LEWISTON – Ron DiGravio’s transformation from leading rusher to one of the most dependable tacklers for the Bates College football team really isn’t as dramatic as it sounds.

After all, here’s a guy who was a receiver at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington. He moved to quarterback in a run-and-shoot offense and called the signals as a senior when injuries handcuffed everyone else who was suitable for the job.

And football wasn’t even DiGravio’s first priority as a teenager. That’s partly because making it to the National Football League as a 5-foot-10, 190-pound jack-of-all-trades (more like 160 pounds at the time) was a million times less likely than qualifying for the United States Olympic Team as a freestyle skier.

Fate intervened, however.

“I tore the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament, while skiing) in my right knee in December of my freshman year here,” said DiGravio, a junior who will start at outside linebacker when Bates opens the season Saturday at Amherst. “I missed all the summer (ski) training. I competed that next year, but my knee just felt bad.”

Eventually, though, the joint healed enough for DiGravio to revive his football career.

DiGravio skipped the first football season after his graduation at Mt. Blue, hitting the books as an American Cultural Studies major at Bates while focusing on the slopes.

“I always wanted to play college football. Skill-wise, I knew I was a Division III player (at most),” DiGravio explained. “I thought I would take skiing as far as it would go. But I love football. I missed it.”

The versatile DiGravio emerged as a semifinalist for the state’s highest high school football honor, the James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy, by making his mark at many positions on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Bates coach Mark Harriman envisioned the rugged kid from the mountains as an outside linebacker from the beginning.

“He’s a football player. He can do just about anything we ask of him,” Harriman said. “There are certain guys that you know you could even put them on the defensive line and they would make plays. Ron is that type of player.”

DiGravio’s decision to return and willingness to fill a void at running back salvaged Bates’ 2004 season.

With the Bobcats losing their top returning ground gainer to injury in the first half of the season-opener against Trinity and the top reserve unable to move the chains in what was already a lopsided loss, DiGravio was pressed into action.

He rolled up a team-high 51 yards in that game and topped Bates with 471 yards in the eight-game New England Small College Athletic Conference season, reaching the end zone twice. Bates won two games after the ominous start.

“It’s funny, because I didn’t play running back in high school,” DiGravio said. “It was fun for a year, but I came here expecting to play outside linebacker. It’s fun being able to hit people.”

The hits kept coming for DiGravio in his first year as the hunter and not the hunted. DiGravio’s 50 tackles were fourth on the team. He registered one quarterback sack and forced a fumble.

Skiing and football share equal space in DiGravio’s family tree. Ron trained at Carrabassett Valley Academy with the rest of his siblings, and younger brother David recently moved to Park City, Utah, to train full-time with the U.S. Ski Team after winning a World Cup bronze medal last winter.

“(Ron) has incredible leg strength from skiing,” Harriman said. “And he has also has quite a football lineage.”

DiGravio’s late grandfather, also named Ron, was enshrined in the Sports Hall of Fame for his exploits as a quarterback at Purdue University. He played in the Canadian Football League before settling in Massachusetts and coaching high school football for 30 years.

The younger Ron DiGravio is already a ski coach. He plans to teach and coach football when his playing career ends.

Giving up competitive skiing wasn’t the easiest task of DiGravio’s life, but he admitted that the transition is made easier by the opportunity to live vicariously through somebody else.

“I’ll leave it in Dave’s hands,” he said with a smile. “He’s doing a pretty good job.”


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