Brothers Ty and AJ Pugliano provide a powerful punch for the Black Tornado
One is measured, the other a little further from the cuff.
Together, Ty and AJ Pugliano combine to provide a driving force for the North Medford football team on both sides of the ball.
“There’s no question about the impact these two have,” says Black Tornado coach Nathan Chin of the Pugliano brothers. “From AJ’s perspective, he just brings a ton of energy to everything and is so dynamic. Ty has that mentality and credibility. Ty is that athlete that you know if a play needs to be made, he will make it. He has shown it time and time again.”
It’s a relationship that works well between the brothers, who feed off each other in different ways to bring out the best in themselves and the North Medford football team every time.
Ty is a 5-foot-10, 185-pound running back and hybrid linebacker/safety enjoying his senior season with the Black Tornado. He was one of the leading rushers in the Southwest Conference a year ago and ran for 202 yards and three scores in last week’s 35-14 win at West Salem. He now has 58 carries for 295 yards in three games.
“Besides his sheer ability, Ty holds our team together and I think everyone on the team knows that,” says AJ. “It’s just a beacon for us out there.”
At 6-4, 220 pounds, AJ is one of the state’s top tight end/linebacker recruits for the Class of 2024. The junior standout was one of the conference’s top receivers as a freshman before his sophomore season was injured .
This year, AJ caught 11 passes for 118 yards and two TDs — both in last week’s win — and continues to build on a resume that includes offers from Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State and Arizona and talks with the likes of Ohio State, Clemson and a few Big 10 programs.
“AJ is obviously a big recruit,” says Ty, “but he’s the best supporter and teammate and he’s always worried about everyone else more than himself, whether it’s the team or individual recruiting or just how are they doing I feel like it’s very humble of him to do that and not be so concerned about himself or talking about his recruitment or things like that.”
Physical stature aside, where the two brothers differ most is their reliance on voice.
17-year-old Ty relies more on leading by example and picking and choosing his moments to be heard so his words carry more weight.
“I won’t say anything unless it’s positive or I feel it’s really necessary,” says Ty. “But when we need some energy and vocal leadership, I’d say that’s definitely him.”
Anyone who has ever been around the unusual AJ knows that he is as talkative and friendly as he is, and can be as excited as any 16-year-old competitor.
“I like to have fun out there. that’s why I’m there,” AJ says. “I’m there to give some energy and get excited and (Ty) likes to keep it cool and calm, so we’re like fire and ice. I’m out there and I’m a bit loud and he does the opposite, keeping things calm, so we complement each other well.”
That innate on-field complement — knowing exactly where AJ will force a ball carrier so Ty can make a tackle, or how one will attack a defense so the other can lend a hand — is often turned into compliments off the field between the brothers.
They understand more than anyone how hard the other works and trains for their big moments, and there’s always that brotherly love when one or the other is able to achieve something on the field.
“We’re so close and being on both sides of the ball with him and celebrating with him is incredible,” says Ty, who has a 4.0 grade point average (4.3 weighted). “When he scored those touchdowns last week, I was excited for him. It’s just nice to have him out there, someone you trust so much, and he does a great job blocking me as well.”
Adds AJ of his older brother: “He’s the guy I can rely on the most because I know his habits and I know what he’s put into it, and his attitude is never going to break. It just means a lot to be able to completely depend on him on the field and know that no matter what he’s going to be able to make a play or at least give it his all to make a play. Having that complete trust in someone goes a long way, especially when it’s a key point like me blocking for them or pass-protecting to get the ball. I know he’s not going to let me down.”
And off the field?
“Off the court he’s my best friend,” says AJ. “He has to take me everywhere and he has to deal with me more than anyone. But when we get on the court, we complement each other very well. He’s one of the smartest players I know, and our dynamic isn’t very sibling-like, but we’re best friends, I’d say, and it’s just nice to have that.”
This football IQ from Ty is what AJ credits for many of his successes, both on the local and national circuit.
“I’ve been to football camps up and down the West Coast and as far as Florida,” AJ says, “and the preparation I want before I go to camp, when I’m like, ‘Hey, what should I do, I’ve got to work on getting ready to go to this camp,” I want Ty Pugliano on the field guarding me and telling me what I can work with my executives coming from a safety. I want him to push me because he is patient with his press.
“Then I go to camps and say this guy might be more athletic than Ty or more naturally gifted, but his fundamentals are easier to pick out. That’s what it’s about, Ty’s fundamentals are better than anybody I’ve ever met, so when I go to these places, the preparation that Ty gives me and nobody else, it all comes out.”
Both will get a chance to test their full potential again on Friday night as the Black Tornado (1-2, 1-0 SCFC) host North Salem (3-0 ,1-0) in their first game after a week. 1 clash with West Linn had to be moved to Eugene.
Kick-off for Friday’s game is at 7pm at the Spiegelberg Stadium.
“It’s a big relief to finally be playing at home,” says Ty. “I feel like we found our energy last week and it’s going to be even better now considering we’re at home. It’s just exciting because we had to delay it for three weeks, so it just makes it that much better.”
While it might be better, it certainly won’t be any easier against a North Salem team that advanced to the Class 5A state quarterfinals a year ago and returns some powerhouses of its own in quarterback TC Manumaleuna, running back Josiah Davis and sprint champion DeMari Thompson;
Helping North Salem to its first 3-0 start since 2002, however, Davis suffered an ankle injury and one of the state’s leading rushers may not be available Friday.
“It was nice to be able to build that confidence in what we’re doing this week,” Chin says, “but we’re playing a team that has that as well. They’ve got some horses and some athletes in some key spots, so we should really be able to rock and roll on Friday night.”
Ty, especially, sees last week as a big stepping stone for himself.
After a few weeks of what he deemed “hesitant” running backs behind an offensive line led by senior David Fuiava and junior Terrell Kim, last week was a different feeling.
“Last year it kind of worked, but I feel like I was too hesitant at the line,” says Ty, who credits his cast members for everything he can accomplish. “This past week when we finally put it together, I just decided I was going to go 3 or 4 yards before anything else and I think that really helped me be explosive down the line and also get through the holes quicker, and some of runs went 10, 15 and 20 yards instead of just 3 or 4.”
For AJ, last week was the first where he really got a chance to shine. West Linn naturally limited its coverage around the star, and its Week 2 loss at Bend was hampered when starting quarterback Caiden Lacey went down with an injury in the second quarter.
With the return of Lacey last week, and AJ feeling like he had his legs down more from the time he missed this summer with a hamstring injury, it’s all blossomed back into what Tornado knows can be an offense .
“I’m just happy I was able to get the ball in the end zone a few times,” AJ says. “It definitely helped my confidence coming back home and hopefully we can put up even better numbers. West Salem was just the beginning of what the two of us can do and what we can do as a team.”
Have an idea for a story? Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, [email protected] or via Twitter @Kris_Henry
Andy Atkinson/Mail TribuneNorth Medford senior Ty Pugliano, left, and younger brother AJ Pugliano spark the Black Tornado on both sides of the football.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune North Medford’s Ty Pugliano breaks through Sherwood’s defense for a score during the 2021 season.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune North Medford’s AJ Pugliano reaches the end zone after making a catch during a 2021 contest.