When I met Connor Antico at home Wednesday, he had bruises on his body from playing paintball with his brothers in Liberty. He is very much still active, still hinting that there’s plenty of athleticism and competitiveness behind that smile.
Nearly four years ago, injuries forced him away from football and under a very different set of bright lights. Here’s the story behind how the fourth of five Antico brothers became something more than a Garnet:
RYE — Connor Antico always figured he’d follow his brothers: Play football, be a star, beat Harrison. Three Anticos had preceded him and accomplished those feats to varying degrees.
Truth be told, some thought Connor, the fourth of five brothers, might be the best of them all.
“He was supposed to be the best one in the family, or so I thought,” said older brother Erik Antico, a former Super 11 lineman and state champion who played at Georgetown. “I remember him being in eighth grade and putting me on my backside. He was going to be some athlete.”
Instead, faulty knees and timing led Connor Antico in a different direction. Two injuries forced him away from football, but that inactivity led the 18-year-old to pursue quite the cushy fallback: singing and acting.
His fledgling career has included two book covers, various print and TV ads, singing gigs at clubs, a role on a TV show and a part in two movies set to premier in 2014.
“I think he’s transitioned beautifully,” Erik said, the understatement implied.
Antico earned a small speaking role in “Jamie Marks is Dead,” starring, among others, Liv Tyler and Cameron Monaghan. (“I’m a stoner dude,” he noted.) He recently landed a much larger part in “Greater,” playing former Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner.
“Greater” details the rise and untimely death of former Arkansas lineman Brandon Burlsworth, who matured from a bespectacled walk-on to an Indianapolis Colts draft pick before he was killed in a car accident. Antico — whose character loses a key fumble in a big game against SEC rival Tennessee — spent weeks researching and filming his role in Arkansas, missing his prom, his graduation and his girlfriend’s graduation from Ursuline in the process.
For someone who spent the last four years acting in shows, singing in clubs and shuttling around New York for auditions, missing those important teenage moments was a necessary evil.
“Missing that stuff wasn’t that bad. If I went, I was probably going to forget it two years later — maybe the party afterward I’d remember, just being with my friends and celebrating,” Antico said. “Not being there is not fun, but that’s what you have to do to be successful.”
His success was sparked by a role in “Bye Bye Birdie” in middle school, not long after hurting his right knee playing hockey.
“I thought this girl was going to be doing it,” Antico said. “She wasn’t there, but I auditioned. Everybody liked me and they actually cast me.”
The next summer, during “Hell Week,” Antico had high expectations. He had led Rye’s modified team in rushing as an eighth-grader.
“We expected a lot from him,” Rye varsity coach Dino Garr said. “He was one of the top players coming out of the modified program.”
But just a few days into practice, Antico was dragged down from behind and tore his left MCL.
“I was just lying on the side bawling because I knew it was over,” he said. “I knew I was done for the season.”
Forever, actually, but with that disappointment came opportunity. He played a jock in “Thirteen” at the Random Farm Kids’ Theater in Elmsford, rehearsing with his left leg immobilized from the injury. That coincided with singing lessons, acting classes and auditions at showcases in front of talent evaluators.
Antico soon became a fresh face. He was photographed on book covers for “Johnny Tremain” and “Red Moon Rising,” and shot print and TV ads for Nerf, Toys “R” Us, Pepsi and Nintendo’s Wii. Last year, he was introduced to vocal coach Trapper Felides, who featured him on his reality show “The Next Big Thing,” which tracks kids in show business for the Oxygen Network.
With his life complicated by the jobs he earned and especially the many more he didn’t, Antico’s life of auditioning in New York City left little time for sports. He never played football again and only participated on Rye’s medal-winning crew team because it practiced before school.
“I lost a lot of friends because I wasn’t a part of the football scene, the sports scene like that,” Antico said. “I still had friends, but a lot of them started to drift away.”
“They didn’t understand, I don’t think, what he was doing,” said Antico’s mother, Jessica, a Rye graduate and daughter of the town’s football-mad Feeney family.
He had a chance to show them playing Danny Zuko in Rye’s production of “Grease,” but “Greater” might be his highest-profile role to date.
He will enroll this fall in Pace’s Performing Arts program, which, unlike other colleges, will allow Antico to work. In TV, film, theater — it doesn’t matter to him or his busy mom, whom Antico calls “my first manager.”
“What I saw in Connor, I couldn’t let it go by,” Jessica Antico said. “I know I’m the mother … but there’s something there.”