At 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, Nick Bruno looked more like offensive lineman than a starting pitcher.
Although that’s the role Bruno played for the Charlotte Catholic varsity football team the past two seasons, starting at right guard for 31 games, Bruno’s main sport is baseball.
The junior right-handed pitcher showed so much potential early in his career that he committed to North Carolina as a sophomore.
Whether he is plowing holes for the Catholic rushing attack (which amassed 4,617 last season, averaging 7.2 per carry) or trying to strike out the next hitter (92 strikeouts in 83 career innings pitched), Bruno has been a major part of Cougars’ success.
But he still feels like his best is yet to come.
Bruno, 17, has lost 35 pounds since the football season ended in December and says he is in the best shape of his life.
“This is the most prepared I’ve felt going into any season in my life,” Bruno said. “I’ve not only been able lose a lot of weight, but also get a lot stronger and more flexible in the process. I realized, successful baseball pitchers aren’t 6-foot-3, 270. They are more like 6-foot-3, 210, so I wanted to get closer to that.”
Bruno has developed an impressive arsenal on the mound. His fastball consistently hits 90 to 92 miles per hour and he also throws a two-seam fastball, breaking ball and change-up.
The combination of his size and velocity is often an imposing sight, keeping opposing batters off balance.
Bruno is off to the best start of his career, not allowing an earned run in his first three starts and striking out 14 batters in 16 innings of work.
His best outing came in a complete game, two-hit shutout of Ardrey Kell on March 24, where he needed just 70 pitches in seven innings to help Catholic to a 1-0 victory.
The rotation around Bruno is also strong, with senior Jonny Koletic (Clemson signee) and junior Davis Sofarelli.
The Cougars’ pitching staff has allowed only 10 runs in its first eight games, which has been a big reason why Catholic is off to one of the best starts in recent history at 7-1, including 5-1 in SoMeck 8 conference play.
Charlotte Catholic baseball coach Randy Belk, in his 35th year as head coach, says Bruno has emerged as one of the key leaders on this team.
“Nick’s confidence and attitude are always so even keeled, and doesn’t let things bother him, he is always focused,” said Belk, who has more than 430 career victories. “I think he has been more focused than ever this off season. We feel like he gives us a great chance to win every time he takes the mound.”
Belk says Bruno’s competitive nature is what has stood out from the time he first pitched for the Catholic varsity team as a freshman.
Catholic football coach Mike Brodowicz recalled a story from Bruno’s first start as a freshman against Myers Park.
Bruno threw an inside pitch to a Mustang batter, who stepped out of the box and gave him a long stare. Refusing to back down, the next two Bruno pitches to the same hitter went even further inside, putting the count at three balls, no strikes.
Bruno proceeded to throw three straight fastball for strikes and struck the batter out.
“That’s just the type of competitor that I am,” Bruno said. “I was brought up off the field to be nice and polite. But once I cross those white lines, I am going to do whatever it takes to win. I don’t like to lose at anything. It’s not in my nature.”
Bruno has also benefited from the tutelage of his father, Paul, who played minor league baseball in the Minnesota Twins’ organization as a catcher.
Bruno also plays for the South Charlotte Panthers in the summers, where three of his teammates will join him in Chapel Hill: Providence High’s Jake Holtzapple, Eastern Guilford’s Luke Robinson and East Rowan’s Ike Freeman.
“I actually like the pressure of representing North Carolina and that everyone is coming after me because they know I am a future Tar Heel,” said Bruno, who hit .314 with three home runs as a sophomore. “Just knowing that my opponents are thinking that gives me an adrenaline rush and I love the competition that comes with it.”
Bruno believes playing both baseball and football has helped develop the mentality to be successful in both sports.
“You have to have the same discipline and toughness, both mentally and physically, in both sports. … It’s a privilege to be able to (play both sports) for Charlotte Catholic,” he said. “I love Charlotte Catholic dearly and to be a part of the history surrounding the baseball and football teams means a lot to me.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.