The senior tailback-linebacker is one reason the Bulldogs are top-ranked and a threat to win another state championship.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
POLAND -- It started innocently enough.
When Poland High running back Lou DaVanzo was in the eighth grade, he ran for 189 yards and four touchdowns against Struthers -- in the first quarter.
One of his teachers heard about it and called Sports Illustrated. Someone from SI interviewed DaVanzo and he appeared in the magazine's "Faces in the Crowd" feature.
It was a big honor; something he'll never forget. He can't. His friends won't let him.
"They say stuff constantly," DaVanzo said. "We'll be at a spaghetti dinner and I'll get ice in my glass and people will say 'Oh, SI gets more ice in his drink.' Or I'll ask for no nuts on my ice cream and they'll say 'Oh SI don't like nuts on his ice cream.'"
He shook his head and laughed. "I hear about it all the time."
Leader: DaVanzo, a 6-foot-1 inch, 195-pound senior, is the most visible player on one of the most visible teams in Division III. The undefeated Bulldogs are ranked first in this week's Associated Press poll. They won the state championship in 1999 when DaVanzo was a sophomore.
They could do it again this year. Poland already beat last year's Div. III state champion, Canton Central Catholic, 24-14, and the defense has posted shutouts in the Bulldogs' other four games. They're out-scoring opponents by an average score of 28-3.
DaVanzo plays inside linebacker behind one of the best defensive lines in the area. He's averaging more than 100 yards per game at tailback and has scored eight touchdowns.
"He's the rock of our team," Poland coach Paul Hulea said. "When the chips are down, he's the guy our kids look to."
Injured: And he's tough. Maybe too tough. He injured his ankle in the first half of last Friday's 24-0 win over Niles, but kept playing on it and didn't tell his coaches until Sunday.
"It was kinda stupid," he said.
As a result, DaVanzo hasn't practiced this week and his coaches don't think he'll play when the Bulldogs play host Chaney on Saturday. DaVanzo said it feels better and fully expects to play.
"I think it shows what a tough kid he is," Hulea said. "But as a coach, the number one thing is the safety of the athletes. You can't play with a bad ankle."
First start: DaVanzo's first start came in the 10th week of the 1999 season after a senior linebacker got hurt. He's started both ways since last season and has gotten stronger and faster every year he's played, Hulea said.
"Lou does all the little things well," Hulea said. "He's a very good tackler. He's got excellent work habits. A lot of kids are excellent junior high players but they don't reach their potential because they don't want to put in the work. He did."
DaVanzo runs about 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash, benches 295 pounds and carries a 2.8 grade point average. He works out at least an hour and a half every day. He was first team all-league and first team quad-county in 2000 and second team all-league in basketball last year.
Family: He's an athlete in a family of athletes. His great uncle, Frank DaVanzo, played running back for East High, Youngstown State and the Cleveland Browns. Frank played with Hulea's great uncle, Nick Hulea, at YSU. DaVanzo wears number 43 in honor of Frank, who died before DaVanzo had a chance to meet him.
"They tell me I run like him," DaVanzo said. "I never got to see him play but they tell me he was really good."
YSU is recruiting him, and DaVanzo gets letters from Minnesota and Syracuse, among others. The University of Akron called him on Tuesday night. There have been no solid offers so far.
"What people don't realize is that colleges don't always recruit the best players," Hulea said. "They'll recruit a guy with outstanding size or speed, not necessarily someone who was good in high school."
Credits teammates: DaVanzo is quick to credit his teammates for Poland's success, especially the defensive line: seniors Gaby Dibo (6-1, 275), Breen McMahon (5-10, 230), Jason Marchese (6-3, 225) and Brendan Moran (6-0, 215).
"I don't take anything for granted," he said. "The team I play on, the skill I have.
"I'm just thankful for it."