At the quarterback position, Gattuso was a threat to run and to pass. He wasn’t always the biggest player on the field, but he always tried to work the hardest, he said.
Pittston Area’s 2014 season wasn’t exactly a pretty one. The Patriots finished 3-7, but each of those three wins were thanks to Gattuso and a fourth-quarter comeback.
Against Valley View, Gattuso orchestrated a 54-yard drive late in the game and found Angelo Aita for a 24-yard touchdown. Gattuso finished the game with 171 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. He also threw for 192 yards and two touchdowns.
Gattuso is currently living on campus at Wilkes. Just a few miles away from home, however, he said he can still call his mom to do his laundry. He is the son of Tina and Paul Gattuso, Yatesville. He has an older brother, Paul.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick