Up three points in the final moments of a District Three Class 4A quarterfinal football playoff game two weeks ago, eighth-seeded Lampeter-Strasburg drove down the field aiming to punch in one last score to ice the upset at top-seeded York Suburban.
“Coach (John) Manion called three ‘wham rights’ in a row,” Pioneers’ offensive lineman Nick Del Grande said. “That’s a run play to the right side.”
The right side of the L-S offensive line is manned by brothers Mike and Nick Del Grande. Mike, a 6-foot, 215-pound senior, starts at right guard alongside Nick, a 6-4, 210 sophomore at right tackle. And the ‘wham right’ on Nov. 8 called for a double-team from the Del Grandes on the opposing defensive lineman.
“We call it the Del Grande special on the line,” Nick Del Grande said. “We double-teamed this dude three times in a row.”
On the third try, L-S quarterback Conner Nolt ran behind that Del Grande special for a 7-yard score with 4:12 remaining, capping the Pioneers’ eventual 27-18 victory.
L-S (10-3) continued its magical run by coming back from down 20-0 at halftime of last Friday’s district semifinal to win 30-27 at No. 4 seed Bishop McDevitt. The decisive score came with 1:16 left on a 1-yard keeper by Nolt over the right side.
Up next, the Pioneers travel to third-seeded Berks Catholic (8-4) for Friday’s district championship game. L-S will aim to capture the program’s second district title and become just the second team in District Three playoff history to earn district gold as a No. 8 seed since the tournament was expanded to eight or more teams in 2004.
To do so, the Pioneers will likely rely on a ground attack averaging 228 yards a game. The Del Grande brothers will need to put forth an effort that would likely make their father, Stephen, proud.
Stephen Del Grande was never able to see his boys play football. He died in 2007 after a bout with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was 35, and left behind a wife and their three sons ages 3, 5 and 6.
Blending a family
Heather Del Grande was widowed for two years when she received an email in 2009 from Steve Phenegar. The two were connected through a mutual friend.
Phenegar’s wife, Lori, died earlier that year after a long battle with cervical cancer, leaving Steve Phenegar as a widowed father to Hayley, 7, and Tyler, 8.
“I was 37 years old with two kids,” Steve Phenegar said. “And I was struggling. I was just looking for some reference. How do you keep up? No one could relate to what I was going through.”
The email led to a phone call. The phone call led to a date. By the end of the year, Steve and Heather were married, now tasked with melding their families together.
The first few months, the boys said, didn’t go so well.
“I don’t remember fighting or anything like that,” Nick Del Grande said. “It was more so our stepsiblings. They were just totally different people. We were from different areas so we didn’t know how to act with each other.”
To work on the issue, their parents signed up the boys for baseball and Hayley for softball in spring of 2010.
“When we went to games, it gave us a rallying point to support each other,” Steve Phenegar said. “They weren’t at home arguing. Sports gave us the momentum and foundation we needed to blend the family.”
Tyler Phenegar and Anthony Del Grande were L-S football teammates before graduating over the last two years.
Nick and Anthony Del Grande appear to have inherited their biological father’s genes when it comes to size.
“He was a big guy,’’ Mike Del Grande said of his biological father. ‘’He was about 6-2, 6-3, wide frame.”
Meanwhile, Mike Del Grande is a bit undersized for his position but makes up for it in other ways, such as being the only L-S lineman not wearing gloves this season.
“It makes me look tougher.” Mike Del Grande said. “I like the look of bare hands.”
It’s a toughness honed in him from stepfather Steve Phenegar, a 1990 L-S grad and former Pioneers’ lineman.
“He tells us all the time to toughen up,” Mike Del Grande said of his step-father. “If something isn’t going your way, suck it up.”
Steve Phenegar also helped all four boys with in-depth scouting reports of Pioneers’ opponents in recent seasons.
“He gives us height, weight, tendencies, best move, worst move (of the opposing d-linemen),” Mike Del Grande said. “He gives us the whole rundown.”
Faith and football
Inside the blended household, the family relied on their faith to keep them strong. The Bible verse Phillipians 4:13 is found throughout the home.
“Growing up, my mom always took us to church,” Mike Del Grande said. “The main thing she always told us was Phillipians 4:13, which says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ That’s something I think about all the time.”
It’s a faith the Del Grandes tap into warming up before games when they pause to take a knee at the goal line to pray.
“When I pray I always think of my dad,” Mike Del Grande said. “Whenever we do a goal-line prayer before the game, I always say something to him.”
Looking on from the bleachers will be Steve Phenegar, the man who has filled the fatherly role since Stephen Del Grande’s death.
“If I’m referencing him to somebody, I call him dad,” Mike Del Grande said of his stepfather. “But it’s been kind of recent for me that I started doing that. Through high school, I’ve just gotten really comfortable with him. Football helped our relationship a lot. I’ve felt closer with him than I have ever just because of us playing football and that being our main link.”