DiLuigi Runs with Heart

BYU running back commit J.J. DiLuigi has one more accolade to put on his already long resume. After helping Canyon High School defeat the nation's #1 ranked team in the California state championship game, DiLuigi took home MVP honors. The recognition affrims DiLuigi's position as one of the top players in the country's most populous state.

Prior to 2006, California did not crown a state champion in football. The highest honor went to the 47 sectional champions. Beginning this year, a committee selects teams from the sectional champions to play in a state championship bowl game. J.J. DiLuigi and his Canyon High School team were picked to play against the team ranked by USA Today as the number one program in the nation, De La Salle of Concord, California.

13-0 De La Salle was supposed to make short work of 11-2 Canyon, but DiLuigi and his knew that there was more to rankings and records.

"I wanted to come out there and prove that we were better than them," said J.J DiLuigi. "They were the number one team in the nation. It was an exciting game for us.

"What was great about this last game, was that everyone that was there, like all the FoxSports.net people, all they could talk about was: ‘Oh my gosh, we're all going to be watching the BYU games now You're amazing and we can't wait to watch you at BYU. You made me a fan for BYU now.' They were all saying things like this. BYU is getting a lot of new fans from this."

Despite having already committed to BYU, DiLuigi wanted to make one last statement to all those who doubted he was one of the top running backs in the state of California. He picked the perfect stage to do it too—the California state championship game against the number one ranked team in the country.

"We came out all fired up," said DiLuigi. "In the first half we were able to convert on all of our drives. My line was opening holes for me and I was able to break tackles and was carrying people on my back. I was just running with a lot of heart.

"Their defense was really good. They're all great form tacklers. They really get their hands on you and know how to wrap you up. The one thing they were saying was they couldn't tackle me, and it's kind of crazy because they're supposed to be a great defense able to stop all these great running backs. Someone counted on my runs how many people I juked out and they counted on one run that I juked out eight people that ended up on the ground. I had a forty yard run and I was breaking clean tackles that they should have made. I was breaking tackles and carrying people on my back and getting hit by three more guys and carrying them. This was my last high school game and so I was just running with a lot of heart. I just wanted to prove myself one last time."

Although Canyon High School had success on the ground, the Cowboy passing game struggled a bit.

"In the first half, the balls Ben [Longshore] were throwing balls weren't the best passes but they were getting to us," said DiLuigi. "We were able to make plays with the passes we were getting. In the second half, he kind of came out and we don't really know what was up with him. He threw three interceptions."

Seeing the passing game off the mark, the Canyon coaches went back to what was working.

"It was really hard for us, but we just started running the ball," DiLuigi said. "Everybody else told me that I kind of put the offense on my back and led us to victory. As a senior leader that's just what I kind thought I should do."

Following the game, DiLuigi was named the game's MVP by the DiLuigiWest crew covering the game. One of the commentators was former USC fullback Petros Papadakis, who compared DiLuigi to some very high caliber NFL running backs.

"I was named MVP of the game after the game," DiLuigi said. "During the game, all Papadakis talked about was me during the game. He talked about how I was carrying our team and stuff. He also compared me to LaDainian Tomlinson and Barry Sanders. That was kind of cool. My final stats for the game were 148 yards [rushing] in, I think, under 20 carries. I had one touchdown."

On the season, DiLuigi's stats are very impressive. He has scored over 80 touchdowns in two seasons, and his rushing stats are better than some of the more highly touted running backs in the state of California. One such running back is 6-foot-4, 215-pound Malachi Lewis who has offers from California, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Mississippi and Oregon among others.

"He's the running back from Rio Mesa," DiLuigi said of Lewis. "Malachi Lewis was supposedly one of these big time running backs that had scholarships from all of the Pac-10 schools and Michigan and stuff like that, but against us he had 18 yards on 34 carries. During that game I had almost 200 yards and scored five touchdowns."

Lewis finished his high school career with 1,406 yards rushing on 212 carries averaging 6.63 yards per carry. He scored 23 rushing touchdowns averaging 117.2 rushing yards per game. Lewis also caught eight passes for 242 yards on the season.

DiLuigi led Canyon to a 76-14 victory over Rio Mesa High School. On the season, he had almost 1,000 more rushing yards than Lewis. DiLuigi was also just four touchdowns shy of doubling Lewis' number of touchdowns.

"One the season I had 39 touchdowns for around 2,139 yards rushing," said DiLuigi. "I'm not sure how many carries I had or all purpose yards I had."

Not including the De La Salle game, DiLuigi rushed the ball 245 times for 2,021 yards averaging 8.25 yards per carry and 155.5 rushing yards per game. DiLuigi also had 27 receptions for 371 yards.

