APPLE VALLEY CLASSIC: The Nugents of Cheshire, a football familias, frame by frame

CHESHIRE — There is a photograph of Tim Nugent at age 1. He’s in his father's arms, watching one of his older brothers play in Cheshire High School’s annual Red/White Spring Football Game.

Another photo hangs in the Nugent home. This one is of Tim at age 2½, proudly wearing a plastic football helmet with the familiar Cheshire 'C' on it.

(Well, it was a Buffalo Bills helmet, but his older brothers had covered the Bills logo with the Cheshire ‘C.’ That red helmet still sits on a shelf in the now 17-year-old’s room.)

Growing up on the sidelines of his brothers’games, always with a football in his hands, Nugent would attend many a Cheshire football game ready for action.

As a toddler, at one particular freshman game, Nugent donned a pair of plastic shoulder pads under one of his big brothers’ red practice jerseys, held a football, and smiled for the camera ... wearing that same red toy helmet.

In elementary school, Tim started to finally play the sport. As a member of the fourth-grade Cheshire Junior Football team, Nugent sported the Cheshire red-and-black and wore a real Cheshire football helmet.

A photo taken at the end of that fourth-grade season shows Tim holding a championship trophy. There would be more titles and trophies in the years to come, but this trophy holds a special place in Tim’s heart.

Standing next to Tim, with his arm around him, is his late father and coach, Brian Nugent. It would be the only season Brian Nugent coached his sixth son. Brian would pass away 11 months later after a battle with cancer.

Fast-forward to 2021. It’s now Tim’s senior year at Cheshire High School and time for his yearbook photo.

Another photo is taken. This will be a lasting impression of Tim Nugent, one that captures his high school years. It shows Tim wearing his No. 45 Cheshire jersey, kneeling on the Cheshire High School football field, with a football in his hand, and a Cheshire helmet by his side.

Would anything else be appropriate?

Born to Brian and Catherine “Kiki” Nugent in 2004, Timothy H. Vaughan Nugent is the sixth Nugent to play football at Cheshire High. What started in 1999 with Dan Nugent ends Thanksgiving Day with Tim.

The youngest Nugent boy will fulfill a life-long dream Thursday morning when he suits up one last time for the Rams and plays in the 25th annual Apple Valley Classic — 22 years after Dan played in the 1999 edition.

It’ll be Tim’s first and only Apple Valley Classic because the pandemic wiped out all of last season.

With a last name synonymous with Cheshire football, and a Hall of Fame father revered by youth coaches in Cheshire, it’s safe to say Tim and his family bleed Cheshire red.

It’s been 12 years since a Nugent has played the Apple Valley Classic. The most recent was Cody Nugent in 2009.

Before Cody, there were Casey, Brian and Dan. Josh Nugent was injured as a freshman at Cheshire and never played football beyond that season.

Tim braved the freezing rain at Southington High School to watch Casey, now 31, run in the mud in 2006.

Tim was there three years later when Cody, now 29, helped Cheshire beat Southington 24-11 en route to the 2009 Class LL state championship.

And he watched with his father and mother in 2007 when the younger Brian (33) and the Rams upset the Blue Knights 35-19.

Now it’s his turn.

“I can’t wait,” said Tim. “I’ve had this (day) marked since I was born.

“(The Apple Valley Classic) is one my favorite things every year; now I get to play in the game. It’s pretty cool,” Nugent continued. “I remember going to (my brothers’) games. I was pretty young, so I don’t remember specifics, but I can remember the atmosphere.

“I remember how crazy it was to have thousands of people on a holiday morning come and watch high school kids play football.”

Alongside Tim for every Apple Valley Classic since he was born in May of 2006 has been his mother, Kiki, who will sit in Southington High School’s Fontana Field stands once more on Thursday.

“Without a doubt, it’s bittersweet,” Kiki said. “I was just kind of along for the ride with the older boys, watching them go through the ranks. Now, it’s kind of unreal that it’s Timothy.

“I remember the boys going to the pasta dinners and the away games and shaving their hair for Thanksgiving … now, it’s Timothy. He’s been up on that turf since he was born, literally.”

Tim may be the fifth Nugent to play in the Apple Classic, but he has the distinction of being the only Nugent coached by their father.

Brian Nugent was an All-State linebacker at West Haven High School and was inducted into the University of New Haven Hall of Fame.

His impact on Cheshire football was at the youth level. While Brian Nugent coached at the university, he opted not to coach his sons in high school.

Terry Palmer was the man who recruited Brian Nugent to coach a youth team. That team just happened to be the fourth-grade team Tim was on.

“As a player, he accomplished quite a bit (on the field); everybody knew who Brian Nugent was,” Palmer said. “But as a coach, what I loved about Brian was, as tough as he was, he was so calming with the kids. That toughness never came across to the kids.

“In youth sports, the worst thing you can get is a coach who is a lunatic. Brian just had that calming, firm, encouraging voice. The kids just loved Brian,” added Palmer.

When Brian passed in 2014, Cheshire head coach Don Drust had his team attend Brian’s wake.

“He was a good guy to coach football at the youth level,” Tim recalls. “Yeah, we took it seriously, but we were just kids. He wanted to make it fun for the kids as well.”

“In regards to Brian, he was always known to be being firm, but fair. He taught fundamentals, but he wanted the kids to have fun,” Kiki Nugent added.

Win or lose Thursday, Tim will remember his father’s advice and “have fun” playing in the Apple Valley Classic — just as his oldest brother did 22 years ago and the three other brothers who followed.

“It’s nice to see how much Tim enjoys (football), how much it’s part of his life,” said the 39-year-old Dan Nugent, who still lives in Cheshire. “We are excited to go Thursday (and see Tim play).”

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