Now that his team has reached the section 2-A football semifinals, Bill Tamburrino, Ramona High’s offensive line coach, said it’s probably safe to let everybody in on a little secret about his not-so-little offensive line.
On paper and a scale, they average 6-feet-3, 236 pounds, but Tamburrino said scales can be misleading.
“From Day 1, all we kept putting in the paper was ‘big'--not many people knew that none of these kids, outside of (right tackle) Brandon Dipietro, even played football last year.”
Or wanted to play this year. Ramona Coach Mel Galli said that of the five offensive lineman, Dipietro may have been the only one with an aggressive bone in his body.
“It was against their nature to work hard and to be aggressive,” Galli said. “It seems like all the big guys work to get along with people their whole lives, and now they have to change personalities on the football field. It takes time to bring these kids out of their shells.”
Fortunately for the Ramona football team, Tamburrino took the time--even though he admits that patience is not his best quality.
“I had to learn what patience is all about this year,” he said.
He also had to learn what coaching an offensive line was all about. Tamburrino, Ramona’a head coach in 1986 and ’87, had worked with receivers or other skill-position players until this year.
“I told them at the beginning of the year that playing the offensive line is the most boring thing in the world,” Tamburrino said. “I said the wide receivers get all the glory, but we get to beat on people all game. All the ballet types cheer for the receivers, but the blue-collar guys--the guys that work for a living--cheer for us.”
Tamburrino’s motivational speeches have not only translated into huge holes for running backs Sarn Salmon, Frank Thomas and Tom Smith--who combined for about 2,000 yards this season--and victories for Ramona’s once dormant football program. They have given Jason Emerick, Adam Klukowski, Mike Murray, Bobby Valentyne and Dipietro some self-respect.
But if not for Galli’s fondness for large people, the five would have never been given an opportunity.
“We’ve encouraged these guys and cultivated them,” Galli said. “We’ve brought in a system where they feel like they can succeed. A big kid can do a lot of things a little guy can’t. You can’t see around them, and it takes longer to get around them.”
At 6-6, 260 pounds, Klukowski may be the biggest obstacle. But he also may have benefited the most from the system of Galli and Tamburrino.
“Adam has got to be the nicest 260-pound kid you’d want to meet,” Tamburrino said. “But Adam did not have very good grades. Now he’s passed the SAT, and he’s got a good chance to get a college scholarship.”
Klukowski said San Diego State, San Jose State and the University of Texas El Paso have shown an interest.
“I wasn’t even going to play this year,” Klukowski said. “But I started getting a few letters, and I went to a lineman’s camp. I wasn’t a very physical person, but I’ve matured a lot.”
Dipietro said Murray, a 6-2, 245-pound junior center, may have been the meekest of the bunch. But that is changing.
“He’s just a real nice guy,” Dipietro said. “But last week (a 20-6 quarterfinal victory over Mission Bay), he surprised everybody when he almost got in a fight. He’s not backing down anymore.”
Valentyne, a 5-11, 190-pound guard, began the year as a nose guard, but an injury forced him to switch positions.
“He wanted to play nose guard so bad, I had to beg him to play offensive line,” Tamburrino said. “But after the first game, he loved it. Now, he said he’ll never go back. He’s like a kamikaze pilot out there.”
Tamburrino said Dipietro (6-2, 230), a first-team All-Avocado League selection this year, is probably the most talented, and also the strangest.
Just before the season, Dipietro had an appendectomy, and he came back before the injury had healed. Later, he collapsed on the field because of a combination of exhaustion and asthma. When Tamburrino called an ambulance, Dipietro told him never to do so again.
A renowned slob, it was only a couple weeks ago that Dipietro’s jersey was washed for the first time.
“He tried to go the whole year without washing his jersey, but we wouldn’t let him,” Tamburrino said.
Galli said Emerick, a 6-6, 255-pound junior guard, probably played his best game of the season in the victory over Mission Bay.
“We felt Jason had an all-league type game,” Galli said.
On second thought, Galli said, everybody played like an all-leaguer.
“We had some unbelievable line surges,” he said. “When you look at the films, you’d see (Mission Bay) guys five and six yards down the field.”
And to think that looking at films used to be the most dreaded part of the linemen’s week.
“It used to be just a rip session,” Klukowski said. “Now it’s fun to see how much we’ve improved each week.”
With 5 being the top grade on Tamburrino’s scale, Ramona linemen are now scoring 3s and 4s instead of 0s and 1s.
“These kids used to be the butt of all jokes, now we kick butts for fun,” Tamburrino said. “These kids have taken some pride in themselves. They have learned a complicated system, and they’ve done something good. Their whole self-image has improved, and with it, Ramona’s football team has improved.”
Has it ever.
Until this season, Ramona had never made the 2-A playoffs. From 1974-1988, the Bulldogs suffered through four winless seasons and had only one winning season, 6-4 in ’88.
This season, the Bulldogs are 8-4 and one victory away from playing for the section title at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. To get there, Ramona must beat an El Camino team it lost to, 23-0, in the fifth game.
Dipietro said Saturday night’s game at Mira Mesa High will be different.
“We were all intimidated a little,” he said. “El Camino was the first good team we’d played, and we weren’t sure of ourselves.”
Now, they are so sure of themselves that they have a name--"The PITBULLS.”
It’s an acronym for something, although Tamburrino can’t really explain what it is. The second-team lineman have joined the name game and are calling themselves “The Rejects.”
“It’s kind of a counter-culture,” Tamburrino said. “Since they can’t grade themselves on the field, they count how many times they run up and down the sidelines during a game. They also repeat names the coaches have called them through out the year.”
Some of The Rejects may eventually start next year, although Tamburrino said they will certainly be pushed by a couple players on the junior varsity line. That includes a 295-pounder and a 305-pounder and is actually bigger on average, at 6-2, 240, than the varsity. (By way of comparison, this year’s line at the University of San Diego averaged 6-1, 237).
Since the playoffs have begun, the junior varsity line has joined the varsity practices. Tamburrino said they look and sound very similar to another group.
“A lot of them are whining and crying about being overworked,” Tamburrino said. “I said to the varsity: ‘Hey guys, do they remind you of anybody?’ ”