As the Berlin High School football team does for every game, home or away, players and coaches board a bus outside of the school, mentally preparing themselves for the task at hand.
Sometimes the team’s focus is palpable. Other times, the fight within is tempered.
That is, until No. 86 comes up the stairs.
Working his way through the throng of cleated, padded, and taped young men ready for battle, No. 86 gets his brethren pumped up, bringing fire and passion.
And the Redcoats listen.
How could they not? No. 86’s nickname is Nails.
His real name is Kevin Little.
“On a Friday afternoon on a game day, Kevin’s usually the first guy at the high school, ready to go,” BHS football coach John Capodice said. “He brings a lot of positive energy to the team. He’s a real asset to our program.”
Little, who suffers from a mental handicap, arrived at Berlin High School in the fall of 2007 and immediately became a part of the school’s fabric through his love of Redcoat athletics and his involvement in the Unified Sports Special Olympics program.
“He already came in having played in Unified Sports at the middle school level,” said Mary Siegal, Little’s Unified Sports coach at BHS.
“He was committed to the team. Everyone knew when Unified had a game because he was our biggest cheerleader. He wore his jersey to school and everyone would wish him luck. He was so energetic and so involved.”
Witnessing Little’s passion for athletics, Capodice, a physical education teacher at BHS, had an idea.
Capodice spoke to Little’s case manager about bringing the teenager on as a manager for the football team.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“He came to our first game and he had more energy and enthusiasm than anyone on the field,” Capodice said. “He was just a natural at it; he had such a passion for it. He was very positive and enthusiastic. So he really brought a lot to the team.”
Little has been a regular on the Redcoat sideline since his sophomore year.
His nickname was bestowed upon him by players and coaches.
He’s “tough as nails,” Capodice said.
“At halftime, he’s always in the locker room, pumping up the guys, getting them excited, and giving them words of encouragement, and throughout the game, he’s always positive on the sidelines,” Capodice said.
While football proved to be a great sounding board for Little, his passion and desire didn’t end there. He remained an integral member of the Unified Sports teams, earning several honors, including the Redcoat Award and the Coaches Award.
During those award presentations, done at school assemblies, Little’s fellow Redcoats let him know how they felt about him.
“He got standing ovations in the gym full of his classmates,” Siegal recalled. “When I gave an award, it took a few minutes [for the noise] to die down.”
Unfortunately, high school – as all good things – comes to an end.
Little graduated in 2010, but was allowed to continue to attend classes for two more years at BHS.
“He’s a phenomenal kid, and a wonderful person,” Siegal said. “He’s one of those kids you wish never had to leave the high school. He was wise beyond his years. Just a great, great kid.”
His high school days are over, but his work with the BHS football team continues.
Capodice and his coaching staff decided to make Nails an honorary assistant coach, allowing him to get the Redcoats amped, likely, for years to come.