Former Most Outstanding Rookie Frank Cutolo: ‘I wish I would’ve stayed longer’

Everybody likes a one-hit wonder.

Gnarls Barkley. Chumbawamba. Gotye. A-ha. The Lumineers. Soft Cell.

It takes a special band to produce a smash hit song, even if they’re not able to recreate its success.

It’s not entirely fair to call Frank Cutolo a one-hit wonder, but the retired receiver is pretty close to being one.

The five-foot-ten, 187-pound pass catcher had a sensational rookie season with the B.C. Lions in 2003, making 64 receptions for 908 yards and eight touchdowns. If that wasn’t enough, the speedster also recorded 100 returns — 60 kickoffs, 33 punts, and seven missed field goals — for 1,424 yards and one major.

Cutolo’s performance was so spectacular that he was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie, becoming the fifth member of the Lions to win the award in six years. The previous year’s winner was star Canadian slotback Jason Clermont, while the following year’s winner was Nik Lewis, who retired in 2018 as the league’s all-time receptions leader with 1,059.

Cutolo wasn’t surprised by his immediate success in the CFL. His team had a powerhouse offence that was perfectly suited to maximize his skill set.

“I walked into a great situation,” said Cutolo in an interview with 3DownNation. “We had the great Dave Dickenson who was one of the best guys probably on the planet. Just an all-around good person. He made it a lot easier for me in my first year.”

Cutolo was used to playing with an elite passer. His quarterback at Eastern Illinois University was Tony Romo, who went on to become a Pro Bowl-calibre QB with the Dallas Cowboys.

“The receiving corps (in B.C.) was awesome,” said Cutolo. “I loved our receiving corps. You couldn’t play with a much better receiving corps. Jason Clermont, Ryan Thelwell, the great Geroy Simon, Chris Brazzell. That also made it a pretty easy transition into the CFL.”

Cutolo narrowly missed out on reaching the 1,000-yard mark as a rookie, which didn’t bother him. What stings more is how close the Lions came to capturing a Grey Cup in 2004, losing the the underdog Toronto Argonauts by a score of 27-19.

“I never looked at the game as playing it for certain (individual) goals like that. It was just go out there and compete and play hard and talk s*** and do your best. That was the way I looked at it.”

Cutolo had a relatively strong sophomore season, making 47 receptions for 786 yards and nine touchdowns. His return numbers were down, however, as it was starting to become clear that the young receiver was taking too many hits.

“He was a young guy, not big, a rookie that we beat to death,” head coach Wally Buono told the Vancouver Sun regarding Cutolo’s massive workload. “Sometimes you don’t do things as smart as you should.”

The wear and tear on Cutolo’s body was the primary reason why his career fizzled out with the Lions. Despite coming off two strong seasons, B.C. released the receiver during the pre-season in 2005.

“He (Buono) might be right,” said Cutolo. “Looking back at it, at the time I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. From receiver, punt return, kick return — I did all that, so that probably does take a toll on your body. But I wouldn’t do it any other way.”

Cutolo had started to experience discomfort in his groin and hip area during practice. The pain would start when he began running and became severe when he came to a sudden stop. This was problematic as receivers are constantly required to stop suddenly as part of running routes.

He signed with the Renegades not long after he was released by B.C., but the pain in Cutolo’s lower body remained a problem.

“When I went to Ottawa, I broke down. Something happened. I played a few games and just fought through it (the pain) because I just thought it would go away.”

The pain didn’t subside and again started to affect his play. Ottawa released Cutolo after he recorded 21 receptions for 222 yards and one touchdown in nine games with the team. The move brought his CFL career to an end.

Cutolo spent the next six months trying to get his injury diagnosed. He was finally able to see Dr. George Caldwell, the head team physician for the Miami Dolphins at the time, who diagnosed him with pelvic inflammation.

The ailment was caused by overtraining and the doctor was able to treat it with a pelvic shot. The diagnosis made sense given the number of snaps Cutolo had taken over two seasons with the Lions paired with a grueling off-season workout regiment.

“The injury was probably my fault. I always believed in being the fastest and most in-shape person on the field. I probably partially did it to myself and maybe playing all those snaps without enough rest could have helped cause it.”

He felt healthy after receiving treatment for his pelvic inflammation, but by that point Cutolo was ready to move on from football.

“That was it. That’s pretty much why I stopped playing football. It took so long to figure out what was wrong with me that I just got out of that mode, unfortunately.”

Cutolo describes his initial transition to life after football as “tough.” He spent some time working for FedEx before getting his certificate from the police academy. His then-girlfriend (now wife) encouraged him to go into insurance and he opened his own company, United Insurance Corporation, in 2011.

The couple honeymooned in B.C. in 2015 where he was able to reconnect with former teammates Geroy Simon, Javier Glatt, and Paris Jackson. Cutolo also has two children — Frankie, 23, and Gianna, 17 — both of whom are doing well.

The CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie from 2003 has come to terms with the short-lived nature of his professional career. He admits, however, that it took time.

“I’m one hundred percent at peace with it at this point,” said Cutolo. “Do I have some regrets? Absolutely. I wish I would’ve stayed longer. I feel like I could have stayed with B.C. and been a part of the tradition that they put together with that bunch of guys. I got hurt. I guess I just wish that I would have gotten better.”

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