Kicking footballs, always fun, became his focus. That summer, too young to drive, he would hound his elder sister Dana to take him to the field.
"The deal was, he would kick field goals while I lay on a towel, between the goal posts, getting a tan," said Dana, now a junior at Towson University. "If Nick's kick was good, I'd raise my arms."
Usually, after 90 minutes or so, she threw in the towel.
"I'd leave and go to Starbucks for a drink," Dana said. "When I'd get back, Nick would still be kicking."
Sometimes he'd kick after sundown, dragging his parents along to the unlit field where they shagged balls for their son in the end zone, groping for them in the dark.
Ferrara enrolled at St. Anthony's in South Huntington, N.Y., a rigorous Catholic high school with a strong football program.
"Michael had suggested I go there," he said. "He said it would be good for me."
As a freshman, he kicked a 50-yard field goal and, playing wide receiver, scored a touchdown on a 70-yard reverse. Racing into the end zone, Ferrara raised one finger skyward, as if showboating. His coaches were livid until he explained: "I did it for Michael. I owed him something for pointing me in the right direction."
Pushed to the hilt at St. Anthony's, Ferrara blossomed as a kicker, earning All-State honors and a scholarship to Maryland. The Terps liked his strength of character, as well as that of his leg.
"Nick has deep core values and a real respect for others," said Dave Sollazzo, the Terps' recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach. "That matters to him."
Like continuing to pay tribute to his friend.
"Last winter, going to class in all that snow, I went real slow, to protect my kicking leg. I walked like a penguin. I waddled," he said.
"And I thought, Michael would have liked that."
"A Different Kind of Hero" by Nick Ferrara (written in 8th grade)
As I stood in the hallway looking into the room,
I felt really sad with my mind full of gloom,
We have to be happy so that he will smile,
To take his mind off feeling sick for a while,
But to my surprise when we walked inside,
He was smiling and laughing and ready to chide,
Our hearts overflowed and we chimed right in,
Joking around with no hint of chagrin,
At home that night it came to my mind,
A hero he was, just a different kind,
Through all of the pain, sadness and strain,
His smile warmed our hearts, over and again,
That day seems like yesterday and I wished it to last,
But my friend lost his battle, too soon, too fast,
The hero in him will live on in us all,
This I promised him as I tried to stand tall,
A different kind of hero can always be found,
You just need to look inside and around,
I know I found mine even though unspoken,
The bond to my hero will never be broken.