Angelo Burrelli was as tough as they come.
The New Castle High two-way starter on the offensive and defensive lines showcased his toughness by missing just two quarters of action his senior year despite breaking his arm blocking a punt.
“He played most of the season with it,” said Burrelli’s former Red Hurricane teammate, Bob Bleggi. “He missed a half of a game. That’s all. He played with the pain. He played with his arm in a cast. Back then, you could do that. He was definitely one of the toughest football players I ever played with.”
ENTERING THE HALL
The 79-year-old Neshannock Township 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.
“It’s a great honor,” Burrelli said. “I really appreciate it, but I thought our whole team deserved it. We had a great team and if it wasn’t for my teammates, I probably wouldn’t be here today. They were a big help to me. I enjoyed playing with them.”
Thinking about what he’ll say during his speech has caused many sleepless nights for the 1954 New Castle graduate.
“I was nervous when I first found out,” said Burrelli, who with his wife, Beverly, has four sons, Angelo Jr., John, Mark, Christopher, and seven grandchildren. “I didn’t sleep for a month. I kept changing my stories every night. I’d say my prayers, go to bed and try to rehearse what I was going to say. Then, I’d change it. I’m still changing it.”
As an offensive tackle for coach Phil Bridenbaugh, the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Burrelli was happy doing all the dirty work and blocking for his running backs.
“I didn’t mind,” Burrelli said. “We had a bunch of great running backs. I enjoyed making my block and watching them gain yardage. I thought I completed my job in blocking.”
Bleggi picked up a large part of his yardage running behind Burrelli.
“We ran the single-wing, because we had a pretty big offensive line,” said Bleggi, who coached the Neshannock football team to a 112-72-12 record from 1966-86. “Those guys were all over 205, 210. We used to run a play called ‘Wedge Six.’ Ang was the six man, so we ran the wedge right over him. I don’t think anyone ever stopped it. He cleared the way for me most of the time.”
Burrelli’s biggest joys, though, came on defense.
“I loved it,” he said. “I loved to hit people. On first and second downs, I’d take a couple steps past the line of scrimmage and hold my own. If they were passing team, I’d rush the passer on third down. I thought I was good at what I did.”
Opposing teams often chose to run away from Burrelli.
“If I remember right, people ran the other way,” Bleggi said. “They didn’t do much damage where Ang was. He was a rock. He was immobile as far as the offense couldn’t move him. If he was assigned to a position, he stayed there.”
Burrelli was the co-captain of the 1953 Red Hurricane squad that is considered one of New Castle’s best despite not qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs with a 9-0-1 record.
“Back in those days, it was nothing for us to get 10,000 in the stadium,” he said. “It was filled. It was nice to go out on Friday nights and see the crowd we’d get. It was small college atmosphere. It was nice. We did our best, because all those people paid money to come to see you play.”
FOOL ME ONCE
Burrelli accepted a full scholarship to play football at the University of Kentucky for legendary college football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. He chose the Wildcats over Penn State, Maryland, North Carolina State, Miami, Pittsburgh and Indiana.
Bryant left Kentucky to become Texas A&M’s new coach before Burrelli’s freshman campaign.
“After I was recruited by him, he left and went to Texas A&M,” the New Castle native said. “He asked me if I wanted to come with him. I told him that I had committed to Kentucky, so I was going to stay. He was a gentleman. He was real nice to talk to. He treated you like his son.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t go with him to Texas A&M, because I think I would have graduated from there.”
Not too long after Bryant left Lexington, Burrelli did, as well, ultimately ending up as a two-way starter for Dwight Beede at Youngstown State University.
“A friend of mine didn’t play sports, but went to Youngstown,” said Burrelli, who received all-Ohio laurels after his sophomore campaign. “He called me and asked if I wanted to go for a ride. I said I would. We went for a ride and we ended up at Youngstown University. He told me he needed some books and he took me to the athletic department. Coach Beede, their coach, was there, so I met with him.
“He told me they’d like for me to go there, but they’d already played a game. He told me to go to practice that night. He introduced me to two of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet — Angelo Pezzuolo and Henry Pezzuolo. They’re the ones who convinced me to go there. Henry and I became real close friends.”
END OF THE ROAD
Burrelli’s playing days came to an unexpected end between his sophomore and junior years due a work accident at Youngstown Sheet & Tube.
“I worked part-time as a pusher there,” Burrelli said. “The craneman wanted me to hook up the magnet. I had one foot on the magnet and one foot on the ground. He picked it up and dropped it on my foot. They said if I would have had steel-toed shoes on it would have cut off half my foot.
“I couldn’t walk for a while. They couldn’t stitch it. That ended my football career. I think I would have had a good career had that not happened.”
TOMORROW: Lynn Runyon Padice