By Wayne Witkowski
Nick Palladino has achieved many milestones in his three years starting at quarterback for Muhlenberg College’s football team, becoming the Mules’ all-time leader in passing yards last season with 7,464, which is fifth in Centennial Conference history.
This season, the former Allentown High School star quarterback from Millstone needs only two touchdown passes to break the school’s 17-year-old all-time record in that category: 26 set by Michael McCabe ending with the 1999 season.
He also has the career completion (664) and attempts (1,011) school records, and his three seasons each rate among the top four in single-season completion percentages.
What Palladino really wants this year is to lead his team to the conference championship after it finished behind Johns Hopkins University for the past five seasons. Last year’s team finished the regular season 8-2, tied for second in the conference and lost to Stevenson University in the inaugural Centennial-MAC Bowl Series.
Muhlenberg opens its season at 7 p.m. Sept. 2 at Wilkes University, whose head coach recruited Palladino when he coached at Muhlenberg. The Mules will host Johns Hopkins in the fourth game of the season at 2 p.m. Sept. 24.
“I just try to go out and play my hardest and let the chips fall where they may. You never know how the season will unfold,” Palladino said. “Every team deserves our best effort. In a lot of games last season, we battled from adversity late in the game. We definitely lose a few people [to completed eligibility], particularly our middle linebacker and two or three good players in the secondary. But we have 17 starters back.”
But three of the departed starters were on the offensive line.
“We have two back on the offensive line but a solid group of underclassmen coming back,” Palladino said.
Palladino, one of five senior captains for this season, was a first-team All-Centennial Conference selection last year after passing for 2,455 yards — third best in school history — and 23 touchdowns. He’ll again aim a lot of his passes to Nick Lamb, a redshirt senior and another first team Centennial Conference selection who led the Mules and was third in the conference in both receptions (60) and receiving yards (807). His seven touchdown catches ranked second in the league.
“Physically I play within myself,” Palladino said.
Muhlenberg coach Mike Donnell has credited Palladino’s success simply to his sheer competitiveness, his drive to win and to contend for the conference championship, whether it’s throwing or running the ball.
It showed at the end of the regular season last year when, for the fourth time in his career, Palladino was named Centennial Conference player of the week when he accounted for all four touchdowns in the Mules’ 28-14 win over Moravian College. He tied a conference record for completion percentage (.905) by connecting on 19 of 21 passes for 137 yards and two scores while also rushing 14 times for a game-high 71 yards with two touchdowns. Palladino also ran for a two-point conversion.
In the run game, Palladino again was among the team’s leading rushers last season, finishing second with a career-high 550 yards, an average of 3.4 yards per carry, and four touchdowns, with a long run of 47 yards.
“I didn’t do much of that in high school,” said Palladino, who had among the backfield rushers at that time Ross Scheuerman, who went on to stardom at Lafayette College, stints with three NFL teams and is playing this season with the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the Canadian Football League.
Palladino says he is not looking seriously at a professional career at this point from lessons he learned in conversations with Scheuerman.
“It’s a cutthroat career to get into. It’s who you know, who to work with,” Palladino said.
Instead, he is living in the moments of his final season at Muhlenberg.
“It’s been a hell of a ride, a great experience,” Palladino said. “Going into last year, I came to realize the game teaches you so much and the relationships I’ve had were so valuable. I couldn’t be any more proud of what I’ve done at Muhlenberg.”
The biggest thing for now at Muhlenberg, Palladino says, is playing assignment perfection football. He showed that two seasons ago as a sophomore when he threw his first 195 passes of the season without an interception. He finished with only four that season. Palladino credits that to his slowing down the game so he could make his reads without rushing himself, much like he said he was able to do when he played at Allentown.
Palladino, a finance and business major, in his junior year last fall was presented during the Homecoming Game against McDaniel College the Sidney G. Weikert Sophomore Athlete of the Year Award for his performance during the 2014-15 academic year. The annual award recognizes athletic achievement with accompanying campus contribution and strong academic record.
As a sophomore, Palladino set school records for passing yards (2,998), completions (266) and completion percentage (.691) in a season while leading the Mules to a 9-2 record and a berth in the NCAA tournament.
He became the first quarterback in league history to pass for more than 5,000 yards in his first two seasons when, as a freshman, he threw a freshman school and conference record of 2,011 yards and 14 touchdowns, as Muhlenberg finished 8-3.
He has a career record of 25-8 at Muhlenberg.