After much of the nation saw DiLuigi single-handedly beat the top high school program in the country, many in the California media believe that the he will have all of the top college programs following in BYU's footsteps to recruit him. The DiLuigibroadcast crew, who routinely cover USC and the rest of the Pac-10, told DiLuigi that he would be hearing from the Pac-10 soon. Even a current Pac-10 quarterback told DiLuigi that his school was upset over not pursuing the powerful running back sooner.

"Nate Longshore [quarterback for the Cal Bears] was at the game and he was telling me now his coaches were really upset that they didn't offer me and stuff, and that they're beating their heads over it," said DiLuigi who insists that he is firmly committed to BYU.

There is one Pac-10 school in particular that need not bother to tempt DiLuigi away from his commitment to BYU. In fact, this school played a role in DiLuigi's decision to pick the Cougars.

"I already have UCLA circled on my wall," DiLuigi said of the 2007 BYU schedule that he has pinned up in his room. "My number one goal is getting on the team, getting a spot, and playing UCLA. I hate UCLA and I always have.

According to DiLuigi, the Bruins recruited him early on in the recruiting process, but later told him he did not fit the tailback stereotype.

"I grew up a USC fan and, when the recruiting process actually started UCLA was really heavily recruiting me, and then it came down to scholarships and the guy who was recruiting me, he's their offensive coordinator, said, ‘I wanted you as my tailback but the other coaches said that you lost it to stereotypes pretty much.' I was like, 'Oh, that's great.' They said that I lost the scholarship because they don't think I can play tailback because of stereotypes."

The stereotype DiLuigi is referring to is not the prototypical NFL running back height-weight combination.

"It was not on the issue of height and weight but more about other things," DiLuigi said. "I can not wait to play them. Seriously, that is my number one goal, getting a spot on the team so I can punish UCLA. It worked out in the end because I like BYU ten times better than UCLA."

After the state championship game, DiLuigi reaffirmed his choice of college to the somewhat incredulous DiLuigicommentators.

Said DiLuigi: "I just looked at all the FoxSports.net people and said, ‘You know what, I'm going to BYU. There's nobody changing my mind.' They were all like, ‘Really?' and I was like, ‘Yup, there isn't a team out there that is going to change my mind. I'm going to BYU.' They were all like, ‘Alright, well, we'll be watching you at BYU.' I'm not going anywhere else. It's BYU all the way."

DiLuigi will join his future teammates next summer after his graduation. Prior to that, he will go with his mother and father and many other BYU recruits on an official visit to Provo next month.

"I'll be coming up there on January 12th for my official visit," said DiLuigi. "I guess that weekend there will be guys up there for their official visits and stuff. I'll be up there with them."

BYU coaches have already warned DiLuigi about the dangers of big trees that do not move out of the way of speeding recruits on snowmobiles. In the past, a few BYU recruits have had close encounters of the unpleasant kind with mountain trees.

"I heard the trees don't move for you," laughed DiLuigi. "Coach Reynolds and Coach Lamb both told me that. They said to watch out for the trees because they're everywhere."

DiLuigi has developed a close relationship with both Coach Lance Reynolds and Coach Barry Lamb, who DiLuigi feels are like uncles to him.

"Coach Reynolds is great, and I see him as a mentor and a person that I can look to for advice for the rest of my life," said DiLuigi. "He's going to be family to me. Coach Lamb is going to be the same way, and he's actually the one that has been recruiting me. He's the one that got me [to BYU]. He was my recruiting coach out here, and I just talk to him all the time and is kind of like an uncle. Coach Reynolds and Coach Lamb have both come out to my house for their official visits with my family at my house. We sat and talked with them."

Coach Lamb was even there to watch DiLuigi in his monumental win over De La Salle.

"[Coach Lamb] flew out to my game and after I got changed and everything was done, I walked out to the buses and he was there waiting for me," DiLuigi said. "He just ran up and gave me a big ole hug. I can't wait to get out to BYU. That was one of the first things that went through my mind. I was like, ‘Okay, it was great while it lasted but now I'm off to BYU.' I can't wait to get out there."

With BYU's running back group already consisting of big, fast and talented runners, the BYU coaches are scheming ways for DiLuigi to make the biggest possible contribution to the Cougar offense. There is a possibility that DiLuigi could see time at both tailback and the H receiver positions.

"They want me to play tailback," said DiLuigi. "They said I probably won't get a starting spot but they said that I can work to get a starting spot, and that I'll probably get playing time here and there at tailback. They said I could have a bigger roll playing H receiver my freshman year, so they kind of want me to learn both."

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