Football’s DiNucci brings off-field swagger to on-field play
Following the Dukes’ Week 1 loss at NC State, redshirt junior quarterback Ben DiNucci gingerly walked into the postgame press conference to speak with media. Rocking a purple JMU polo tucked into a pair of grey joggers with no shoes or socks on, DiNucci prepared to speak with media for the first time as the new starting quarterback.
Discussing his journey to obtaining the starting role, the Dukes’ season opener and how he thought the team performed, the new face of JMU football stood confident and poised with his slicked hair and charismatic smile.
“[It’s] awesome,” DiNucci said. “Last night it hit me like, ‘alright, we play tomorrow.’ So, for me to go out there and kind of prove to my new teammates, my coaches and everyone watching that I can be the next guy up is huge for me.”
There’s something about a well-presented quarterback that enhances his ability on the field. What Fox Sports analyst Colin Cowherd calls “quarterback face,” he says that good-looking quarterbacks carry more confidence, which in turn helps them deal with adversity when things are down and maturely handle success when things are at their best.
“I think Ben is a young man with a lot of confidence,” head coach Mike Houston said. “He carries himself well; he has a little bit of swagger to him.”
For DiNucci, his swagger is at an all-time high on the field. In a first-down run against the Wolfpack, there was an extended stare at the NC State bench. Later in the same drive, after a late hit from an opposing defender, DiNucci shot right up, like he was blasted from a cannon, and amped his team up with a few choice words and hand motions.
“I think any time my teammates can see that, my coaches can see that and take some of that energy from me, I think it’s good,” DiNucci said. “Any time I get in the huddle, I’m upbeat. I think it’s good for the guys around me to see that I’m still going to remain confident no matter what’s going on.”
Later in the quarter, when a touchdown pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Riley Stapleton gave the Dukes an early 7-0 lead on the road, DiNucci looked to the JMU bench and gave a number of arm pumps in celebration. Later in the game, the debut of what Twitter is now calling “the Nooch” — a double finger-gun — from the brazen quarterback electrified JMU nation and sent a unique vibe through the veins of the team.
“It brings a lot of momentum,” graduate student running back Cardon Johnson said. “I think that brings a lot of confidence for us and that confidence gave us the ability to go out there and make plays. You want to play with that edge.”
Albeit a loss on the scoreboard, the shiny new toy was on full-display for fans. Replacing the successful Bryan Schor, DiNucci removed any worries of JMU finding it’s new signal caller.
“For that position, and that kind of setting, with the caliber team that we have, I think that’s an important attribute to have,” Houston said.
A confident quarterback isn’t just comfortable between the hashes: He’s relaxed and personable when talking with others. In the postgame press conference after JMU’s 73-7 win over Robert Morris, DiNucci joked that he “just closed his eyes” on a 17-yard scramble and touchdown run. His wit and ability to easily communicate with strangers shows just how comfortable he is with himself.
Athletes can come off as robots at times, sticking to what sounds like a script when answering questions or dealing with media. When talking with DiNucci, it’s like improv. His ability to connect to others made it an easy transition for him coming to JMU after transferring from Pitt.
“He came in and treated everyone with respect and treated everyone equally,” Johnson said. “I think that helped out when it transitioned from off the field to on the field. It molded well.”
A baseball guy who turned to football in high school, DiNucci has set himself up this year for a legendary career as a Duke. He’s efficient — as seen by his 75.34 completion percentage on 73 pass attempts — and has tremendous dual-threat ability, sharing a lead of the rush offense with senior running back Marcus Marshall at 242 yards.
When he puts his pads on and marches out to the field, DiNucci knows he’s better than you. It’s in his DNA, something instilled since he was young.
“I always believe that I’m the best player on the field,”DiNucci said. “Regardless of who we play, where we play, what time of day, what the weather conditions are.”
DiNucci talks the talk, and backs it up on the field. With No. 6 under center for JMU, the Dukes might have what could turn into the program’s most talented quarterback. What can’t be denied: the fact that they definitely have the most confident one.
Contact Blake Pace at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.