Super Siblings: Puglianos spark North Medford
One is measured, the other a little more off the cuff.
Together, Ty and AJ Pugliano combine to provide a driving force for the North Medford football team on both sides of the ball.
“There’s no doubt the impact that those two have,” says Black Tornado head coach Nathan Chin of the Pugliano brothers. “From AJ’s perspective, he just brings a ton of energy to everything and is so dynamic. Ty just has that workhorse mentality and dependability. Ty’s that athlete that you know if a play needs to be made, he’s going to make it. He’s shown that time and time again.”
It’s a relationship that works well between the brothers, who feed off each other in different ways in order to get the best out of themselves as well as the North Medford football team each time out.
Ty is a 5-foot-10, 185-pound running back and hybrid linebacker/safety enjoying his senior season with the Black Tornado. He was one of the leading rushers in the Southwest Conference a year ago and ran for 202 yards and three scores in last week’s breakthrough 35-14 win at West Salem. He now has 58 carries for 295 yards through three games.
“Aside from just his pure skill, Ty kind of holds our team together and I think everyone knows that on the team,” says AJ. “He’s just a beacon for us out there.”
AJ stands 6-4 and 220 pounds and is one of the state’s top recruits as a tight end/linebacker for the Class of 2024. The junior standout was one of the conference’s leading receivers as a freshman before an injury cut his sophomore season short.
This year, AJ has pulled in 11 passes for 118 yards and two TDs — both coming in last week’s win — and continued to build on a resume that includes offers from Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State and Arizona and conversations with the likes of Ohio State, Clemson and a couple Big 10 programs.
“AJ’s obviously a big recruit,” says Ty, “but he’s the best supporter and teammate and always worried about everyone else more than himself, whether that be the team or each individual’s recruitment or just how they’re doing. I feel like it’s very humble of him to do that and not really worry about himself as much or talk about his recruitment or things like that.”
Beyond just physical stature, where the two brothers differ the most is in the reliance on their voice.
The 17-year-old Ty relies more on leading by example, and picking and choosing his moments to let his voice be heard so there is more weight to his words.
“I won’t say anything unless it’s positive or I feel like it’s really needed,” says Ty. “But when we need some energy and vocal leadership, I’d say that’s definitely him.”
Anyone who has ever been around the gregarious AJ knows that he’s as chatty and friendly as they come, and can get as fired up as any 16-year-old competitor.
“I like to have fun out there; that’s what I’m there for,” says AJ. “I’m there to give some energy and get hyped and (Ty) likes to keep it cool and calm, so we’re like fire and ice. I’m out there being a little loud and he’s doing the opposite, keeping things calm, so we complement each other well.”
That innate on-field complement — knowing exactly where AJ is going to force a ball-carrier so Ty can make a tackle or how either is going to attack a defense so the other can lend a hand — often turns to off the field compliments between the brothers.
They understand more than anyone how hard the other is working and training for their big moments, and there’s always that brotherly love when one or the other is able to accomplish something on the field.
“We’re just so close and to be on both sides of the ball with him and celebrate with him is incredible,” says Ty, who carries a 4.0 grade-point average (weighted 4.3). “When he scored those touchdowns last week, I was hyped for him. It’s just nice to have him out there, someone you trust so much, and he does a great job blocking for me, too.”
Adds AJ of his older brother: “He’s the guy that I can most depend on because I know his habits and I know what he’s put into it all, and his mentality is never going to falter. It just means a lot to be able to fully depend on him on the field and know that no matter what he’s going to be able to make a play or at least give his all to make a play. Having that full trust in someone goes a long way, especially when it’s a key point like me blocking for him or him pass-protecting for me to get the ball. I know he’s not going to let me down.”
And off the field?
“Off the field he’s my best friend,” says AJ. “He has to drive me everywhere and has to deal with me more than anyone. But when we do get on the field, we complement each other really well. He’s one of the smarter players I know and our dynamic is not as much like brothers but we are best friends, I’d say, and it’s just nice to have that.”
It’s that football I.Q. from Ty that AJ credits for a lot of his success, both on the local and national circuits.
“I’ve been to football camps up and down the West Coast and all the way out to Florida,” says AJ, “and the preparation I want before I go to camp, when I’m like, ‘Hey, what do I need to work on to get ready to go off at this camp,’ I want Ty Pugliano at the field to guard me and tell me what I can work on with my stems coming from a safety. I want him to press me because he’s patient in his press.
“Then I go to camps and say this guy might be more athletic than Ty or more naturally gifted but his fundamentals are easier to pick apart. That’s what it comes down to, Ty’s fundamentals are better than anyone I’ve met so then when I do go to these places, the preparation that Ty gives me and no one else, it all comes out.”
Both will get a chance to put all their abilities to test again Friday night as the Black Tornado (1-2, 1-0 SCFC) plays host to North Salem (3-0 ,1-0) in its home opener after a Week 1 clash with West Linn had to be relocated to Eugene.
Kickoff for Friday’s game is 7 p.m. at Spiegelberg Stadium.
“It’s a big relief to finally be playing at home,” says Ty. “I feel like we found our energy last week and it will even be better now considering we’re at home. It’s just exciting because we’ve had to delay it for three weeks, so that just makes it that much better.”
While it may be better, it’s certainly not going to be easier against a North Salem squad that advanced to the Class 5A state quarterfinals a year ago and returns a few dynamic forces in its own right in quarterback TC Manumaleuna, running back Josiah Davis and sprint champion DeMari Thompson.
In helping North Salem to its first 3-0 start since 2002, however, Davis suffered an ankle injury and one of the state’s leading rushers may not be available Friday.
“It was nice to be able to build that confidence in what we do coming into this week,” says Chin, “but we’re playing a team that has it as well. They’ve got some horses and some athletes in some key spots, so we really have to be able to rock and roll come Friday night.”
Ty, especially, sees last week as a big springboard for himself.
After a couple weeks of what he deemed “hesitant” runs behind an offensive line spearheaded by senior David Fuiava and junior Terrell Kim, last week was a different feeling.
“Last year it kind of worked but I feel like I’ve just been too hesitant at the line,” says Ty, who credits his linemen for all he’s able to accomplish. “This past week when we finally put it together, I just decided that I was going to get 3 or 4 yards before anything else, and I think that really helped me be explosive through the line and also get through the holes quicker, and some of those runs turned into 10, 15 and 20 yards instead of just 3 or 4.”
For AJ, last week was the first in which he truly had a chance to shine. West Linn naturally bracketed its coverage around the star tight end, and a Week 2 loss at Bend was hindered when starting quarterback Caiden Lacey went down to injury in the second quarter.
With Lacey’s return last week, as well as AJ feeling as if he had his legs more under him after missing time this summer with a hamstring injury, everything just blossomed back to where the Tornado knows it can be as an offense.
“I’m just glad that I was able to get the ball into the end zone a few times,” says AJ. “It definitely helped my confidence going back home, and hopefully we can put up even better numbers. West Salem was just the start of what both of us can do, and what we can do as a team.”
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