Freshman soccer phenom leads Bulls into future
Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 20:09
When Russell Cicerone was a little kid, he played a game with his older sister Anina. To see who had the hardest shot, his dad, David, would play goalie in the net in their backyard and both Cicerone and Anina would kick the ball as hard as they could at their father. Whoever hurt their father’s arm more won.
Cicerone wanted to prove he was better than his sister. Sometimes their competitions got physical.
“We would be playing one v. one in the backyard,” said Cicerone, a freshman midfielder on the men’s soccer team. “She steals it from me and I get mad and slide her from behind and like push her over and then she slapped me across the face one time really hard. It was bad.”
It’s been Cicerone’s competitiveness that has driven him to work harder and play better his entire life. This weekend, his work paid off. He scored his team-leading second and third goals of the season on two penalty kicks, earning the Bulls one tie and one win, their first under head coach Stu Riddle.
Cicerone also earned Mid-American Conference Player of the Week honors.
“We expect more from him as well,” Riddle said. “He’s a terrific player and we don’t want anyone, certainly not Russell, to start feeling comfortable and think that because he’s been MAC Player of the Week, that’s the end of it. It’s just the start of it for him and the challenge for him really now is if he can push on and try and get that award every week.”
Cicerone was one of the recruits who followed Riddle from Western Michigan when he came to Buffalo in January. Riddle had become familiar with Cicerone and his family during his time at Western Michigan partially because Anina played for the women’s soccer team.
Riddle described Cicerone’s style of play as “unique” and “tenacious.” Riddle also praised his unpredictability in one-on-one situations, which the coach said is rare in young players.
Cicerone played a plethora of sports while growing up. Both his parents grew up playing a lot of sports and wanted their children to have the same experience.
His mother, Mary, is a member of the Detroit Titans Hall of Fame. She played basketball there from 1978-82 and holds the career record for assists with 486. She now coaches high school basketball at Birmingham Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., just outside Detroit.
Cicerone credits much of his desire to be the best to her.
“All we did was watch college basketball and she’d be writing down plays that Duke or Michigan State or somebody did,” Cicerone said. “She was constantly watching film or taking time out of her day to have open gym with the players to get them more time to shoot and stuff.”
David, his father, grew up in a bad neighborhood in downtown Detroit and spent much of his youth working for Cicerone’s grandfather. He was offered a baseball scholarship after high school but was forced to decline it so he could continue to work.
Cicerone draws inspiration from his father’s tireless work ethic – he says David used to work seven days a week, and although he has Sundays off now, he sometimes works anyway. Cicerone described his father as a “work horse.”
Cicerone swam and played baseball, soccer, hockey and basketball growing up. But hockey and soccer were his passions.
He played both soccer and hockey through high school and he could’ve been drafted into the United States Hockey League (USHL) but he was offered a soccer scholarship from UB – an offer he couldn’t refuse. The USHL is a junior league in which most colleges have their players compete for two years before enrolling.
“I had a very good scholarship to come here and I couldn’t pass it up,” Cicerone said. “I love both sports the same amount and it was very, very hard and it was a very sad day in the Cicerone household when I had to give [hockey] up.”
Cicerone is a strong student – Riddle called him a 4.0 student – which played into Riddle’s decision to make him one of the team’s four co-captains. Cicerone is the only freshman captain on the team.
Because there are so many freshmen on the team, Riddle assigned him “captain of the freshmen,” according to Cicerone.
“He’s one of these guys that leads quietly,” Riddle said. “He leads with his performance and his behavior and the way that he is in the classroom. I think he’s going to be a massive part of our future here with the program.”
Cicerone believes playing many different sports has helped him become a better soccer player.
Riddle agrees, citing his strong balance, ability to shield the ball and competitive attitude.
“I think he’s got the attributes of the hockey side that makes him a very hard competitor and then he’s got the silky skill of the soccer player,” Riddle said. “So it’s maybe a nice mix of silk and steel.”
Cicerone also thinks playing hockey has helped him with his confidence in pressure situations. He credits the fast pace of hockey games with helping his decision-making process when he doesn’t have a lot of time.
So when the Bulls – who were trailing by a goal – had an opportunity to tie the game last Friday against Detroit, it was Cicerone who stepped up. He was playing at his mother’s alma mater in front of his family and opposing a goal keeper he had played with on a summer team.
“Stu tells us whoever is feeling it, you can step up and take the free kick,” Cicerone said. “When it happened on Friday, I said, ‘It’s mine, I feel it, I can score.’”
Cicerone likes to go to one side, and he knew the goalie staring him down knew that, so he went to the other side and froze the keeper – tying the game.
On Sunday, Cicerone saw the goalie jump early and was able to adjust his shot to go the opposite direction.