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David Updegraff

Offensive lineman often don’t get many accolades and David Updegraff was no exception.

In fact, the 1968 New Castle and 1974 Princeton University graduate says he only saw his name in the newspaper a couple of times despite being a two-year starter for Lindy Lauro’s Red Hurricane.

My name was in the paper once or twice, but it wasn’t too often,” Updegraff said with a chuckle.

Not to matter. Updegraff made his mark nonethless.

ENTERING THE HALL

Updegraff, 63, will enter the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame with 11 others on May 4 at the New Englander.

He moved from New Mexico to Austintown, Ohio,  in 2002 and currently manages a reverse pharmaceutical distributorship in New Castle.

At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Updegraff looked more like a running back than an offensive guard in high school.

Yet, Updegraff managed to start for two years as an undersized guard for the ’Canes.

“I was the smallest of our lineman,” he said. “Our other guard was 5-10 and 175 pounds. I was a guard and we pulled a lot. I went up against guys much bigger than me, but I was able to handle them.”

Being undersized aided the guards in Lauro’s offense.

“We pulled on more than half our plays,” Updegraff said. “We just kept pulling, pulling, pulling. That gave you a head of steam to blocking out tackles and ends. When you pull, you want to look around to cut off any pursuit. You had to stay low and have good technique.”

Former New Castle assistant coach Chuck Cuba said Updegraff was quite coachable.

“He was very easy to teach,” Cuba said. “He was a very intelligent kid. He would go through the repetitions and once he got it down, you didn’t have to remind him too much. David was a hard-working and hard-nosed kid.

“He was consistently seeking to improve himself. We’d stay after practice many times, so I could teach him how to pass block. He wanted to be an excellent football player, which he turned out to be.”

Updegraff and fellow guard Dale Kurtz could hit.

“Kurtz and Updegraff were built about the same,” Cuba said. “They were small, but they were quick. The big thing is they’d hit you. That’s what the game is about. To me, football consists of three things — hitting, blocking and tackling. If you can hit, we’ll teach you the blocking and tackling.”

The ’Canes reached the 1967 WPIAL championship game after outscoring their opponents 396-116. On Thanksgiving Day, Updegraff and his New Castle teammates found a way to beat favored Mount Lebanon 20-14 at Pitt Stadium.

“That was a tough game for me,” Updegraff said. “At the end of the game, I really felt it physically. I never felt like that after any other game. I was physically beat. I was hurting and I was sore.”

Updegraff was representative of that 1967 squad.

“He was an overachiever,” Cuba said. “That was that football team, too. They were not really talented. They’d go to hell for you. They’d tough everything out to get a win. That’s why we won ballgames.”

PLAYING FOR LINDY

Updegraff, whose father “Dutch” played with Lauro, says he had his run-ins with the legendary New Castle coach.

“It was pretty rough,” Updegraff said. “Lindy liked to get in your face a little bit. I didn’t have a lot of trouble with him. He never really got in my face too much. Once or twice, he grabbed my face mask.”

Lauro moved Updegraff into the starting lineup as a junior after benching his entire linebacking corps. In Updegraff’s first start for New Castle, the ’Canes battled future CFL and NFL player Hugh McKinnis and Farrell.

“Lindy was upset with his linebackers,” Updegraff said. “Around the fifth game, he replaced them all with three new ones. My first game was against Farrell and I got to tackle Hugh McKinnis. Farrell also had Adrian Capitol, who was the 100-meter champion the year before. McKinnis was like 235 pounds in high school and I somehow managed to tackle him. He was a big dude. I’m not sure how I got him down, because I didn’t have any support.”

HEADED TO COLLEGE

Cornell and Dartmouth were recruiting Updegraff pretty heavily between his sophomore and juniors years, but when Princeton entered the mix, the discussion was quickly finished.

“I was preferring to go to Cornell, but it was a last-minute decision to go to Princeton,” Updegraff said. “My mother wanted me to go to Princeton, so I went there.”

The Crimson were interested in Updegraff because of his ability to pull.

“I was recruited as a guard,” he said. “In high school, we pulled a lot and Princeton ran a single-wing offense. In the single wing, you pull a lot and I think that’s why I was recruited.”

The undersized Updegraff went up against the varsity’s top players daily in practice for a while before being demoted to the freshman squad.

“My Princeton career was less than spectacular,” he said. “They were trying to trim down the ranks and I eventually became cannon fodder for the varsity. Being cannon fodder isn’t too fun. If you’re the cannon, it’s pretty great.”

A lingering injury eventually forced Updegraff to hang up his cleats before his sophomore season, but has his regrets now.

“I wish I would’ve played,” he said. “If I didn’t make it on the varsity, there was 150-pound football that I could have done. I wish I would have done one or the other, but I didn’t. After the season, a couple kids came up to me and said ‘Nobody hit me as hard as you.’ I felt pretty good about that. People noticed it and complimented me on that.”

THE COACH

After completing graduate school at New Mexico Tech, Updegraff eventually settled down with his wife Joan and started a family that would grow to include sons Eric, Loren and Jon.

By the time Loren and Jon were 10 or 11 years old, the elder Updegraff was coaching their little league baseball teams.

“I was a nosy parent before that,” the grandfather of five admitted. “I got involved basically for my kids. It wasn’t too bad. I was probably a little harder on them than the other kids, but I also tried to listen to them. You don’t want to show favoritism towards them.”

Under his tutelage, 10 teams captured first place finishes and in 1992, he guided Loren’s team to a senior division (14-15) little league state championship. Updegraff’s youngest son Jon won state titles in 1999 and 2000 as a second baseman for the Eldorado Eagles.

 

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