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THE RIVALRY: UCLA vs. USC : Strength in Numbers : USC Tackle Boselli Added Bulk and Improved His Play

November 16, 1994|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When you fill up a doorway and look as if you could bench-press a Buick, what do you do when your football coach tells you you're not strong enough?

If you're Don Anthony Boselli Jr., you head straight to the weight room.

"Coach (John) Robinson really didn't need to tell me that," said Tony Boselli, a senior offensive tackle who rises to 6 feet 8 and weighs 320 pounds. "I'd already made up my mind last year I'd be a lot stronger for this season."

He has been highly regarded since his freshman season, but never, coaches, opponents and pro scouts agree, has he been as dominating as he has been this season.

"He'll be the first lineman taken in the draft," predicted Tom Boisture, player personnel director for the New York Giants.

Said Arizona Coach Dick Tomey: "The pro scouts who come to our practices after being at SC's tell me he's the best in the country."

Robinson says Boselli has passed the test of time.

"A defensive player can make two great plays in a game and people can remember that for years--it's like hitting home runs," he said.

"But to be recognized as a great offensive lineman, you need a long stretch of consistently great play over a long period of time, and Tony's done that."

Last January, Robinson and Mike Barry, who coaches the offensive line, discussed motivating Boselli to be an even better player.

Shortly afterward, Robinson saw Boselli in Heritage Hall and called him into his office.

"He told me I was a very good player, but he said he wanted me to be a great player," Boselli said. "He said if I raised my upper-body strength, I could take my game to the next level."

The pass and run blocking of left tackle Boselli and sophomore right tackle Norberto Garrido are credited by Barry for USC's five-game winning streak since a loss to Oregon on Oct. 1.

On the last two Saturdays, Boselli neutralized two respected defensive ends in Trojan victories--Washington State's DeWayne Patterson and Arizona's Tedy Bruschi. Bruschi, who couldn't get past Boselli, eventually went to the other side and had similar luck against Garrido.

"Tony has played well all year--we knew that going in--and he played extremely well against us," said Arizona defensive coordinator Larry Mac Duff. "He's the best offensive tackle we've been up against this year."

Last season, Boselli showed up at summer training camp weighing 295 pounds.

"I wanted more quickness last year, and I had that but I never really felt strong," he said. "Not nearly as strong as I feel now.

"I worked harder in the last off-season than I've ever worked in my life. I lifted a lot with Norberto and he really pushed me--he's the strongest guy on the team.

"So I did the physical stuff I had to do. And I think I did the mental part, just making up my mind that I was going to play harder, that I was going to be a better player."

Boselli also credits a teammate from last year, linebacker-defensive end Willie McGinest, now of the New England Patriots. They collided in every USC scrimmage last season.

"Willie's still the best player I've ever played against," Boselli said. "Working against him every day, that made me a better player and I hope he feels the same about me."

Between weight room sessions last summer, Boselli found time to work on the Coliseum reconstruction project, along with his roommate, quarterback Rob Johnson.

Boselli was sized up early as a world-class mule and he was assigned to hauling lumber.

Not much fun. And for a guy who in a year figures to draw a six-figure salary, it was a look at the real world.

"In football, even in two-a-days, you get long breaks," he said. "And there's an off-season. I was tired after my shift, and I found it hard to work out in the weight room at night. And construction workers work that hard all year long."

According to Barry, hard work was the key to Boselli's improvement.

"One day last winter in the weight room, I challenged him," Barry said. "I said to him, 'You know, you really haven't done anything yet. You made a couple All-American teams. You're sort of a third-place bowl game.' "

Some nerve. This is a 5-11, 48-year-old coach telling a 320-pound 22-year-old--with barbells in his hands--he hadn't amounted to much.

"I took it to heart," Boselli said.

"I wanted very much to be as good a player as I could be. I wanted the same thing they did. Both Robinson and Barry challenged me."

Barry says it worked.

"He's a dominating tackle right now, and from the Oregon State game (Oct. 8) to now, if you charted his performance game to game, it'd be a rising line all the way."

Last season, such a line would have dropped to the floor.

At Arizona, in the fifth game of the season, Boselli went down in the first quarter with a dislocated kneecap. He sat out five games, but some were surprised he didn't sit out the rest of the season. He played in the last three games.

"A guy that size, to come back that quickly from an injury like that, that showed me something about his character," said the Giants' Boisture.

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