By Joe Scalzo
Michigan State’s defensive coordinator grew up on the Stambaugh Stadium sidelines, running around as a ballboy for his father, picking up tees and scraps of tearaway jerseys from running back/linebacker collisions.
“I grew up loving that place,” said Pat Narduzzi, whose team will play the Penguins on Saturday night. “I could sing the fight song for you right now, but I won’t.”
Former Vindicator sports editor Chuck Perazich was famous for saying “There’s always a Youngstown connection.” In the case of Saturday’s game, it seems like there’s 100.
Narduzzi’s father, Bill, was YSU’s head football coach from 1975-1985, going 68-51 with two playoff appearances, including a run to the Division II championship game in 1979.
Pat, an Ursuline High graduate, was a freshman linebacker in his father’s last season, leading the team in tackles with 159. When his father was fired following a 5-6 season in 1985, Pat left for Rhode Island, where he started his final three seasons.
Bill Narduzzi was replaced by Jim Tressel, whose first staff included a defensive coordinator named Jim Bollman (he later served as offensive coordinator and tried to recruit an Ursuline player named Eric Wolford) and a defensive backs coach named Mark Dantonio. Dantonio is now the head coach at MSU, Bollman is the offensive coordinator and Tressel’s nephew, Mike, is the linebackers coach.
Wolford battled Narduzzi on the recruiting trail when Wolford was Illinois’ offensive line coach and when Wolford was hired as YSU’s head coach, he tried to recruit a Hubbard safety named Kurtis Drummond, who ended up at MSU, following in the footsteps of his basketball-playing cousin, Courtney Davidson, who now serves as the director of basketball operations at Youngstown State, where another one of her cousins, RB Demond Hymes, plays for the Penguins. Oh, and one of Hymes’ teammates at Warren Harding, Jalyn Powell, now plays at MSU.
Got all that?
“There’s a lot of ties,” Wolford said.
Dantonio left YSU after the 1990 season but he said Youngstown still has a place in his heart, even taking time during his weekly teleconference to express his sadness over the death of former YSU equipment manager Carmine Cassese.
“I was there for five years with Coach Tressel at a really young age,” Dantonio said. “I think I was 29 years old when I went there, so it brings up thoughts of going 2-9 our first year, then bouncing back the next year for eight wins and going 11-0 in 1990 and sort of building a program and a foundation that would stand for a long period of time.
“It was a special time in my life. I have a lot of good friends from Youngstown. A lot of special people in that city that will be lifetime friends.”
Narduzzi gets back to Youngstown several times a year, either for recruiting or to visit friends and family, and admits Saturday’s game is a personal one for him, in part because he’s never completely past his father’s firing.
But while he’d love nothing better to pitch a shutout on Saturday, he admits the city still has a hold on him.
“I love the city of Youngstown,” he said. “Once you’re a Penguin, you’re always a Penguin.”