|DiGati's dominance on Saturdays is a direct result of his preparation the other six days of the week.
Delaware Valley Athletics photo
By Brian Lester
His roster profile picture looks like something straight out of a tough-guy movie. The eye black streams down past both sides of his mouth and his nearly shoulder-length hair peeks out from underneath a bandana. He looks like someone you wouldn’t want to get into a fight with in the parking lot after class.
Push past the image on the surface, though, and you learn Delaware Valley linebacker Nicholas DiGati is one of the good guys of NCAA Division III football.
DiGati starts off a phone interview by talking about how blessed he is to have another week in front of him, to have another opportunity to put on the pads for DelVal.
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He’s the heart and soul of a defense that has allowed only 15 points during an impressive playoff run that has placed the Aggies in a national quarterfinal showdown against Brockport on Saturday afternoon. It’s the program’s first quarterfinal appearance since 2005.
Before diving into the story of DiGati or the story of a 12-0 Aggies team that has won a school record 16 consecutive games and has its sights set on winning a national championship, one question has to be answered.
What’s up with the profile picture?
“That comes from me being a big wrestling fan,” DiGati said with a laugh. “I like everything about it and about the game of football.”
|Middle linebacker or WWE champion?
Delaware Valley Athletics photo
His coach, Duke Greco, who played at Del Val and ended up as one of the top passers in program history, calls DiGati a player from a different era.
“He has that old school mentality,” Greco said. “He’s a great leader, he works hard and he shows up on game day. You don’t find many like him.”
DiGati is undoubtedly unique and his passion for the game has always burned bright. His road to this point, however, is different than most.
DiGati started out at a trade school, the Williamson College of the Trades, but he didn’t play junior college football that first season because he was still recovering from a horrific injury he suffered during an all-star game following his senior high school season.
“I was running down on the kickoff and got cut-blocked,” DiGati said. “I tore up the whole thing. My ACL, my LCL, my PCL, my hamstring. It was the whole deal. I had my whole leg redone.”
He chose to keep pushing forward. After all, his dream as a child was to play college football. He wasn’t going to give up on it.
But playing at a trade school?
“It was a humbling experience,” DiGati said. “The experience helped me grow as a person both on and off the field. It helped me become the person I am today.”
DelVal recruited DiGati out of high school but the timing wasn’t right. The Aggies pursued him again after his two seasons of football at the trade school and the timing was perfect.
“I still had the drive to play after those first two seasons and I was looking for an opportunity,” DiGati said. “I’m thankful DelVal got in touch with me. I’m grateful it all worked out.”
It’s worked out better than he ever imagined. He’s been the leading tackler the last two seasons, racking up 98 tackles this year, and he credits his teammates for putting him in a position to succeed. He finished with 81 in 2016. He’s a dominant player and has earned his teammates’ respect. It’s why he’s a team captain.
“He gives us everything you want and it shows on Saturdays,” said DelVal defensive coordinator Nick Brady, who is a former wide receiver for the Aggies. “What a lot of people don’t see is what he does Sunday through Friday. He’s the first guy to get in the film room and is the one texting me about the other team. He loves film and he loves practice.”
Brady also admires the toughness of DiGati, who has helped the Aggies hold opponents to an average of 8.75 points per game.
“He hasn’t missed one play or one practice. He’s one of the toughest kids around,” Brady said. “He’s an old school type of kid and a downhill type of inside linebacker. More than that, he gives us great leadership and is consistent in what he does.”
Consistency has been a trademark of the Aggies’ defense, which has forced 32 turnovers. The unit hasn’t given up more than 19 points in a game all year and has been even more aggressive and relentless in the postseason, registering seven sacks and forcing 11 turnovers in two games.
“Our guys play with a lot of passion and emotion, and they are intelligent,” Greco said. “We are violent and a fun group to watch. A lot of credit goes to the defensive coaches for putting those guys in the right spots.”
Facing different styles of offenses in the postseason has helped this defense take significant steps forward. This defense is a confident group that is ready for the task of taking on a 12-0 Golden Eagles team.
“The playoffs have been a new challenge for us, and that’s great for our defense,” Greco said. “It’s why it’s important to have guys who love the game and get right to the film. They enjoy the preparation it takes to be successful. That has shown in the first two playoff games.”
DiGati said preparing for a game is like studying for a test.
“You have to go into game day like it’s a test day,” DiGati said. “You have to know what you are doing and be prepared for what you are up against.”
The Aggies have been more than prepared in the playoffs, crushing Western New England 35-0 and rolling over Husson 37-15 last week to move one step closer to the ultimate prize.
When DiGati thinks back to where he started, to a time when he wondered if his knee would ever be the same or if there really would be a life in football after going to a trade school, he almost has no words to describe how far he has come.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” DiGati said. “I know everyone goes through different things in life, and it’s been a blessing to be on this journey. It’s great to be an Aggie and to be in the playoffs. I’m almost speechless.”
DiGati hopes there is still more to come, that Saturday won’t be the last time he puts on a Del Val uniform.
He respects every team left in the playoff field because he understands how difficult it is to be one of eight still standing. He also understands everyone left has the same goal.
“Every team is going for that trophy. We all want to win the national title,” DiGati said. “We just have to take it one day at a time and one game at a time. This is a great time of the year. It’s an awesome feeling and we have a huge opportunity in front of us.”