We’ve all been there: running around as a kid, pretending to play for our favorite professional sports team, swishing that buzzer beating three-pointer or hitting that walk-off home run. It’s a timeless childhood dream that’s been shared by many, but accomplished by few.
Nick Ossello, though, is one of the lucky ones who have reached for the stars and actually touched them. And with a combination of skill, determination and persistence, what was once an innocent childhood aspiration has now morphed into arguably one of the best ways to spend your weekends.
Ossello grew just up a short drive from Denver and had always envisioned himself on a Major League Lacrosse field, watching guys like former Denver Outlaws midfielder Brian Langtry put on a show for crowds at what was once Invesco Field at Mile High. Ossello showed admiration for the Broncos on Sundays as well, but while the football scene in Denver was never an issue, lacrosse was a different story.
“Denver isn’t traditionally thought of as a hotbed lacrosse area,” Ossello said. “Usually, that’s you know, Baltimore, New York, Philly area.”
As Ossello points out, though, seeing the now-13th most popular high school sport take hold gave it some sprouting seeds in the Mile High City.
“I think it was really important for a team like the Outlaws to kind of have their reach in Denver,” Ossello said. “It gave a lot of guys like me, who were playing youth lacrosse, playing high school, kind of a good sense that not only professional, but even Division 1 lacrosse was very attainable, because we were able to go to Mile High and see that professional lacrosse was a very good and prevalent sport in the Denver area.”
At Wheat Ridge High School, less than 20 minutes from where he now suits up for the Outlaws, Ossello was a three-time all-conference player who earned state accolades his junior and senior years, while being named captain his junior year. He ended up taking his talents to the Division 1 level, but as it turned out, so did others.
“Right as I started entering Wheat Ridge, Colorado kind of started producing a decent amount of Division 1 players. I think my freshman year, there was a kid [named] Patrick Murray that committed from Kent Denver to Georgetown, and that was, like, one of the first times I was reading in the newspaper about Colorado kids committing, and then it kind of seemed to grow from there.”
Murray’s rise to the college game certainly helped Ossello eye a growth for lacrosse in Denver, but what really did it in were the team competitions back east.
“I started realizing that Denver could be pretty good on the map when we could go out east for team tournaments and start placing pretty well,” Ossello said. “We would be playing against teams that had, you know, a bunch of ACC commits, and if you looked at their roster, it’d be pretty intimidating, but we were able to hold our own.”
Ossello also starred on Wheat Ridge’s football team, winning a state title that was played at – you guessed it – Invesco Field at Mile High. His senior year, he was voted team MVP and served as team captain.
He also appeared on the football and lacrosse fields in four and a half years at Notre Dame, winning an ACC lacrosse title in 2014 and getting drafted by the Outlaws 60th overall in 2015. However, following a loss to the University of Denver in the 2015 NCAA semifinal in Philadelphia, Ossello wasn’t quite ready to call it quits in South Bend.
“After we lost to Denver in lacrosse, I really wasn’t ready to leave Notre Dame, but then after that year of football, I kind of had to accomplish everything I had set out to accomplish when I was a kid and when I committed to Notre Dame.”
The Fighting Irish football team went 10-3 in 2015, his last year with the team, with the Wheat Ridge native seeing time in Notre Dame’s 44-28 Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State on New Year’s Day. To this day, Ossello maintains a great level of pride and respect for alma mater and all those associated with it, particularly both his head coaches.
“I think they did a great job of making that not just an incredible athletic experience, but making it a great well-rounded experience,” Ossello said. “So I was really able to value my education and my friends and everything like that, and I think they really made it the best college experience possible.”
When South Bend was all said and done, Ossello was picked up by the Chesapeake Bayhawks at No. 2 overall in the 2016 MLL Supplemental Draft. He was traded to the Outlaws after a brief stint in Annapolis, and what was once an innocent childhood fantasy now became an actuality.
“I was ecstatic,” Ossello said. “I got drafted by the Bayhawks, and I’ll always be thankful to them for a great introduction to the league; coach Reese does a good job, and I wish them the best of luck, but that wasn’t necessarily the team I grew up watching.”
That brings us to today, where Ossello now suits up in orange and black for the team he’s surrounded himself with since childhood. But even when life seems grand, not all that glitters is gold.
“It’s much different than high school and college for sure because the league’s not big enough to where the paychecks are a good yearly salary, so a lot of guys have their Monday through Friday jobs,” for which Ossello’s is on the sales side at a supply chain solution company called Innovatix.
In addition, this isn’t the Broncos or Nuggets or Avalanche where you have mandated practices, team meetings and all that jazz; in Major League Lacrosse, you get out what you put in.
“You’re not practicing every day, you’re not in the locker room every day, so a lot of it’s kind of up to you,” Ossello said. “They’ll send out a scouting report, they’ll send out film, and then it’s kind of up to you to make sure you’re staying in shape and lifting and working out and everything.”
Realizing this new way of life has paid off for Ossello, who scored two goals in front of 6,973 fans in a 2016 win over the New York Lizards on June 24. Not bad for your first game with your favorite team.
“I was really pumped,” Ossello said. “The first goal, I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t the best shot, and it was kind of what we call a ‘garbage goal’ — bounced off a defender’s stick and didn’t look great — so again, I didn’t really do a great job of putting everything in perspective. I was kind of mad that I even had a bad shot.”
His second goal that day was much nicer, but what made it even more special was scoring on someone he’s always admired, and for Ossello, that someone was MLL veteran and former collegiate national champion Paul Rabil.
“I even remember me and my buddies, when we were in high school, trying to watch his YouTube highlights and then go out in the backyard and replicate them,” Ossello said. “So that was a really awesome moment, something that I’ll cherish forever, to be able to dodge on a guy like that and hit a goal, that was really cool.”
But it wasn’t until post-game autographs that day that Ossello felt everything had finally come together, that an adamant youthful lust for a professional career with the Outlaws had now been satisfied.
“It kind of hit me that everything has come to fruition and all that hard work I put in as a kid paid off with this first game,” Ossello said. “I was fortunate enough to have a couple goals, so that really meant a lot to me.”
Now that his dream is a reality, Ossello hopes he can be the next one to inspire the next generation of lacrosse players, just as Rabil and Langtry did for him.
“It’s funny because I’m now playing, and I look up in the stands and see all these youth kids and I’m like, ‘Well, it seems like just yesterday I was one of these kids that was bringing their stick to the game, getting all pumped up to go watch my favorite players,’ so hopefully I can use it as a tool to hopefully inspire the next generation of lacrosse players from Denver.”
For the time being, though, Denver’s newest Outlaw is just happy to be where he’s always imagined.
“I’m really enjoying life right now; it’s going pretty well. I think I got a good job, good stable job, and then this Outlaws thing is really a great opportunity, so life could certainly be a lot worse.”
During that first game, a woman held up a sign dedicated to Ossello, with a message that is surely felt throughout the Outlaws community and in the locker room. The message?
“Welcome home, Nick.”
(Photo courtesy of Major League Lacrosse)