After being hampered by a hamstring injury in his teamís first game of the season, Needhamís Mike Panepinto showed no sign of lingering discomfort in a Bay State showdown with Walpole last week.
The senior running back seemingly marched downfield at will, helping his Rockets avenge a 31-0 shutout at the hands of the Rebels last fall with a 26-6 victory Friday evening. Panepinto finished with nearly 240 yards on the ground across 14 carries, including an 87-yard sprint to the end zone in which he shook off a handful of tacklers.
In the third edition of our weekly "First & 10" column, we talk to Panepinto about his big game against Walpole, his relationship with his brother Nico (a former Globe All-Scholastic who now plays lacrosse at Fairfield), and another running back named Mike Panepinto.
You injured your hamstring against Westwood, a game your team would end up losing, but you were able to come back and have a really productive game against Walpole. How exciting was that for you?
It was awesome. We got killed by them last year so it was good to get some running room this year, finally, after we got shut out last year. It was a great all-around game.
Youíre committed to UMass-Amherst to play lacrosse. Youíre obviously very talented in both lacrosse and football. When did you know lacrosse was the right sport for you?
Honestly, I started getting recruited for lacrosse much, much earlier. UMass also recruited my brother, along with a bunch of other schools. My coaches told me I could play Division 1 and from then on I knew I wanted to play in college and to try and get a scholarship.
Had you received any interest from football schools? And if so, did that make your commitment to UMass more difficult with interest from football teams?
I get letters for football and stuff. Iím not sure if my mom shows me all of them. I would love to play football in college somewhere, but itís a lot tougher to play Division 1 football, and I donít know if thatís really for me.
Letís do some fun questions to get to know you a little bit better. Who would you say is the better athlete: you or Nico?
[Laughs] Do I have to answer that?
I mean, you donít have to, but ...
I would say my brother.
Are you guys very competitive with each other?
We get competitive sometimes.
Have you two ever been competitive over something stupid? Like over the same girl, or who gets the car on the weekend, or who takes the first shower in the morning?
[Laughs] Yeah, every now and then weíll get in fights over something stupid like that. The car is a tough one. Heís a lot older than me. Heís had his license for a while, so he usually lets me have it because heís been driving for a while. We donít really get in that many fights over serious things.
There was once another Mike Panepinto who was also a running back in the 1980s, who set a handful of rushing records at Canisius (3,416 career rushing yards; 16 100-yard games; single-game record of 244 rushing yards) and was signed by the Buffalo Bills ...
[Laughs] Thatís my uncle.
Is it really?
Yeah, thatís my uncle.
You think you could beat him in a foot race?
Uncle Mike? Him now or him 20 years ago?
Letís say him 20 years ago. Do you think you couldíve beaten him in a foot race?
Maybe. Heís less lanky. Tough guy to bring down.
You seem to have quite the sports family. Are sports a unifying thing for you and your family?
It wasnít like they had this all planned out for me or really even wanted me to play sports if I didnít want to, but I think they started me playing sports when I was little, and I really liked it from the start. Iíve stuck with it ever since.
Whatís something that people donít really know about you?
Tough question. I think it may surprise people that I like playing football [more] than lacrosse maybe. I donít think people really know that. I love football and I wish I could keep playing it, but I donít think many people know that.
Did you know your dad use to cover high school sports for the Boston Herald?
I know he used to work for a newspaper or something like that, but no, I didnít know that.
If your dad was still doing print journalism and covered a Needham football game, and had to interview him after the game, would you give him the silent treatment? Would you give him a "no comment" just to mess with him a little bit?
[Laughs] I donít know. I think I could give him a full story.
Where is your favorite place to eat in Needham?
I love Cowlicks. Cowlicks has the best buffalo chicken sub.
Whatís your favorite TV show? Maybe a current show and an all-time favorite?
Iíd say probably my favorite one at the moment is "Boardwalk Empire." I started a little late but Iím trying to catch up on that. My favorite TV show ever? Probably "The Simpsons." For the first, like, nine years of my life I watched "The Simpsons" nonstop. I would never watch anything else.
Who would you say are the top five artists on your iPhone?
Depends when you ask me. In the summer, Iím listening to a lot of country music. Right now, probably more rap. Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Li'l Wayne, The Game.
Have you met Aly Raisman?
I think I talked to her one time at a party a few years ago. Thatís the only time Iíve ever seen her in person.
Did she have anything interesting to say?
Honestly, I think I just said hi. That was before she was really a big star, though.
Would you enjoy playing against Nico at some point during your college career?
Iíll be playing him for three years when Iím in college. Fairfield is joining UMassís conference. Iím looking forward to that. I was down at Fairfield with him two days ago. Some of the kids are already smack-talking.
Do you think people will turn this into a Peyton and Eli thing and call it the Panepinto Bowl?
[Laughs] I donít know about that, but that game might carry a little more weight.
I know a bunch of the kids that go to Fairfield in his grade. A bunch of kids that are going to UMass in my grade know him, too. I mean, a bunch of kids go to UMass in general, a lot of Massachusetts kids. Iím sure that game will definitely be marked on our calendars. Iíll kind of have something to prove playing against my older brother. Try and show the kids from Fairfield what I can do.
Weíll finish it up with a football question. Last year you were a Globe All-Scholastic, finishing with 2,100 yards and 26 touchdowns. What would you like to do for an encore in your senior season?
Win a state championship. Itís not really a personal goal as much as I donít think thereís a better way to go out in football than on top. I know itís tough. We have a tough division, but I think we have something good going on in Needham right now, so Iím just hoping we can put it together in the playoffs hopefully make a run at the state championship. I wouldnít want anything more than that.
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