Patrick DiMarco’s bruising blue-collar style of play made him a fan favorite during his playing days at South Carolina from 2007 through 2010. After making his way to the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2011, the fullback has found a home with the Atlanta Falcons and is cementing that reputation with another appreciative fan base.
“Playing fullback is like being a glorified lineman,” DiMarco said. “You touch the ball every once in a while, but for the most part you’re butting heads and clearing paths. You’re doing the dirty work. I took pride in that sort of stuff when I was at South Carolina, and I still do. It’s your job so you want to do it to the best of your ability. I think the fans saw me as a really hard-nosed, tough player – kind of like an old-school player.”
DiMarco is one of many former Gamecocks who played during head coach Steve Spurrier’s previous ten years at South Carolina with plans to return to Columbia for the weekend of the spring game (April 10-12).
“I wanted to play big time football,” DiMarco said of his decision to come to South Carolina. “Growing up in the South, it’s in your blood. You want to play at the highest level in the SEC. South Carolina started making that turn and having success prior to me getting there. It really sparked an interest in me. I thought that I wanted to be there and help change things and put South Carolina on the map.”
Growing up in Florida with parents who were University of Florida alumni, DiMarco grew up cheering for the Gators, but his change of colors and the chance to play for Spurrier created a lot of memories.
“My best memory was probably beating Florida in ‘The Swamp’ to win the SEC East my senior year in 2010,” DiMarco said. “We blew them out and dominated the game. It was one of those pay-back sort of things because they had beat us pretty good down there my sophomore year. To go out and dominate them the way we did and to clinch the SEC East for the first time in school history is something I will probably remember for the rest of my life.”
DiMarco chuckles when recalling how Spurrier would sometimes call him by his uncle’s name, Chris DiMarco, who plays professionally on the PGA Tour.
“Coach Spurrier is quite the character,” DiMarco said. “He called me ‘Chris’ for a while, because he knows my uncle pretty well. My first two years he’d call me ‘Chris’ every once in a while, and then during my junior and senior years, he made sure he said my name right. It was pretty funny. I didn’t dare try to correct him though. Oh no, no, no.”
All kidding aside, DiMarco marveled at Spurrier’s work with the quarterbacks and how the Head Ball Coach could identify something that wasn’t being done properly and step in and make a perfect throw to a receiver as if he was still a twenty year old Heisman candidate.
“He’d yell for a ball boy to throw him a ball, then he’d take his drop and throw a perfect ball right to the receiver,” DiMarco said. “Then he’d look over and say, ‘that’s all you have to do.’ Little stuff like that is what just sticks with you.”
“It’s a childhood dream to play in the NFL. It goes back to playing in the yard with my dad. When I was growing up, I wanted to be Mike Alstott. To fulfill a childhood dream and have my family’s support, and to have my little cousins look up to me is great. Hopefully, I’m a role model to them.”
After earning his degree from South Carolina, DiMarco signed as an undrafted free agent with the San Diego Chargers in 2011. His professional career got off to a rocky start as he broke his foot during his third day of practice with the Chargers before he even put on any pads. He was put on injured reserve and later released. Five months later the Kansas City Chiefs called.
“I was working out back in South Carolina, and I was thinking that this was over before I even had a chance to show what I could do,” DiMarco recalled. “At first, I figured the injury wasn’t going to let me show my talents and abilities, but I kept my faith and stayed strong in my training. Thankfully the Chiefs called my agent.”
After playing in five games with the Chiefs in 2012, he signed with the Atlanta Falcons and has been a mainstay in the offense over the last two years, scoring his first professional touchdown last season in a game at Minnesota.
“It’s a childhood dream to play in the NFL,” DiMarco said. “It goes back to playing in the yard with my dad. When I was growing up, I wanted to be (former Tampa Bay fullback) Mike Alstott. To fulfill a childhood dream and have my family’s support, and to have my little cousins look up to me is great. Hopefully, I’m a role model to them, and they see how hard work and dedication can get you where want to be. I’m coming up on year five in the NFL. The average lifespan of an NFL player is three years, so I’m passed that. Hopefully I can keep playing until my body tells me I can’t play anymore.”
In addition to the physical toll the game can have on the body, DiMarco noted that there is a lot of psychological stress involved with professional football.
“It’s a production based business,” DiMarco said. “Nobody is perfect on the football field, and you’re not going to grade out at 100% every game. It’s like any sport. You’ll have ups and downs, and you have to move on to the next game or the next play and overcome adversity.”
When he’s not playing football, DiMarco finds other outlets to relax. With his uncle on the PGA Tour, DiMarco grew up playing golf and enjoys time on the links as well.
“I haven’t turned the corner and become a good golfer yet, but I’m still enjoying it,” DiMarco said. “I get out as much as I can and enjoy the outdoors.”
With Spurrier known to be an avid golfer, DiMarco wouldn’t mind going head to head with his former coach.
“He still has his undefeated record of beating his past players, and I’d like to go give him a run for his money,” DiMarco said. “Columbia is not too far from Atlanta so maybe we can meet half way, or if he wants to play there so he can have his home course advantage, I’ll make a trip.”
Even if that matchup doesn’t happen on his return trip to Columbia for the spring game, DiMarco is excited to be back in town to meet up with many of his former teammates.
“There’s a lot of guys I haven’t seen in a while,” DiMarco said. “There are so many relationships you have with the guys while you’re playing. To have everyone in the same room and share stories and reminisce on the good college days, it’s something I’m really looking forward to.”