Di Luigi Ready for the Mantle

When Harvey Unga announced he would be returning to BYU for his senior season, Cougar fans everywhere were ecstatic. With the core of the Cougar offense being replaced due to attrition, the experience of the running back position would become a vital asset of stability and support while experience in other areas was gained. However, things changed in an instant.

As if losing the school's winningest quarterback (Max Hall) and career receptions leader (Dennis Pitta) weren't enough, Harvey Unga's departure deprived BYU of its all-time leading rusher.

Unga was expected to bring consistency and reliability amid so many changes within the offense. However, the mantle of experience, leadership and stability must now be taken up by someone else.

"I think with me and Bryan Kariya as the two older guys that are trying to fill that leadership role, we're taking some of the younger guys aside and helping them out a little bit," said J.J. Di Luigi. "Also, when we play we're playing aggressive and hard because we know we have an opportunity to get in there and make plays. We just need to do that to show these younger guys how BYU football is played."

Now that Unga has now found a home on the roster of the Chicago Bears, the burden of being a pillar of strength falls upon the shoulders of Di Luigi and Kariya. It's a situation that has fallen on them like a ton of bricks, and they know it.

"I think we see that and any one of us is ready to step in and take on that role, whether it's me or Bryan," Di Luigi said. "It's a little different being the older guy now but still considered old. I just look at it as being like an older brother to these younger guys. I like it though. I like having the trust of the coaches to be a leader and being that guy where other players can look up to me and ask me questions. It helps reassure that what I'm doing is right and helps motivate me as well."

Seeing the he was going to be relied upon more heavily, Di Luigi took the initiative following fall camp to further improve.

"I wanted to make sure that I was better in every way," Di Luigi said. "I just worked on speed and worked on getting lean while maintaining muscle mass. I wanted to further develop my overall speed and quickness by doing agility drills. This is something I worked hard on, and so these first couple of days of fall camp I feel great. I feel really good and I think it's showing on the field."

New players such as Joshua Quezada, A.J. Moore, Algernon Brown and Drew Phillips will eventually become the new-look Cougar backfield. Possessing a wide range of size, speed and ability, these running backs are talented but need some time to develop.

"I think our corps is really strong in terms of ability," Di Luigi said. "We just need to get some of our younger guys like Juice [Quezada] and A.J. Moore up to par [with] more knowledge on how our offense works. The good thing is they're picking it up really quickly. I think we're going to be really deep once we get those guys up to speed. We want to get those guys going as fast as we can, and so us older guys have to really help them with that."

In observing Di Luigi's first several days of fall camp, he's obviously taking on the challenge of replacing Unga. Di Luigi has not only gotten it done between the tackles but through the air as well, and feels BYU's offensive line will help ease some of the burden placed on his shoulders.

"I think we've progressed since the first day," Di Luigi said. "Our offensive line is going to be amazing and they've worked really hard. They really look amazing and they all had worked really hard in the offseason. Even some of them had injuries here and there but they got everything taken care of and so they're all healthy now. We have a lot of experience there too, and they're a pretty unique group on our team right now. They're really help the running backs make a difference and that's a good thing."


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