Bob Perrotta knew who to make happy.
The diminutive 1978 New Castle High and 1982 Geneva College graduate’s infectious personality made him extremely popular with his teammates, including the offensive linemen.
“He was one of the best teammates you could have,” former New Castle lineman Andy Tommelleo said. “He was the life of the team. He brought an excitement to the huddle and to the game. We loved watching Bobby play and we loved watching him run.
“We wanted Bob to succeed. We obviously wanted to win first. We knew if we did our jobs that Bob would make the most out of it. Even if we failed in our abilities, Bob would make a positive gain out of it.”
With his line backing him, the former running back finished his high school career second in New Castle annals in career rushing yards and is currently sixth.
“It was the norm,” Perrotta humbly admitted. “I don’t think it wasn’t any more than anyone else would have gotten. So many great running backs have come after me and picked up a ton of yards. Records are made to be broken.”
ENTERING THE HALL
The 54-year-old New Castle resident will join 11 other inductees on May 4 when they enter the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame. The ceremony will be held at the New Englander.
“When you see some of the people that have been inducted and even this year’s group, it’s very humbling,” said Perrotta, who with his wife of 33 years, Rosanne, has eight children and two grandchildren. “I don’t know if I deserve this. My initial reaction was how did this happen? I didn’t know the process. I had no clue what the process entailed. A very good friend of mine, Andy Tommelleo, was inducted last year and he told me a little bit about it. I’m very appreciative of the honor.”
There’s no doubt in Tommelleo’s mind that Perrotta deserved a spot in the county’s hall of fame.
“I’ve been hoping for this for many years,” Tommelleo said. “I would have thought Bob Perrotta would have been in there a long time ago. Bob was a multi-sport athlete and he did that in college as well. That’s a testament to his athletic ability. He wasn’t a big back, but he made the most out of what he had.
“I couldn’t be happier for Bob and his whole family. As great of an athlete as he was, he’s an even better father, husband and friend.”
Despite his small stature — 5-foot-6, 155 as a college freshman — Perrotta was hard to bring down.
“If we were still playing, I’d be still trying to tackle him and probably couldn’t,” Tommelleo said. “Bob was such a deceptive runner. He was difficult to find let alone catch. That was one of the challenges of playing against Bobby.”
Perrotta popped right back up no matter how hard he was hit, which endeared him to his teammates.
“He was resilient,” Tommelleo said. “He’d get hit, but he’d get right up and be ready for the next play.”
Those big hits were few and far between.
“Bobby had great vision,” Tommelleo said. “Because of his size, he could disappear behind the line and you didn’t know where he was going to come out. He knew where to find a hole and he knew how to get through that hole. He was always moving forward. He was such a cunning runner. His quickness and vision made him an outstanding runner.”
Like any good running back, Perrotta was quick to credit his offensive line of Chester Kirkwood, Nick Hammond, Bill Runyon, Andy Tommelleo, Clyde Tommelleo and fullback Joe Frengel.
“With the line we had, I could lay down and get five yards,” Perrotta said. “We had a great offensive line. With them blocking for you, you were going to get five or six yards a carry.”
The fifth-grade teacher at George Washington Intermediate School had no intention of furthering his academic and athletic careers until a family friend interceded.
“I wasn’t planning on going to college,” he said. “Andy Tommelleo’s brother Tom was playing at Geneva asked me to come down for a visit. A couple of us went down. We ate well and he took us to a party. We thought this is pretty good, so we went there.”
By the time he stepped off the field for the final time in 1981, Perrotta held the school records for career rushing, single-season rushing, single-game rushing, points scored, career touchdowns and punt return yards.
He remains fifth all-time in scoring and sixth in all-purpose yards.
“I was able to just step in and I was blessed to start there for four years,” Perrotta said. “We ran a lot of sprint draw and a lot of option. We had a good line and great coaches. It just made it easy for me.”
Perrotta eventually made his way back to the diamond for the Golden Tornadoes.
“I didn’t play baseball my freshman and sophomore years, because I didn’t know you could do both,” he said. “Carmen Nocera got me to play. I wish I could have played it longer. It was so much easier. You didn’t get beat up as much even though I was a catcher.”
Perrotta was quick to credit his coaches over the years for turning him into the two-sport athlete he became.
In baseball, Perrotta learned how to be a catcher from his dad and Tom “Bear” Mangino, while Ralph Tommelleo, Larry Pugh and Lindy Lauro were influential in his grid career.
“I’ve been blessed with having great coaches,” Perrotta said. “You did what they told you. They obviously taught you the right things, because we were always successful. My dad was a catcher and he had all the equipment, so he taught me how to catch. I thought it was pretty cool to do what my dad did.
“Ralph Tommelleo was my coach in Pop Warner. I just loved Larry Pugh for his toughness and compassion. He had this ability to motivate you. He was unbelievable. Lindy was at the height of his career. He was a god.”
TOMORROW: Katy Killmer DeMedal