Anthony Vigneri was in the weight room this summer. Often. Lifting extra when he could. And his Omaha Gross teammates were watching.
After a brilliant season that landed him on the Class B all-state team and helped the Cougars to their first Class B football championship, Vigneri is going into this season as the guy to look up to.
“I think he understands that the offseason is important as far as getting your face in front of all the young guys and making sure they understand how hard everyone needs to work on a daily basis for us to remain competitive,” Gross coach Tim Johnk said. “A lot of people see him as that leader by example.”
Just like his work ethic that commands his teammates' attention in practice, his dominance in games commands the attention of opposing teams.
The 6-foot, 185-pound running back has the ability to score whenever he is given the ball. He has the athleticism and speed to burn by opposing defenses, and he's rarely taken down by just one tackler. That led to rushing totals of 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns last year.
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“You better be a very good tackling team, because if you just try to knock him over, it's not going to happen,” Johnk said. “It's a combination of his physical strength and balance that allows him to make those big plays.”
While defenders struggle to bring him down while he has the ball, he has the opposite effect as a linebacker on the powerful Gross defense.
“He's such a great tackler,” Johnk said. “I don't think he missed a tackle all year.”
Vigneri considers the defense to be the hallmark of the team, and it shows. The Cougars allowed a combined 20 points in the final three playoff games of last season, and Vigneri led the team for the season with 112 tackles.
“He's a kid that's just got a great knack for knowing where the football is at,” Johnk said. “He's very similar in terms of that ability to C.J. Zimmerer, who played for us four years ago, who's been a starting fullback for Nebraska. C.J. had that ability, too. He just knew where the ball was going to be.
“Sometimes you just can't teach that.”
While Vigneri admits he isn't the loudest presence, he's ready to do what it takes as a leader to get another title.
“If we all come together like last year, which will be tested in the games to come, I think we can do it,” said Vigneri, who's receiving interest from South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa State and Colorado State, among others. “I think most importantly, guys have stepped up and are working hard in the weight room. We'll just have to see how the season goes.”