Perfect Season

Polson two-way star DiGiallonardo overcomes adversity in perfect season

By BILL SPELTZ of the Missoulian

Vince DiGiallonardo has led Polson to the playoffs despite playing with a bad left thumb. His football knowledge has come not only from four years of varsity competition, but more than a decade observing his father, Tom, coach at Red Lodge and later at Polson.

Tom DiGiallonardo realized long ago his youngest son has a rare competitive streak.

“Playing board games like Monopoly he’d inevitably have to go to a timeout,” he recalled, “because he’d take it too seriously.”

Fans of the Polson football team are finding out exactly how competitive Vince DiGiallonardo is this fall. Not only has he led the Pirates to a Northwestern A title and a quarterfinal playoff date as a quarterback/safety/punt returner, he’s done so with a bad left thumb.

He broke it early in a game six weeks ago at Columbia Falls. He didn’t bother to tell anyone at the time and went about his business of playing both ways in a 36-7 win.

He sat out one week and hasn’t looked back since, fighting through unavoidable pain with a cumbersome cast.

“It’s been pretty tough, especially since there were two games where it was raining,” said Vince, who is being recruited by Montana State. “It’s definitely a handicap, but I manage.”

That’s an understatement. Playing quarterback in Polson’s shotgun offense, you do more than merely “manage.” You have to play smart and physical, two trademarks of No. 4, who admires and in some ways emulates NFL quarterback Michael Vick.

“He has that dual threat running out of the shotgun and passing well,” said his coach, Scott Wilson. “I’ve had some really good kids play for me – running backs, quarterbacks – with Vince he could play a lot of positions, and that’s what makes him so special.

“Then the biggest thing I think is he’s a fierce competitor. Every time I think, ‘That’s a really good game,’ he pulls something else out.”

DiGiallonardo’s football smarts are the product of four years of varsity competition and more than a decade of observing. His father coached for nine years at Red Lodge and several more at Polson. As a kid, Vince enjoyed hanging around the big guys.

“When I was at Red Lodge he was at every practice because we were renting a home across the street,” Tom recalled. “He was on the bus for every game and heard hundreds of pre-game speeches and halftime talks. He’s always been a real studier.”

A standout in the classroom where he holds a 3.95 grade point average and hopes to major in pharmacy, Vince credits his dad with giving him a strong foundation of gridiron knowledge.

“We’re always talking football, watching football…,” he related. “He gives me advice on what I did wrong. It’s pretty much 24-hour coaching, and it’s been nice.”

Coaches had enough faith in Vince to award him a starting job at safety as a freshman. He responded with an all-conference year as the Pirates’ most productive defensive back statistically. The past three years he has started at quarterback and safety, twice earning all-state honors.

“He was a very mature kid when he came in, physically and with his lifting,” Wilson said of the senior, who also is involved in track and basketball. “Then he’s football fast. He’s got that football speed in terms of going here to there with acceleration.”

Vince has weathered some less than memorable moments in his football career. His sophomore year he suffered a concussion early in a second-round playoff game and was forced to sit. Last year the Pirates were humbled, 49-14, in a second-round playoff game at Butte Central.

This year he’s managed to adjust to his awkward thumb injury, leading his Class A fourth-ranked team to a perfect 8-0 regular season. But DiGiallonardo will tell you the true measuring stick of the 2011 Pirates will be the playoffs, which start for the team Saturday in Polson against defending champion Miles City.

“We haven’t had much luck in the playoffs lately,” Vince noted. “In the past three years we’ve won one playoff game. That’s always in the back of my head, a playoff jinx.

“I think this year we have the team to put a run together.”

You might say this year has produced a perfect storm for the Pirates, with DiGiallonardo in the center. The defense has been a beast with Vince at safety, allowing just six points. Polson has allowed 52 points total, but 32 of those came in a game against Whitefish that DiGiallonardo missed because of his thumb. The other 14 points were allowed on special teams plays.

Offensively, Polson is averaging a gaudy 42.7 points per contest. Vince has played in six games – he also sat out the regular-season finale against outmanned Browning – and piled up a team-high 528 rushing yards on 67 carries with 16 touchdowns. The senior has also passed for more than 500 yards, completing 24 of 45 attempts with six touchdowns.

“This year’s team is a lot more explosive I think as far as scoring, and our defense has been shutting people down all year,” Vince said. “Then I think it’s good how close we are as a team. We know in the playoffs we’ll face some adversity, but when things go wrong we’ll stick together.”

DiGiallonardo aspires to play college football, and he’s garnered plenty of interest. Many of the Frontier Conference programs are interested and Montana State has contacted him weekly.

“I want to play at the highest level I can,” said the 6-foot, 180-pound spark plug. “For me the game has slowed down quite a bit from my sophomore year, then it’s been just a matter of getting bigger and stronger and throwing. I’ve been able to get the ball where it needs to go better as a senior.”

If the Pirates are to make a playoff run, it’s going to require more than just good quarterbacking. Vince, his dad and Coach Wilson are all in agreement on that.

Tom DiGiallonardo says the Polson defense is the best he’s seen in 12 years. He also likes the array of weapons for the Pirates on the offensive side.

Wilson is equally optimistic heading into the postseason.

“We have a pretty good mix on this team,” he said. “Our senior class is kind of our skilled-area class.

“Then you go to our offensive line and four of five starters are juniors. They’ve done a very good job of mixing together, and Vince makes things happen when the (opposition) stuffs the hole.”

Regardless of whether the Pirates fare well in the playoffs, Vince DiGiallonardo can always look back on his prep career with head held high. He’s done more than score touchdowns and win football games, he’s passed character tests and learned life lessons.

In short, he’s put a mark on Polson football that time cannot wash away.

“He’s a leader by example,” Wilson asserts. “A good kid who does real well in the classroom.

“He’ll say enough to his teammates to keep them going, but most of all he’s a hard worker. That’s the kind of leader he is.”