To each his own team for talented brothers

Marco Notarainni (28) plays football for Torrey Pines. Thomas Notarainni (34) plays basketball for Cathedral Catholic. With one season nearing its end and the other about to begin, the brothers took time for a portrait in the backyard of their Rancho Santa Fe home.
Marco Notarainni (28) plays football for Torrey Pines. Thomas Notarainni (34) plays basketball for Cathedral Catholic. With one season nearing its end and the other about to begin, the brothers took time for a portrait in the backyard of their Rancho Santa Fe home.
(Charlie Neuman

In many ways, Marco and Thomas Notarainni are typical brothers.

Sitting at a dining room table Saturday morning, they busted each other’s chops over who’s the better athlete, who’s better looking, who plays the best sport, who has the best answer to a question.

Shooting hoops in the backyard, there is lively banter as they taunt each other.

And while it’s all good-natured, the Notarainni siblings are far from your basic brothers.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marco is an All-Avocado League linebacker on a Torrey Pines High football team that plays Lincoln on Friday in the San Diego Section Division I quarterfinals.

A tall, lean, heat-seeking missile of a tackler, he leads the Falcons with 83 stops, has six tackles for losses, three sacks and a pair of interceptions. He also plays some tight end with 170 total yards.

Also tall and lean at 6-4, 200 pounds, Thomas was a freshman all-state basketball player for his class two years ago at Cathedral Catholic High, and an all-section player last season on a team that was 24-10 and won the section Division I championship before losing to Valencia in the state Division II quarterfinals.

One of the top shooting guards in the nation, Thomas averaged 17 points a game.

Cathedral opens the season Nov. 23 against nationally ranked Chatsworth Sierra Canyon at Montgomery High.

The brothers’ schools are 1.8 miles apart on Del Mar Heights Road and are bitter rivals.

The brothers are juniors, both are top-flight students with GPAs hovering at 4.0, but they aren’t twins.

“The Notarainnis are an incredibly fun family,” said Torrey Pines football coach Ron Gladnick.

“And it’s one great sports family.”

Mark Notarainni, the father, played club volleyball at Michigan State and stands 6-6. He moved the family to San Diego from Houston 10 years ago.

Romina Notarainni, the mother, is from Argentina, and is the glue that holds things together at their Rancho Santa Fe home.

Bianca Notarainni, the older sister, was a three-year all-league basketball player at La Jolla Country Day, and a McDonald’s All-America nominee. Bianca is now a sophomore at NYU. A 6-foot guard/forward, she started all but one game for the Violets last season, averaging 5.4 points and 4.2 rebounds.

“Certainly I’m proud of what the kids have accomplished, but we never pushed them into athletics,” said Mark Notarainni, an executive with the software giant Intuit. “Encouraged them, yes. Introduced different sports, yes. Pushed, no.”

And Mark and Romina let their children choose where they wanted to go to school and play.

Bianca chose La Jolla Country Day because of its tradition in girls basketball.

“I grew up playing for Torrey Pines Pop Warner,” Marco said. “So I knew I’d play at Torrey.

“Plus, I have a lot of friends there. I fit in there. And the school has a crazy amount of electives — cooking, computers, wood shop, speech, business. It was best for me.”

Cathedral Catholic was the best fit for Thomas, who is the older of the brothers.

“I grew up playing football, too, even thought about playing for Cathedral this season,” Thomas said. “But I knew basketball was my sport.

“I shadowed a student one day at Cathedral and really liked it.

“Plus, there was the opportunity to start as a freshman.”

Despite playing at rival schools and competing in different sports, the brothers are regulars at each other’s games, just like they were in the stands when Bianca played.

Neither, however, worries about what he wears to those games.

“Whatever I grab on the way out the door,” Marco said. “I might not wear Torrey gear, but I can’t wear Cathedral stuff, even though he’s my brother.”

All the Notarainni children speak fluent Spanish.

And with his mother’s Argentine heritage, Thomas spent the summer in Argentina, working with the national team, which won Olympic gold in 2004, bronze in 2008 and has already qualified for the 2020 Games.

“It was an amazing experience,” Thomas said. “The players are older, bigger, stronger, faster. And they really move the ball on offense.”

Thomas is a gym rat, a player who tries to launch at least 200-300 shots a day.

“Good shooters just don’t show up at games,” Thomas said. “I’ll spend 2-3 hours a day shooting. It’s all about technique.

“I nit-pick my shot, my form.”

He also has certain superstitions.

“I have to swish five shots in a row before I leave the gym,” he said. “Before a game, I don’t go to the huddle until I make my last shot.”

College recruiters have started to notice Thomas.

He has an offer from Rutgers and interest from Colorado State, Rice and West Virginia. His dream schools, he says, are Michigan State and Virginia.

Future 150, a scouting service, has him rated as a 4-star player, the No. 7 shooting guard in the state.

RHoopsRecruiting says “Tough. Can get in the lane in traffic. Plays hard on the defensive end and with a relentless pace. Has the potential to be a true triple scoring threat at the high major level.”

Marco, who also plays lacrosse at Torrey Pines, has been tutored by former USC All-American and 12-year NFL standout Duane Bickett.

“With Duane and (defensive coordinator) Dax Harrison, the philosophy at Torrey Pines is to get a hat on a hat. And I love it.

“Lacrosse is fun. It’s quick and physical, but playing linebacker is what I do best.

“I’m allowed to roam the field and hit people. I love the physical nature of football.

“To learn the position from coach Bickett is a bonus. He’s a crazy perfectionist about technique.”

Like Thomas, Marco has college in the back of his mind.

He said Texas and Washington are his dream schools, but Torrey Pines assistant coach Brian Sipe — an All-America quarterback at San Diego State and the 1980 NFL MVP — keeps dropping subtle hints.

“Marco is going to have 25 offers before he’s done with high school,” Gladnick said. “He’s a prototypical outside linebacker. He gets push off the edge. He can cover receivers. Or a team can move him inside.

“He understands the game.

“He’s destined for great things in football and life.”

All three Notarainni children appear to be destined for great things. And all are comfortable with their choices.

“My sister loved it at Country Day, Thomas is happy at Cathedral, and I love my decision to play at Torrey Pines,” Marco said. “Yeah, I guess it’s different. But it works for us.”

— John Maffei is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune