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Mark A. Philbrick
JJ Di Luigi runs for a touchdown during an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011.
Di Luigi said while his buddies have been a great support, his best source of inspiration has been his family, his parents John and Meribeth and his two sisters.

It hasn't been easy being JJ Di Luigi.

His college career is winding down to a handful of games in November and December and he'll be done.

It isn't easy when you pack off for college with a resume like Di Luigi had in high school; high school All-American, MVP of the California Bowl, star of the championship CIF team at Canyon High, Southern Section CIF Player of the Year … the list goes on and on.

He was the Big Man on Campus. A hero. A star.

Then weeks before Di Luigi left home for BYU, he stepped on a newspaper in his driveway and broke his foot.

Yes, those things do happen.

Discouraged over the injury and a chance to prove himself, Di Luigi had a frustrating redshirt year and it carried over to his sophomore year as he played behind Harvey Unga. He wanted to quit and transfer. His coach, Lance Reynolds, talked him out of it not once but twice in two years.

Then he had a great junior year for a struggling seven-win team. And then comes this year. After being practically all of the Cougar offense the first three games, he was relegated to less touches in the next six as BYU's offense morphed into something it wasn't in early August.

No regrets, Di Luigi says today. He's a bigger man for it all.

"It was tough for a little bit, but you have to realize roles are shifting and you have to make do with whatever you get. I take that and make it my mindset. If I get five plays, I've got to make the most of those five plays as I can. I need to break some runs and get some TDs out of them."

Di Luigi says he's really grown up since the early days he left Canyon High as a star lifted on the shoulders of his team.

He once bucked life at BYU, now he'll never forget it.

One of his best friends, tight end Richard Wilson, introduced him to his fiancée whom he proposed to in October and plans to marry in May.

He's forged a bond with teammates Matt Marshall, James Lark, Jordan Pendleton, Riley Nelson and Bryan Kariya.

"I've had a good experience," Di Luigi said. "I've grown a lot and become very close with my teammates. Life is about relationships and you make hundreds of them every year. These relationships I'll live with the rest of my life.

"Some of the best friends I have I've made here, and I can't ask for anything more than that," he said.

"The hardest part of my freshman year was breaking my foot. It kind of broke my spirit a little bit and it led into my sophomore year. It showed in my play. You get over those things and remember who you are, where you came from and you get over it. That is what I had to do and start working hard again."

Di Luigi said while his buddies have been a great support, his best source of inspiration has been his family, his parents John and Meribeth and his two sisters. "They've made it to every home game and almost all the road games. I couldn't ask for a better family."

Attending BYU isn't easy for some. Another state, a different city, a unique culture, a school with a strict honor code is not for everyone.

Di Luigi has advice for those who want to take it on.

"Know what you are getting into. If you are going to commit to it, commit to it fully and try and take away everything you can from the experience. There were a few years here where I didn't do much and then I changed my own attitude and began to love the atmosphere, the lifestyle on and off the football field. It came in my third year here, and it's made a world of difference to me as a human being to see myself grow."

It got really meaningful for Di Luigi when he decided to invest more in the BYU lifestyle and his team when football — the reason he came to Provo — got tough as a team.

"Going from having success in the early years with Max Hall and Harvey, it came easy for us. When I came in here, it was a successful program. Then, when I got my chance as a junior, we won just seven games last year.

"It was a down year, it was really rough on all of us. We changed so much. But because of it, we worked extremely hard in the offseason and when you do that, you become very close to one another, and that's something you definitely want. I have a better relationship with this team, both offense and defense, than I've ever had before. I love my teammates and I'd love to leave with 10 wins as a senior, and it's something you can carry with you forever."

Di Luigi gained almost 1,000 yards rushing last year. He caught 45 passes for 443 yards that season. He entered this season with 16 career touchdowns.

So far this season, Di Luigi has watched Nelson and Michael Alisa take on more of the load in BYU's offense. While he had 12 and 14 rush attempts respectively against Mississippi and Texas, his next games dropped down to an average of about seven carries a game. While Nelson is now BYU's leading rusher with 435 gross yards rushing to Di Luigi's 426, he's OK with it. When needed against TCU, Di Luigi got 11 carries and gained 69 yards.

For the more mature Di Luigi, it all comes out in the wash.

He now just wants BYU to win out — in whatever way it can be done.

"We talk about tradition, spirit and honor, and I think a tradition of 10 wins, well, that would be a great legacy to leave behind as a senior."

Email: dharmon@desnews.com Twitter: harmonWrites