WAYNE, N.J. — Here is where it all started for Frank Nutile: in the backyard of his family's home. Years before the pool was added, the yard was big enough for young Frank and his father Robert to throw the football around, one quarterback dispensing knowledge to another.
"We would go in the backyard and work on mechanics when I was 4 or 5 years old," Nutile said during a weekend visit with his family at their home in Wayne, N.J.
Nutile doesn't get home often, especially with summer workouts and the other demands of being a senior and the starting quarterback at Temple — a job he won late last season and wouldn't relinquish.
When Nutile was named MVP of the Owls' 28-3 win over FIU in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, it not only completed a stunning end-of-the-year run in which he was rewarded for patiently waiting his turn, but also cemented his status as the leader of the offense for the 2018 season.
"I had tears after that game, I was so happy," said his mother Rose. "It was a great moment."
The attention to detail, skill under fire and passion for the game that Nutile exhibited last season were traits his parents had seen many years before he set foot on the Broad Street campus.
Even in those long-ago sessions in the backyard, Frank couldn't get enough football.
"He always wanted to work," his father Robert said. "I never said 'let's go.' I used to tell him to slow down."
That was a futile request.
One story in particular, gives a clear picture of his dedication.
Nutile, just like his father, was a two-year starter at quarterback for New Jersey's perennial powerhouse, Don Bosco Prep. His junior season ended with a 28-14 playoff loss to rival Bergen Catholic.
The game was played on a Friday night. Nutile was in the gym the next morning starting preparations for his senior season.
"Why not take a break?" Robert Nutile asked his son.
Robert was also a driven quarterback who helped lead Don Bosco to North Jersey Parochial A state titles in 1983 and 1984. He threw 20 touchdown passes in those two years. Recruited by many major college programs, he signed with Maryland.
Robert would later transfer to Louisville. He thought he had a good chance to start as a senior, but lost out to Browning Nagle, who eventually became a second-round draft choice of the New York Jets and spent five years in the NFL.
Robert settled in as a teacher and baseball coach. He also coached youth football, but he purposely steered clear of coaching Frank.
The only time it happened was when he was in the third grade. What happened when Robert coached his son?
"You are always harder on your own kid," Robert said.
The arrangement worked much better with Robert tutoring Frank at home or a nearby field.
"I have learned so much from him," Frank said.
He also learned that everything must be earned.
In baseball, Robert did coach Frank in youth leagues and never showed favoritism.
"I remember batting him eighth in the lineup," the elder Nutile recalled, laughing.
When Frank would ask why he was hitting so low in the order his father would respond, "If you start hitting, you can bat higher."
High school years
At Temple, Nutile is known for two things: his leadership and his knowledge of the offense. Few have a more insatiable desire to spend so much time in the film room.
The Temple coaches joke — we think — that Nutile knows more about the offense than they do.
It turns out that these same traits were demonstrated in high school.
Nutile made the varsity at Don Bosco as a freshman, but didn't see much action his first two years. The starter was Gary Nova, who would go on to throw 73 career touchdown passes at Rutgers.
As a high school junior, Nutile earned the starting job.
"He was a great leader, a special guy, with a great arm and all the intangibles," said Greg Toal, who was his coach at Don Bosco. "He comes from a great family and he was always working."
Nutile loved the preparation almost as much as the competition.
"He knew the playbook in and out and would sit with our offensive coordinator for hours," said Mike D'Alessandro, who played safety and wideout at Bosco with Nutile and is still among his closest friends. "In the summer, he would call me and ask me to catch some balls from him. He would throw rockets and make my hands bleed."
Oh, yes, that is another trait that the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Nutile carried over from high school: a strong arm.
"I have a lot of broken fingers from catching his passes," said Dan Yankovich, a wide receiver and safety at Bosco who played linebacker at Georgetown. "He throws a really catchable ball."
D'Alessandro, who played lacrosse at North Carolina after graduating, echoed Toal's statement about Nutile's leadership.
"He was a great leader," D'Alessandro said. "He would also call guys out if he thought they were dogging it."
Nutile accepted a scholarship to Temple before his senior year. He cancelled visits to Cincinnati and Indiana because he was sold what then-coach Matt Rhule had to offer.
Waiting his turn
Through his first three years at Temple, which included one redshirt season, Nutile attempted a total of five passes. After record-setting quarterback Phillip Walker graduated following the 2016 season, Nutile was a viable candidate to start.
Last season, first-year coach Geoff Collins didn't announce to his team who would start at quarterback until the Tuesday evening before that Saturday's opener at Notre Dame. Sophomore Logan Marchi earned the start over Nutile.
"I was devastated for him; I absolutely was," his mother said. "I felt it was his time; he waited patiently."
So was his sister Gianna, a junior-to-be at Sacred Heart University and one of her brother's biggest fans.
"I just didn't get it," she said.
His father, who knew what it felt like to be relegated to a backup role, was just as disappointed, but he told his son to hold his head up, keep grinding.
And that's exactly what Nutile did.
Even though it felt like a gut punch, Nutile never let down. He worked hard and supported Marchi, helping him out as much as possible.
"My parents raised me never to quit," Nutile said, so that wasn't even a consideration.
"At one point I felt I would have to help the team out," he said. "I had that in the back of my mind and I didn't want to let down some of my best friends and seniors on the team, like [defensive end] Jacob Martin."
So there was no complaining. Nutile kept his upbeat attitude and continued to prepare for games as if he were the starter.
Marchi started the first seven games, but was sidelined with a foot injury.
Nutile earned his first career start in a 31-28 overtime loss at Army. Despite playing without three injured starters on the offensive line, Nutile was sharp: he completed 20 of 29 attempts for 290 yards throwing one touchdown and no interceptions.
Temple lost after missing a 27-yard field goal that would have sent the game into a second overtime.
Still, it showed what Nutile could do when given the chance. Even when Marchi was healthy enough to play, Nutile had nailed down the job. After that loss to Army, the Owls won four of their final five games, finishing the regular at season 7-6 and gaining serious momentum for 2018.
At season's end, Marchi transferred.
Now Nutile is the undisputed No. 1 — just don't tell him that. He's still competing as if he has to go out every day and win the job.
He's already earned his degree in accounting and is working toward a master's degree in innovation management and entrepreneurship.
Like any player, Nutile would love a crack at the NFL, but refuses to think too much about it. He is just focused on picking up where he left off last year.
Actually, he's picking where he left off from many years ago, when the backyard sessions set the tone for what could be a promising final season of college football.