When the San Clemente High School Tritons trekked home from winning a CIF State championship in Sacramento, head coach Jaime Ortiz couldn’t help but feel Nick Pasquale was there in spirit.
“There were signs all over,” Ortiz said. “The flight on Southwest, they give you the number where you line up? My ticket number was 36-B. That was his number at UCLA, 36.”
The day of the championship game against Del Oro High School – a contest in which the Tritons rallied from down 17-0 to win, 22-17 – was the 136th since the opening of fall 2016 camp.
“I know for some people, that’s random,” Ortiz said. “But for me, there’s a purpose behind that…There’s no doubt Nick lives in me, and he’s around this program.”
Not that San Clemente football is without other, daily reminders of Pasquale. His number’s embroidered on coaches’ ball caps, and Pasquale’s jersey hangs in Ortiz’s office.
These emblems keep the memory of Pasquale at the forefront for San Clemente football. Killed in a car accident in September 2013, Pasquale’s life and personality are celebrated every day at his high school, his university and in his hometown with three words: Live Like Nick.
“Humble, competitive strive for greatness,” is how Nick’s older brother, A.J., describes the meaning behind the phrase. “Living every day with an optimistic, hard-working outlook, and a team-first mentality. Doing whatever it takes to not only raise the standards for himself, but for his peers.”
Live Like Nick is the name of scholarship foundation, established in Pasquale’s honor, and given to students who excel in the classroom, and aspire to succeed in extracurricular activities – not just football.
One of the first recipients, Francesca Fedorovsky, will use her scholarship earnings at Yale as she works toward her goal of fencing in the Olympics.
A.J. noted the burden of paying tuition, room and board, and books as a walk-on. The Live Like Nick scholarship is designed to help students alleviate said burden. Donations also go to local youth football programs.
The concept behind Live Like Nick also embodies the characteristics they seek in recipients for scholarships.
The foundation holds an annual 5K charity fundraiser at San Clemente High School. The event has grown through each of its three years, from 650 in 2014, to 750 in 2015, and 850 this past August.
The continued growth of the Live Like Nick 5K demonstrates a close-knit, community bond A.J. said is a defining hallmark of the city of San Clemente. That same kind of community pride showed when hundreds packed the high school parking lot to welcome the championship-winning home from Sacramento.
“It’s the Spanish Village by the Sea we were raised on,” A.J. said. “We’ve got a great sense of pride and gratefulness for where we come from, so the first thing we want to do is give back to the kids in the community.”
Nick was a standout for the San Clemente varsity team from 2010 through 2012. He earned his spot playing under the Friday night lights as a sophomore, junior and senior by spending his middle school and freshman-year Fridays in the weight room his father, Mel, set up in the family garage.
Such dedication helped Nick overcome physical limitations. He was undersized compared to the many Div. I prospects who pass through the CIF Southern Section, and a hip injury in his formative years nearly kept him off the field before he ever played a varsity down.
“He didn’t come off as 5’9 ½”, 170 [pounds],” said Mel, who works as the Tritons director of football operations.
More like “6-foot-4, 280 pounds,” according to Ortiz.
That big presence carried to UCLA, where Nick walked onto the Bruin football team in 2012. He arrived on campus in Westwood alongside a recruiting class ranked No. 19 in the nation, featuring 4-and-5-star prospects, future All-Pac-12 honorees, and eventual NFL players.
“Nick had a huge impact on our program, and he continues to to this day,” UCLA head coach Jim Mora said. “We end every special teams meeting breaking down with ‘Live Like Paq’ – we called him Paq.”
“He came in there like, ‘Hey, I don’t care who you are or what you are, I’m coming after you, and I’m coming hard,’” Mel said of Nick’s time at UCLA. “And he gained the respect of his teammates, every day.”
That was made plainly evident following his passing. In the following days, UCLA traveled to Lincoln for a marquee matchup with Nebraska.
Quarterback Brett Hundley, a current Green Bay Packer and close friend of Nick’s, held up a towel with No. 36 scrawled on it for the ABC cameras to capture.
Nick wasn’t intimated playing with stars like Hundley and current Minnesota Vikings Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, as he arrived at UCLA with plenty of experience playing alongside talented athletes.
Former Utah quarterback Travis Wilson and Stanford All-American lineman-turned-Green Bay Packer Kyle Murphy were among his Triton comrades; teammates with whom Nick spent downtime in high school lifting weights and running together.
These qualities demonstrated as a teenager helped Nick make an impact at UCLA. And according to his college coach, they’re qualities rooted in family.
“That’s a special family,” Mora said. “They’ll always be a part of this [program], as long as they want to be. It’s hard for me, still to this day, to talk about Nick without feeling some extreme emotion. He was a wonderful kid, and when you get to know his family, you get to know why he was such a wonderful young man.”
Family did indeed shape Nick’s hard-working mindset. Mel credits Nick’s determination to the younger Pasquale admiring and emulating his older brother, A.J.
“When you’re growing up, you don’t realize the impact you have being an older brother, and being a positive example,” A.J. said.
Through his life and how we lived it, Nick continues on as a positive example for others. Champions at San Clemente see his No. 36 every day. So, too, do the members of the UCLA football team.
Nick remains a significant member of an extended family. That means a great deal to his immediate family.
“It keeps us going, that Nick’s spirit lives on,” Mel said.