Football to become Thomas Notarainni’s sport of choice?

Thomas Notarainni (right), a basketball player for Cathedral Catholic, now is playing football, too.
Thomas Notarainni (right), a basketball player for Cathedral Catholic High School, now is playing football, too, just like his brother Marcos Notarainni , player for Torrey Pines.
(Charlie Neuman/Photo by Charlie Neuman)

Cathedral basketball player making big noise on football field


Bored over the summer and looking for a break from year-round basketball, Cathedral Catholic High senior Thomas Notarainni tried his hand at golf.

When the links didn’t do it for him, he turned to surfing.

Finally he went back to his roots and gave football a try.

“I played football as a kid, all the way up to my freshman year in high school,” Notarainni said. “I made the decision coming into high school to concentrate on basketball.”

And that has worked out well.

He averaged 17 points a game last season as the Dons won the Open Division championship after capturing the division title the year before.

In those championship seasons, the Dons are 48-18.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Notarainni first tried to help the Dons football team as a tight end/strong safety.

Injuries forced the Cathedral coaching staff to move him to an inside linebacker spot.

And he has shown flashes of brilliance.

He’ll start his third game tonight, March 26, when the No. 1-ranked Dons host No. 2 St. Augustine in the Holy Bowl.

“I’ve played against Saints a lot in basketball, and it’s pretty intense,” Notarainni said. “But this is going to be different.”

On the varsity basketball team as a freshman, Notarainni has seen the Dons go 3-3 against the Saints, sweeping the two-game league series last season.

Known as a dead-eye shooter, Notarainni is considered a two-star basketball recruit.

He has drawn interest from Michigan State, Rutgers, Colorado State, Rice and West Virginia, among others.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, all college athletes have been awarded an extra year of eligibility, clogging up the scholarship process in all sports.

“I really believe Thomas would be a big-time Division I recruit if he had chosen to play football from the start,” said John Notali, Cathedral’s defensive coordinator, and a man who keeps the clock at basketball games.

“Obviously, he has great size. He’s strong, and he moves really well. I’ve watched him play basketball, and he’s really good.

“He’s still getting a grasp on the game of football, still really green, but there is most definitely something there. He’s smart and talented. I’m making calls to colleges trying to have them take a look.”

Notarainni said he’s “most definitely” going to play basketball this season for the Dons, who also return stars Obinna Anyanwu, Dillon Wilhite and Alex Wade.

“I’m still figuring things out in football,” said Notarainni, whose brother Marco plays football at Torrey Pines and has signed to play collegiately at Boise State. “I’m trying to understand the game again.

“This is a short season, so I’ve got to get better fast. I’m more care free, more instinctive as a basketball player. It has been fun picking up a new sport, but I’m still learning. Football is a completely different mentality from basketball. I love hitting people, and if you hit people in basketball you’re in foul trouble.”

To quicken the learning process, Thomas has hunkered down with Marco.

“Marco is happy for me,” Thomas said. “He has encouraged me. And he has been very helpful ... except for that first game against Torrey Pines.”

Marco Notarainni is playing both ways for Torrey Pines, shouldering the load on offense as a running back while also playing linebacker.

The brothers nearly had a violent collision in the season opener when Marco was the target of a screen pass and Thomas was the defender.

Not sure whether to intercept the pass or make a big hit, Thomas changed course and simply broke up the play.

“Playing against Marco was a big game, but playing against St. Augustine will take that up a few notches,” Thomas said. “I’ve always wanted the Friday Night Lights experience and preparing for this game feels like a CIF championship.

“I want to enjoy this experience and see where football takes me. I’m open to playing either sport — basketball or football — in college.

“Right now, though, it’s a waiting game in both sports. So I plan to enjoy my senior year and see where it takes me.”
— John Maffei is a sports reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune