WESLEY CHAPEL — When he heard his knee pop like a gunshot and felt the ligaments crunch, one thing went through Angel LoCicero’s head on his way to the ground.
It happened again.
And this time he feared he was done.
LoCicero’s football career at Wesley Chapel began with such promise. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound defensive end was on track to start as a sophomore in 2009.
During practice on the first day of school, he swooped in to make a stop. A safety misfired and struck LoCicero’s right knee, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and ending his varsity season before it started. He had surgery and tackled rehab with the goal of playing in 2010.
“I knew I could go from where I left off,” LoCicero said.
LoCicero had a sack in his first contest back, a scrimmage against Fivay. He played well enough through the first half of the season to gain interest from college recruiters.
“That’s where everything started to build up,” LoCicero said.
Then it almost ended — again.
During a Week 6 walk through, LoCicero was tangled up with an offensive lineman when he made a quick cut. His left knee collapsed. This one felt worse.
Tests showed LoCicero shredded his ACL, medial collateral ligament and lateral meniscus.
“I knew how ready he was to go back,” said his mother, Aprillynn LoCicero Lloyd. “For it to happen again, and on the opposite side, are you kidding me? How much more are we going to have to take?”
LoCicero breezed through rehab in a month, but doctors told him he might not be ready to return to the field until September.
The low point came in January when LoCicero watched the Under Armour All-America Game at Tropicana Field. As he sat in the stands, he thought most of the players on the field weren’t much bigger or faster than he was.
They had major colleges lining up for their signatures. He had five games worth of film and two blown-out knees.
LoCicero said he briefly considered quitting football but decided to give it one more shot.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 8 years old,” LoCicero said, “and I never want to let it go.”
So he didn’t.
LoCicero powered through strength training and returned to practice during the second week of spring football — three months ahead of schedule. His mother reminded him to complete his exercises, and his sister, Samantha, brought pain pills and ice.
“The second time, he was determined,” his mom said. “I’m going back. I’m going to be bigger, badder, faster.”
Though he sprained his left knee in a May scrimmage, he refused to sit out. He starred the next week, recording two and a half sacks in a spring game against Tarpon Springs.
“He’s always been like, ‘I can come back and do better and better and better,’ ” Wildcats receiver Sasha Mentor said.
Wesley Chapel is counting on it.
Alex McGough’s transfer to Gaither left a void at quarterback, and LoCicero is battling for the job even though he’s never played the position. He also has lined up at tight end during 7-on-7 drills and made a dazzling catch and cutback against Spoto last week.
“Angel is Mr. Everything for us,” Wildcats coach Ben Alford said.
Middle Tennessee State, Princeton and others are recruiting LoCicero as a pass rusher, and Alford said he ranks as one of Pasco County’s best defensive ends.
LoCicero said he’d like to start on offense and defense this fall — if he can convince his coaches that his surgically repaired knees are sturdy enough to handle it.
“I just know,” LoCicero said, “that my place is being on this field at all times.”
Matt Baker can be reached at (727) 420-9087 or firstname.lastname@example.org.