Di Luigi is ‘The Man' again

High school careers don't get much better than the one BYU running back J.J. Di Luigi enjoyed. In starring for Canyon High School, he simply led his team to the California state title while being named the state MVP for his division. He did it all in high school, but has had to wait for his turn at BYU.

Rushing for 1,870 yards and 37 touchdowns attests to J.J. Di Luigi's tremendous production in high school, and that was his junior season. His senior year saw him account for an astounding 43 touchdowns, which set a record for the very competitive Foothill League in Southern California where he played.

BYU noticed early and quickly offered Di Luigi a scholarship. Expectations were high for him, but he soon found that college wasn't exactly like high school.

"I really did think I'd step in and do here at BYU what I did in high school," he recalled. "College isn't like high school and I learned that pretty quickly. It wasn't easy and I had a lot of low times my first couple of years with the adjustments, but I just learned to buy into this program and I've really benefited because of it."

Di Luigi was raring to go upon his arrival at BYU, thinking he'd become the Cougars' primary back within a matter of weeks. Unfortunately for him, he had two things going against him.

The first thing was a nagging foot injury that he sustained in a freak accident when he stepped on a newspaper while back home in California. He underwent some arduous rehab to get it healed in time for his true freshman season, only to have it aggravated just weeks into his first fall practice.

"That was really rough having that foot, really tough," he said. "But because of that and some other things, I had to redshirt that first year, which is something I really didn't want to do. I wanted to play and it was a real adjustment for me."

The second thing that went against Di Luigi was the fact that he entered the program in 2007, which was the year when BYU's eventual all-time leading back Harvey Unga took off and established himself as BYU's every-down back. Unga quickly snapped away the role Di Luigi saw himself filling, which added to the difficulty.

"I just wasn't used to waiting or playing behind anyone," Di Luigi said. "Fortunately, I could see that Harvey was just really good and deserved it, so that probably made it easier seeing that he was one of the best backs in the country."

Unga obviously ran strong and hard during that season and the next two seasons, while Di Luigi patiently awaited his turn. It was a setback to him initially, but after a lot of talks with some very helpful influences, Di Luigi found himself really buying into the program and his role.

"Harvey helped me out a ton," he said. "He was so good at encouraging me and working with me. He was certainly one of the biggest reasons I stuck with it, because I felt like quitting tons of times over my first two years. My family really helped me out too and obviously Coach Reynolds."

While Di Luigi struggling to be convinced of the program and his role at BYU during his first two years, he took off during his third year. Coach Reynolds noticed around that time an increased dedication.

"He just had a lot of setbacks when he first got here and it took him time to really buy into what we do," noted Reynolds. "Once he did that, he really started playing well. He's been very dedicated, very focused and works as hard as any player I've coached. He just decided to buckle down, learn the offense, learn his role, and you're seeing how that has paid off for him."

Due to his increased focus and play in 2009, Di Luigi was fully ready to take on the role as BYU's primary back this year. According to Reynolds, it's not a surprise to him how well he's fared with that lead role.

"He does a lot of things well and a few things better than Harvey did," Reynolds assessed. "He has great feet, playmaking feet. He sees the hole, he has a great feel on where to go and where to break it. He's obviously not as strong as Harvey, where Harvey would be able to break tackle after tackle, but J.J. has the shakes in the open field and through the hole that Harvey didn't."

Through six games this year Di Luigi has rushed for 522 yards with an average of 5.8 yards per rush, and is the team's leading receiver with 26 receptions. In short, he's doing a lot of what he did while at Canyon High School.

"It's the role I've wanted and thought I would have my first year," Di Luigi said about his primary playmaking role this year within the offense. "It took three years, but that's probably the difference between college and high school. It's obviously a lot more competitive, but you learn to just put your head down and be patient. You learn to trust in your hard working paying off, and it has."

While Di Luigi has moved on to an Unga-like role, he's noticing a lot of players currently in the program that are going through what he did during his first couple of years. Like Unga did with him, he's taking a mentor role with them.

"Drew Phillips is probably the guy I talk to most with him coming from out of state and not being Mormon," he said. "Drew is a great guy and like me, he's redshirting his first year, but I do think he's doing better with it than I did. He's going to be really good here, but like me, he's having to wait, but I think he'll be fine with it."

So what is the piece of information he's working to impart on Phillips and others as they wait to emulate the roles they had in high school?

"You just tell these guys to buy into the program, that's the big thing," Di Luigi explained. "This is a great place and I regard my decision to come here as the best decision I've ever made. It took a while to realize that and if I didn't fully buy into what the program is, I never would have been able to realize how great of a decision it was. That's what I try to tell these young guys like Drew and like Ross [Apo]. Like I said, I think they're doing better with it than I did. Players just need to realize that the coaches here, the program and everything about BYU, that if they fully buy into it, they'll do amazing things."

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