For many high school graduates going away to college for the first time, being separated from family is an adjustment. But even miles apart, mom and dad are only a phone call away.
For Angelo Natter, that phone call will have to wait about a month.
Natter, a Jefferson Hills resident and a recent graduate of Central Catholic High School, is heading off to the U.S. Military Academy's prep school at West Point, where he'll first go through nearly a month of basic training, during which communication is limited. He will report for orientation this Sunday.
"That's going to be difficult," said his father, Gary Natter. "I've never gone more than two days without talking to my kids."
Angelo, the middle child of three Natter children, will spend a year at West Point's prep school before joining Army's varsity football team the next year. For Natter, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end, that means five years of education funded by the U.S. government, in return for a five-year military obligation.
Central Catholic football coach Terry Totten never expects it when 17 and 18 year olds commit to such schools.
"You're always a little surprised at kids in this day and age committing to that lifestyle," Totten said.
While the lack of communication the first few weeks might be the hardest part of heading to West Point for Natter and his family, by far the easiest part has been adopting a dislike for Navy football.
"I'm really excited to serve my country and play football," Natter said of his rapidly approaching college experience. "And to beat Navy, of course."
"Beat Navy" signs are everywhere one looks on the USMA campus in West Point, N.Y. Natter's dad said it would be impossible for Angelo to attend Army and not want to beat Navy.
"He's not going to have a choice, because its posted everywhere," Gary said. "That's their main goal."
For the cadets, sometimes it might seem the main goal is simply to get through it all. It's no surprise that the service academies challenge cadets. Army started recruiting Natter late in the game. Natter had received interest from Patriot League schools such as Bucknell, Lehigh and Colgate. But the schools whose offers he considered more seriously were from senior military colleges such as The Citadel and Virginia Military Institute.
When Natter told Army's recruiters he was considering those schools, they told him if he's going to go to a military institute, he might as well make the commitment to the service that Army requires after graduation -- which The Citadel and VMI do not require.
"Angelo has always liked striving for things," his father said. "He beats to his own drum, he's not a follower. [Army] feels he's a leader and they're looking for leaders."
Gary Natter said he can sleep a little easier knowing West Point's prep school is meant to ease the transition to military lifestyle. The Natter family has little previous military history. He also feels Central Catholic prepared Angelo for West Point more than a public school could have.
At Central, Natter was a part of the Vinkings football team that went 15-1 last season, winning the WPIAL Class AAAA title last year and making it all the way to the PIAA championship game before suffering its only defeat of the season, a 35-10 loss to St. Joseph's Prep.
Natter would drive about an hour one way through traffic to attend Central during his junior and senior years, following his first two years attending his local public high school, Thomas Jefferson.
"It was a phenomenal school for him," Gary Natter said. "But just like the military, it's not for everyone. That type of school opens doors. That's what these [military] academies look at, because they consider Central a prep school."
And like all kids going off to college for the first time, it's a nervous excitement Natter feels. But he thinks he's ready for West Point.
"I know I'm going to be mentally, physically and emotionally challenged every day," Natter said. "Eventually it will pay off. I'll be basically set for life if I can get through it."
Sean Hammond: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1466 and Twitter @sean_hammond.
First Published July 16, 2014 1:00 AM