DiLuigi evolves into a strong rusher for Cougar football
Provo • So far, J.J. DiLuigi's work ethic has silenced the doubters who believed he was too small to carry the main load in Brigham Young's ground attack. The shifty back has gained the tough yards between the tackles.
Turning frustration into success was not easy, but he adapted.
As a non-Mormon, the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Catholic from Canyon County, Calif., also overcame his own misgivings and doubts about attending BYU. Not anymore.
"It was difficult for me when I first got here," he said. "It was definitely a culture shock. You just adapt to the environment you're in. You've got to be like a chameleon. But it's been the best decision that I ever made, being here and being with these people and my teammates."
DiLuigi admitted he wouldn't have survived without the support of teammates and coaches. DiLuigi is far from the first non-LDS athlete to attend BYU and succeed.
Yet, many haven't.
"There are some, it is not quite what they hoped it would be," said James Slaughter, assistant director of BYU's Multi-Cultural Student Services Center. "It's not a good fit, but that happens with college students at other schools as well."
Slaughter's job is to outline the expectations, including the honor code, to all non-LDS recruits who visit BYU's campus.
"J.J. has done an excellent job of adapting. Sometimes it doesn't make a difference if you're Mormon or not. This is the age of experimentation and mistakes. Even good Mormon kids who leave home and come to Happy Valley find vices."
Recruited by a handful of schools from the Mountain West Conference, WAC and Pac-10, it was DiLuigi's parents who pushed their son to attend BYU. They loved the school's atmosphere and moral ethic.
"They are the same morals my family tries to have," DiLuigi said. "And the people here were just amazing here; so nice."
For a while, DiLuigi's performance on the football field mirrored his personal doubts. He was afraid to make a mistake.
Following a redshirt year, he carried the ball just 13 times for 45 yards in 11 games. Last year, those numbers improved to 45 carries for 248 yards while playing in every game.
"There were a couple years when you didn't know if he was going to be here," running backs coach Lance Reynolds said. "He was frustrated with the whole thing. You couldn't see how it would work for him."
Eventually, DiLuigi's complaints and frustrations evolved into a stronger work ethic.
"He got to understand the offense and his role in it," Reynolds said.
A more confident DiLuigi evolved as a runner and went into the past offseason determined to step up his physical conditioning program. It paid off for the runner as well as the football program, in a way no one could have foreseen.
Like others, DiLuigi, was stunned by the departure of Harvey Unga, the Cougars' leading rusher, in April. How would the Cougars replace Unga's toughness, as well as his 1,000 yards?
DiLuigi embraced the opportunity presented by Unga's absence because of his honor code violations.
"I was sad to see a friend leave," he said. "But I was also excited for myself. 'Now it's your time, make the most of it. Let's go.' "
DiLuigi, who had already begun preparing himself for a larger role in BYU's offense, with or without Unga, made the most of his chance. He's gained more than 500 yards in six games, including a career-high 134 in a win against San Diego State on Saturday.
"He's done everything he could to make himself into a great player," Reynolds said. "Even if you have great gifts, you've got to bring them into focus so you can use them. He works at it."
DiLuigi has adapted well.
By the numbers
• J.J. DiLuigi gains a career high 134 yards rushing in BYU's defeat of San Diego State last Saturday.
• In six games, DiLuigi is averaging 5.8 yards a carry and 84.7 yards a game, with four touchdowns.
• DiLuigi has 26 receptions for 285 yards, including a long of 48 yards.
BYU (2-4) at TCU (6-0)
P Saturday, 2 p.m.
TV • Versus