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Canyon High graduate J.J. DiLuigi: The last word

Former Cowboy has risen above perceived disadvantages

Posted: December 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: December 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Canyon High graduate and BYU running back J.J. DiLuigi, front, drags Utah State tackler Maurice Alexander during the first half on Sept. 30 in Provo, Utah. DiLuigi has been a productive back during his BYU career.

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The word “can’t” is something that doesn’t exist in J.J. DiLuigi’s world.

It’s a word that is rarely uttered by the 2007 Canyon High graduate and Brigham Young University senior running back.
Few athletes in this valley have come close to matching the tenacity and competitive nature of DiLuigi in the last decade.

Five years ago, this very paper put DiLuigi on top of a bulldozer for a photo shoot, signifying the type of football player he was — a hardened kid with a motor that never quit. He plowed through and around defenders, despite being a 5-foot-9-inch, 175-pound spark plug.

Five years later, 15 pounds heavier/stronger, DiLuigi is reaching the end of his collegiate career.

And things haven’t changed.

“If you were to ask me to describe J.J., not only the tenacity and competitive spirt come up, but it’s also the consistency at which he has done it,” says BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. “Day after day, he’s the same — a tireless worker.”

Ever since playing sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 2008 for BYU, DiLuigi has been a major contributor on the Cougars’ offense.

His numbers in 2011 have dipped a tad, but Mendenhall says that’s because BYU has shuffled quarterbacks this season.
Nonetheless, DiLuigi is averaging more than five yards per rush for the third consecutive season and is 25 yards short of 1,000 receiving yards for his career.

He has 1,759 career rushing yards.

If he gets the 25 yards in his final game, the Dec. 30 Armed Forces Bowl against Tulsa in Dallas-Fort Worth, he will become only the 10th player in school history to join the 1,000/1,000 club.

Don’t think DiLuigi doesn’t know that either.

He’s driven by a number of things, including numbers.

He still owns the Santa Clarita Valley 11-man football record with 43 touchdowns in a season, established in 2005 when he was a junior.

But then there are the other things that laid the foundation for his passion.

“I love the game so much that it means so much for me to win,” DiLuigi says. “I grew up in a household where it was competing for everything. Whether it was a board game or whatever. We were always competing.

“My dad and I would play basketball in the front yard or throw the ball in the backyard. It was always a competition for who’s going to win. I kind of grew up with that concept — you’ve got to win, you’ve got to win, nobody likes to lose. So my thing is I love to win and I want to win at everything I do so I’m going to try my hardest to come out with a good result.”

That’s what he has done in his football career — win.

In 2005 and 2006 at Canyon, he collected two CIF division titles and a state title in 2006, ending his career with a 138-yard rushing performance against mighty Concord De La Salle, considered the best prep football program in the nation, in a game Canyon couldn’t win.

In four seasons, not counting his true freshman year when he redshirted, DiLuigi has won 37 games, including victories in the 2010 New Mexico and 2009 Las Vegas bowls.

“There are a number of wins he’s helped this program accomplish,” Mendenhall says. “He’s ultraproductive.”

But detractors have thought for years that his size would diminish his ability to succeed.

The 23-year-old says those doubts are fuel.

“I was always raised that ‘can’t’ is not a word that any man should use,” he says. “I try not to use that word at all. Especially when it comes to my abilities and what I do on the football field. Can’t is never an option for me —  whether it’s me blocking a 250-pound lineman in the NFL or college, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to get it done. Especially because people tell me I can’t do it. It makes me want to do it that much better just to prove people wrong.”

NFL?

That’s what DiLuigi is aiming for after the season.

He plans on working out in hopes of being picked up by an NFL team before the 2012 season.

He knows there are people who are going to bring up the size issue.

But Mendenhall thinks DiLuigi has a shot and could get picked up as a free agent and given the opportunity to try out for an NFL team.

DiLuigi is an internship portfolio being turned in away from a bachelor’s degree in commercial recreation management.

With that degree, he could get into sports marketing or hotel management.

But football is first.

Which brings up another word that’s absent in DiLuigi’s vocabulary — “stop.”

And though his collegiate career will be stopped Dec. 30, he says football will always be in his life.

He has at least one more game to show that can’t and stop don’t exist in his world.

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