In the Nick of time: West veteran QB gives Lions fighting chance

Cherry Hill West senior Nick Arcaroli, the son of a Cherry Hill East football state champion, provides the Lions with a steady, veteran leader at the quarterback position in 2020. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

Three years ago next month, on the night before Thanksgiving in the final game of what was a forgettable season at Cherry Hill West, Nick Arcaroli threw his first career touchdown pass.

The freshman connected on a 15-year pass with Naiem Simmons in the second quarter to put the Lions up 19-0 over rival Cherry Hill East.

Arcaroli and West won their first game of the season that night. The next season he was installed as the team’s starting quarterback.

Arcaroli is a senior now, and after guiding West to back-to-back 6-4 seasons, wants to make the most of his final season. The Lions may have a new coach (longtime Rowan assistant Justin Arabia replaced now Timber Creek coach Brian Wright), but Arcaroli has made the transition seamless.

“He’s put the team on his shoulders, as both the quarterback and the quarterback on defense,” Arabia said of the quarterback, who also plays safety. “They kids kind of really around him. They love him.”

Fresh off a come-from-behind win over Seneca in the 2020 opener, Arcaroli chatted with South Jersey Sports Weekly.

SJSW: Do you feel like you have to be more of a leader this year with a new head coach and playing amid a pandemic?

Nick Arcaroli: Definitely. Coach Arabia put it on me when I found out he was going to be the coach. We were talking and he said he was taking matters in his own hands in trying to build a program around here.

SJSW: Did I hear you and your new coach actually connected last year?

Arcaroli: Yes, Coach Wright told me to reach out to Rowan and Coach Arabia was the recruiting coordinator for our area. So I sent him my film and he loved my film … and then it ended up he got an interview and we got him here, which is great.

SJSW: What leaders did you respect here as you came through the program?

Arcaroli: For the past three years I had a role model in Johnny Ioannucci, he was a senior last year, a receiver and linebacker. He was definitely a great leader and someone I looked up to.

SJSW: How long have you been playing football?

Arcaroli: Since I was 4.

SJSW: How did it start?

Arcaroli: My dad (Louis). I played soccer from 3 to 4 (years old) and I didn’t like it. My dad played football so I tried out football. My dad played at Cherry Hill East. He won the state championship in 1989 with Glenn Foley. He was a strong safety.

SJSW: Where does your dad sit for the rivalry game?

Arcaroli: [Laughs] He sits on the West side. He’s always cheering me on.

SJSW: Any life lessons from your dad?

Arcaroli: Definitely to work hard and never give up. My dad’s family is hard-nosed, came up from nothing. So to grind and work hard. 

SJSW: How many years in a row have you beat East?

Arcaroli: Seven. This year, it’ll be eight.

SJSW: So is that high on your to-do list?

Arcaroli: Definitely. Beat East every year.

SJSW: You also play baseball here. What’s been the biggest sports moment that sticks out for you over the years?

Arcaroli: Becoming the starter my sophomore year. I definitely was trying to win games, that was the biggest thing. Win games. We fell a little bit short, we were the 17th seed. Mainland beat us (for a spot) even though we beat Mainland head-to-head, so I thought we should have made it. But definitely the biggest thing (moving forward) is winning games and executing as an offense.

SJSW: What makes you think this team can be as good or better than last year despite losing Ioannucci, Hakim Melvin, and some others?

Arcaroli: We lost a decent amount of receivers but a lot of the guys in our receiving corps this year have varsity experience and they know what they’re doing. Definitely in the offseason building that chemistry together was very big.

SJSW: Makiah Thompson (a transfer from a north Jersey school that isn’t playing sports this fall) had three interceptions in the opener. Seems like a nice addition?

Arcaroli: (In the preseason) I didn’t think he’d be here at all, I was building chemistry with the (returning players). So adding him just opens up so many more things for us. 

SJSW: Who is the best athlete at West, including both girls and boys?

Arcaroli: I would say that I am the best athlete at West.

SJSW: I like that confidence.

Arcaroli: Yes sir.

Cherry Hill West three-sport standout Sophia Graffeo. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

SJSW: How about on the girls’ side?

Arcaroli: I would say my girlfriend, Sophia Graffeo. She’s a three-sport athlete. She’s played varsity all four years. She plays soccer, basketball and her main sport is lacrosse. She’s going to East Stroudsburg for lacrosse.

SJSW: What’s your next step?

Arcaroli: I’m definitely going to be playing quarterback in college. It’ll just be about figuring out after these first couple of games what opens up for me. I have a few schools (including offers from Albright College and Ursinus College) looking at me. We’ll see what happens.

SJSW: Is that process fun or stressful?

Arcaroli: I don’t think it’s stressful. It’s just more about getting your name out there and introducing yourself to coaches rather than waiting for that coach to introduce himself to you. .. and when you first meet that person you get that first feeling, that vibe, of who he is as a person. And I like going up to the schools, visiting and seeing what the campuses are like.

SJSW: What’s your favorite thing to do outside of playing football and baseball here at West?

Arcaroli: I would say hanging out with my friends, playing basketball in my backyard. It’s anywhere from eight to 20 guys. 

SJSW: Who is the best player among that bunch?

Arcaroli: It varies, depending on if we’re playing dunk court or 10-foot (rims). I would say either myself or my friend Dylan Atiya. 

SJSW: Best thing you’ve seen on TV lately?

Arcaroli: I watch a lot of things on Netflix. I’ll keep it football-related. I liked the recent “Last Chance U” and “QB1” is always good.

Arcaroli throw a pass in the 2019 Adam Taliaferro 7-on7 Charity Tournament. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

SJSW: Your favorite quarterback to watch?

Arcaroli: I love watching Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady just dominates the game.

SJSW: Favorite baseball player to watch?

Arcaroli: Dansby Swanson, he’s a shortstop (like me).

SJSW: Favorite teams to watch?

Arcaroli: I like the Eagles. I guess you could say I like the Phillies, too. And I’ve always liked the Flyers. So, the Philly teams.

SJSW: If you could invite any three people to dinner, who would you invite?

Arcaroli: Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and I need another top football mind in there. Doug Pederson, too.

SJSW: If you could get in a time machine and could go anywhere, forward or backward, where would you go?

Arcaroli: If I could go forward into college and be playing college ball right now (that’s what I’d do).  … I can’t wait to go to college and ball out.

SJSW: Let’s say that during the last baseball game of your senior year you get to pick a walkup song. What’s yours?

Arcaroli: That’s a tough one. Wow. “10 Bands” by Drake.