WOODBRIDGE – In the Amity weight room on Monday afternoon, Joe DiGello towers over his teammates, lifting more weight than anyone in the room.
The dominating All-Stater player finishes one set and then tacks on more weight. He does curls with fellow captain Sam Sachs and, as the reps increase, DiGello gets stronger.
Wearing a cut-off shirt, the 6-foot-3, 220 pound senior is one of the most intimidating players in the SCC and the state.
At least on the outside.
“He’s just a big teddy bear, realistically,” Sachs said.
DiGello strikes fear in opponents when on the field. But when he is off the field, DiGello mostly keeps to himself and has his headphones in when he walks the hallway and isn’t in class.
“He is really soft inside,” Amity tri-captain Nico Semmonella said. “When me and Joe are hanging out, he’s just a little kid. He’s not the big tough guy you see on the field.”
But when DiGello walks onto the field, he goes from teddy bear to grizzly bear.
“I try and stay calm during the school day, on a game day,” he said. “Then, around 5:30 p.m. when we go out for warmups, I flip the switch.”
When the switch is flipped, DiGello shines.
“His strength, his size, his toughness, his character: A lot of different qualities you need as a player,” Amity coach Craig Bruno said.
After a junior season where he was named a third-team GameTimeCT / New Haven Register All-State Team as a defensive lineman, the senior is doing everything for the Spartans this season.
He is still contributing on defense, on the line and at linebacker. But he has also played fullback, running back and, this year, he even lines up at quarterback.
“I know everyone here wants to win, so if me throwing the football helps these guys get a win, helps me win, helps (coach) win, then I am down for it,” the senior tri-captain said. “It’s just the mindset of that I want it more than you. Just growing up like that.”
The do-it-all senior has rushed for 554 yards and seven touchdowns. He has racked up 125 receiving yards and a score and also has 145 passing yards, while leading the Spartans to a 3-2 record.
“He has a lot of skill,” Bruno said. “He definitely has some ability and also his willingness to listen and adjust to different things on the field. A lot of different qualities that have made him such a good player.”
Defensively he has made 54 tackles, six sacks, two interceptions and have recovered two fumbles, to lead the Spartans’ defense that has allowed 18.6 points per game.
“He is as good (a player) as I have had in a long time,” said Bruno, who coached All-Staters like Marcus and Michael Easley and Mark Harrison while coach at Bunnell a decade ago. “He’s a really, really tough player and a really good kid. He is definitely one of the top football players in the area.
“For me, I’ll rank him No.1 because he does so much for us. He is as important as it could get. We need him all the time.”
DiGello’s willingness play and succeed wherever he is needed stands out to his teammates.
“Seeing someone, who is as effective as him, doing all things that coach Bruno tells him to do… it almost puts a chip on our shoulder,” Sachs said. “Realizing that we’re playing one position, we’re playing two positions… we might as well go balls-to-the-wall all the time because he is doing 10 different things at the same time.”
That mentality encapsulates Bruno’s philosophy as head coach.
Despite being one of the biggest schools in the state, the Spartans haven’t had much success as a football program.
“When he (Bruno) came in, there was a culture of losing,” Sachs said. “There was almost an expectation to lose and that was the first thing he realized needed to change.
“The attitude towards the football program and the way the people in the football program were acting towards one and other and I think he has done an unbelievable job and it has shown in our results so far.”
Before last year’s 5-5 season, the Spartans hadn’t finished a season .500 or better since 2008 (7-4) and they haven’t made the playoffs since 2002.
“Last year, 5-5 for the first time in forever, we lose a heartbreaker to North Haven, it could have been a winning season,” DiGello said. “This year, I think we’re on pace to do what we want to do, which is have a winning season and take it from there.”
With the meat of their schedule coming up, Amity still has work to do to secure that first winning season in 11 years.
“We have to play mistake free, we have to keep blocking, tackling and staying tight in the games,” Bruno said. “We got to stay focused. We have to have stamina to finish out the season. We have a long way to go.”
With games against Lyman Hall (4-1), Hamden (3-2) and North Haven (2-3) in three of their last five games.
But, thanks to DiGello, the Spartans know they have a legitimate chance.
“(I want) to be known as the kid who really stepped up for the community and leave Amity football better than when I found it,” DiGello said.