Charlie Pontarelli makes most of switch to defense

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Charlie Pontarelli was being groomed to play along the offensive line at Loyola, but Ramblers defensive line coach Beau Desherow had another idea.

“He’s a very intelligent football player,” Desherow said. “I saw a kid who could run really well and he was very physical and kind of played with an edge — a nastiness — about him. I knew that I wanted to coach him on the defensive line.”

Head coach John Holecek was willing to let the Loyola offensive lineman switch over to the defensive side of the ball at the start of the 2012 season due, in part, to the depth the Ramblers had on their offensive line.

“We didn’t need him to start on the offensive line so we thought we could develop him into a good defensive lineman,” Holecek said.

Pontarelli was less sure.

“He was a little bit nervous,” Desherow said. “I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing on defense.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m going to teach you, Charlie. Don’t worry about it. You’re going to be great.’ ”

The senior hasn’t disappointed. He’s played a key role in Loyola’s 8-0 start, even if he did miss the Ramblers’ last two games with a calf strain.

“He eats up blocks and allows our linebackers to flow freely,” Desherow said. “(He’s an) excellent pass rusher which helps our defensive backs in coverage. When he gets pressure on the quarterback, they don’t have to cover as long, so his success has really kind of led the way for the success the defense has had this year.”

Pontarelli is happy he made the switch.

“It’s a lot more fun,” Pontarelli said. “There are actual stats. Offensive line doesn’t have any statistics, I guess. Defensive line, you get to see how many tackles you get. You get to see if you got a sack, a tackle for loss. It’s kind of fun to be able to see that. Plus, the casual football observer can see if you played well or not, where if you’re playing offensive line, you don’t get as much notoriety.”

The switch from offensive lineman to defensive lineman isn’t always a seamless one, according to Desherow, particularly given that he likes his defensive linemen to take a sprinter’s stance, but Pontarelli has improved steadily.

“Playing offensive line helped him a lot,” Desherow said. “It was a huge positive because he really knows what the offense is trying to do. He understands blocking schemes. So if they’re running a trap, he knows, ‘OK, they’re down blocking. They’re trying to influence me up the field so they can come clean me out.’ He knows what they’re trying to do.”

Desherow’s pitch may well have extended Pontarelli’s career.

“If you look at offensive linemen that are going on to the next level, they’re bigger than Charlie,” Desherow said. “If you look at defensive linemen, he’s right there.”

At approximately 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, the defensive lineman has the ability to pack a few more pounds on that frame, according to Desherow. Holecek said he might need to.

“His only limit is his size,” Holecek said. “If you see as good of an athlete that’s 50 to 60 pounds heavier than you, then you’ve got some issues there. His frame is the only thing that’s keeping him from the big, big time.”

For now, his smarts and tenacity will suffice.

“Some kids have that competitiveness,” Holecek said. “They do not want to get beat. They do not want to lose any type of matchup. It’s personal to him.”

As a result of his success on the field, Pontarelli is now being courted by Dartmouth and Holy Cross.

“That’s like his No. 1 and No. 2 schools if football wasn’t an option, so he’s really loving life right now,” Holecek said.

Indeed, Pontarelli is feeling fully blessed.

“I decided that football would be one of the great ways to get into a school that I wouldn’t normally get into,” Pontarelli said. “It doesn’t hurt that I love playing football.”

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