One more season together, for mom

Posted: September 02, 2012

One famous football family's story can be told through matching tattoos and mohawk haircuts and a tiny jersey with different numbers on the front and back.

The tattoos adorn the opposite shoulders of Shawnee football stars Rob DiOrio and Anthony DiOrio and honor the memory of the mother they refuse to forget.

The tiny jersey with Rob's No. 44 on the front and Anthony's No. 34 on the back is custom-made for the newest member of the family, nine-month-old Dante DiOrio.

The mohawks? Let's just say that there's a good chance all three brothers will be sporting that style when Shawnee takes the field for the season opener Friday night against Kingsway and that the boys' father, also named Rob DiOrio, will be breaking down in tears again and the whole family will be overwhelmed by the moment.

That's because this opener likely will mark the start of the last season that Rob, a senior running back and defensive back, and Anthony, a junior running back and linebacker, will spend together.

It's also the first season since the teenagers persuaded their dad that it was time to get those tattoos, which was right around when little Dante arrived on the scene.

"My family is so excited for this season," said Rob DiOrio, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound bundle of speed, strength, and football smarts. "It's going to be special."

Shawnee coach Tim Gushue said Rob DiOrio is an unquestioned team leader who "does everything for us except sweep the locker-room floor, and he does it all in a first-class way."

Rob DiOrio is a top student who has loaded his senior schedule with Advanced Placement courses. His goal is to play football for an Ivy League school.

Anthony DiOrio, at 5-11 and 205 pounds, is bigger and stronger than his older brother and probably projects to a higher level of college football. He impressed coaches from Purdue and Louisville during a summer showcase tour, Gushue said.

With the DiOrio brothers and a strong senior class that includes accomplished veterans such as linemen Jake Pisarcik and Chris Moran and receivers Jake Dean and Zach McHale, Shawnee looms as one of the favorites in the West Jersey Football League's National Division and a likely contender in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament.

Pennsauken coach Clint Tabb, whose team won the National Division as well as the South Jersey Group 4 title last season, knows what concerns him about rival Shawnee.

"They've got the DiOrio brothers," Tabb said.

Rob DiOrio burst on the Shawnee scene as a sophomore, running for more than 200 yards in his first start. He ran for 755 yards and nine touchdowns last season as a junior.

"You're talking about big things in a small package," Gushue said. "He's got a football IQ that is off the charts. His football demeanor is just what you want from a team leader."

Anthony DiOrio made an impact in that 2010 season, too, becoming the first player in the history of the Shawnee program to start every game as a freshman.

"He earned it," Gushue said. "The veterans didn't even blink an eye. They knew he belonged out there. And every year, he's gotten better and better."

The DiOrios spent some seasons on the same team in the Medford Youth Athletic Association and some seasons on different teams. Their dad says that the boys have been "inseparable" for years, and that football "drew them closer together."

The brothers believe they are especially close because they lost their mother, Carolyn, who died of breast cancer when Rob was seven and Anthony was six.

"I know my brother got way more protective of me after that," Anthony DiOrio said. "It was like he was looking out for me even more."

The older Rob DiOrio said he raised his sons as a single father with lots of help from his close-knit family as well as folks in the neighborhood, the Medford Youth association, and St. Mary's of the Lakes parish.

"My sister [Lisa] lived in the same neighborhood, and so many people embraced us," the older Rob DiOrio said. "I used to get up at 5:30, and my dad [also Rob] would already be here to help out.

"Sports was such a big part of our lives. We always had people who were there for me, there for the boys."

Gushue said the DiOrios are respected in the Shawnee community for their athletic prowess, academic excellence, and leadership skills. He said they are the type of athletes who are "friends with everybody," not just fellow varsity lettermen.

"As proud as I am of them as athletes, I'm more proud of them as young men," the older Rob DiOrio said of his sons.

The younger Rob DiOrio said he'll never forget seeing his dad, one of the originally tough guys of Cherokee football, in tears when the boys walked out of the locker room, holding hands, on their way to their first game together for Shawnee in 2010.

"That's when I knew how much it meant to him," the younger Rob DiOrio said.

The older Rob DiOrio was the first great running back in Cherokee history. He led Cherokee to a combined record of 19-1-1 in his junior and senior seasons - including the program's first undefeated season, at 11-0, in 1981 - and played at the University of Dayton.

"He must have carried the ball 15 times in a row against us on the last drive of the game," said Gushue, who was an assistant at Shawnee when the Renegades played against the older Rob DiOrio's Cherokee team. "We knew it was coming, but we couldn't stop him."

The older Rob DiOrio said his sons started talking about getting tattoos to honor their mother a few years ago.

"I don't have ink," the older Rob DiOrio said. "I've got nothing against it, but it's not something that my family has done. But it was like I was delaying the inevitable. They were going to do it when they turned 18 anyway."

The younger Rob DiOrio got his tattoo on his right shoulder last fall. Anthony DiOrio got his on his left shoulder in the spring. The older Rob DiOrio suggested adding a pink breast-cancer ribbon to the design, which features the name Carolyn.

The family got larger with the arrival of Dante, born to the older Rob and his wife, Amy. Dante's special Shawnee jersey is ready for the first game, and his dad thinks he might be getting a haircut to match his older brothers' look as well.

Anthony DiOrio said the whole family is looking forward to this season. Playing together for the last time, the DiOrios will have those tattoos of their late mother under their shoulder pads, and the rest of their family, including their new little brother, in the stands.

And while there likely will be a sense of something coming to an end this season, there could be a sense of something starting anew, too.

"Their grandfather told me I have to coach 17 more years," Gushue said. "He said I have to coach Dante."


Contact Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports

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