On a cruel April morning in 2011, Craig Tiberio looked at himself in the mirror. The man he faced stood accused of dealing drugs and assaulting a police officer. Looking at that mirror affixed as it was to a jailhouse wall, Tiberio didn’t like what he saw.
“I was at the end emotionally,” Tiberio said. “I knew there wasn’t anyplace to go but up unless I wanted to keep living the life that I was living. I obviously knew that if I got back on track, I had the potential — if I was motivated enough — to play sports again.”
As a high school junior, Tiberio had been a standout receiver for the Le Roy Oatkan Knights. He was at least a legitimate Division III prospect entering his senior season. All he wanted to do, or so he thought, was play football at the collegiate level.
Craig describes his childhood as challenging, chaotic, as anything but stable. Sports, especially football, was an escape.
“I always clung onto sports,” Craig said. “It was my time free from thinking about what was going on in my life.”
An injury changed everything.
In the sixth game of his senior season, Craig Tiberio suffered a stress fracture in his spine.
That meant pain medication. It meant time away from the field, from his teammates, from everything that had kept him anchored.
It’s a familiar story in sports — injury, pain medication, followed by a need to self-medicate with whatever street drugs might be available. The pattern killed former Padres pitcher Eric Show. There are countless cases of high school and college athletes you never hear of whose lives were altered by drug use after an injury.
The story of Craig Tiberio is the story of a once-promising athlete who hit bottom and then turned his life around. He entered guilty pleas May 27, 2011 in Genesee County Court to assault, 3rd, criminal possession of a controlled substance, 4th, and to DWI. As he stood before Judge Robert C. Noonan that day, he faced a near certain four-year prison term. Back in court weeks later with positive progress reports, Noonan gave him a second chance. Step by step since, he’s made the most of it. He’s on the dean’s list at Buffalo State University. He volunteers with third- and fourth-graders in Buffalo. His assigned practice squad includes Buff State’s best players, and if he avoids injury, he has a shot of starting at tight end for the Bengals.
A passion for sports
It’s been long path paved by determination and family support since Tiberio gazed into the jailhouse mirror that April morning in 2011, with just the glimmer of a thought that maybe, maybe, he could rekindle his dream of playing college football and pursue a career in coaching.
He’s made it this far.
“You’ve got to ask yourself 'how bad do you want to be successful?' in any aspect of life,” said Tiberio after an early morning spring practice at Coyer Field.
He sat on a near-side bench under an optimistic blue sky while teammates who missed an earlier practice pushed 50-pound weights on their hands and knees up and down the sideline, from the 50 to the goal line and back, 10 times each.
“Some people are just completely content with working a minimum-wage job and being able to do anything they want, but for me, I appreciate freedom more than I ever did. Some people take that for granted. It comes with how much pain are you willing to deal with before you want your life to get better.”
When Craig was but a few months old, his mother moved him from Fairfax, Va., where he was born, to Le Roy. She started living with Art Nicomento, an electrician, and the couple stayed together until Craig was 5.
Then things started to unravel. According to Nicomento, Craig’s mother got hooked on drugs. The couple separated, but Craig stayed with Nicomento. Eventually, Nicomento became Craig’s legal guardian.
“He was a good kid, a smart kid,” Nicomento said. “I wanted to take care of him.”
Tiberio said he gravitated to sports at an early age. It was his salvation through years of turmoil. He doesn’t go into much detail, nor does Nicomento, but Craig clearly loves Nicomento, whom he calls “Dad.”
Talk to anybody in the community about Art and Craig and they will tell you, Nicomento was always there for his son.
By his sophomore year in high school, Craig Tiberio was turning heads on the gridiron, the hardwood and in track and field. Any sports story previewing Le Roy’s chances in the football or basketball seasons included Tiberio as integral to the team’s potential success.
As a junior, Tiberio stood 6’ 3” and weighted 175 lbs. He was athletic and fast. His junior year, he was the Section V champ in the long jump and the triple jump. He also ran on the team’s 400-meter relay team and won a few meets in the 3200 and the 100-meter dash. In basketball, there isn’t a game story that doesn’t list the strong forward as pouring in at least a dozen points and pulling down four or five rebounds.
In Le Roy, football is king and football was Tiberio’s passion. He combined speed, height and agility to haul in passes no defender could touch.
“I always had the attitude in high school, standing on the field across from another player, they can’t stop me,” Craig said.
Jim Bonacquisti, an assistant coach for the Knights, remembers Tiberio as a big play maker. A Tiberio TD reception helped stop a long Hornell home-winning streak. One of Tiberio’s big scores against archrival Cal-Mum came on a fourth-down reverse in a sectional semi-final. Then he intercepted a pass to help seal the deal.
Tiberio was named to the Livingston County Athletic Association’s all-star team on both offense and defense his junior year. (Le Roy is in the Livingston County footbal league). He was also named to the all-state team. He averaged 20 yards a reception and picked off seven passes playing free safety.
“I would rank him behind Mike Humphrey and Brandon Fulmer as far as the best we’ve had in my tenure,” Bonacquisti said. “Ironically, Craig getting hurt his senior season opened the door for Mike’s increased playing time in 10th grade. In Craig’s junior year, he caught anything near him, plus he was a pretty good safety. He wasn’t a big hitter, but he was usually around the ball.”
In his senior year, Tiberio said he was already hampered by a minor back injury, but continued to play. In five starts, he only had eight catches for 88 yards and one TD. On defense, he only had three tackles and two assists.
Friday night, Oct. 6, 2006 was homecoming for the Perry Yellowjackets. Unfortunately for the Perry student body, the Yellowjackets were scheduled to play their homecoming game against an undefeated Oatkan Knights team who would go on to win the Section V Class C title.
Tiberio was having one of his best games of the season with three receptions, including one for a TD, when late in the 4th quarter, with the Knights up 48-0, Tiberio snagged Heath Henrickson’s pass for an interception and returned it 33 yards before being tackled by a Perry player.
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