Patrick DiMarco sat back in the office of his home in Atlanta and gave his best Steve Spurrier impersonation.
He spoke about the evolution of the position, fullback/tight end, he has played in the NFL for nine seasons. He spoke about his favorite memories playing for South Carolina, including upset wins over Alabama and Georgia. In a recent chat with Spurs & Feathers, the Gamecock alumnus reflected on his football career, including playing for Spurrier, blocking for Marcus Lattimore and what his time at South Carolina has meant to his pro career.
DiMarco (2007-10) played fullback and tight end for the Gamecocks. He had 38 receptions for 302 yards and six touchdowns in four seasons. He went undrafted and had a brief stint with the San Diego Chargers (2011) before playing for the Kansas City Chiefs (2012), Atlanta Falcons (2013-16) and Buffalo Bills (2017-present).
In four of his eight NFL seasons DiMarco has blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher. He has 52 catches for 44 yards and four touchdowns. In 2015 DiMarco was named a Pro Bowl selection, a second-team All Pro and was the Falcons’ Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominee. The NFL veteran, whose wife Kirstin (Oates) DiMarco graduated South Carolina in 2012, said he hopes his path one day takes him back to Columbia.
As DiMarco takes care of his wife and two young children during the coronavirus outbreak and prepares for his 10th NFL season, he reflected on his time at South Carolina.
“My heart is still with the university and I still follow very closely,” he said. “I’m just thankful. South Carolina gave me the opportunity to play ball at the highest level and compete at the highest level. And I got a first-class education. I met my wife and developed relationships that will last forever.
“It was an incredible four years I had there and I’m grateful for it.”
Here are excerpts from our chat with DiMarco. For the full version of the Q&A, see the June issue of Spurs & Feathers magazine.
What have you been doing to stay fit?
“I haven’t been to a gym, that’s one thing. We kind of have an in-home gym in the basement where I have a Peloton bike. I have some kettle bells, some dumbbells, a bunch of [resistance] bands. I also have like a 100-yard field right up the road that I’ve been running probably twice a week. That’s for more my conditioning, power days. And I’ll hop on the Peloton bike once or twice a week. You can only do so many pushups. I’ve been using the weights a bit to try to maintain the mass and strength. That’s probably the toughest thing for me at this point in my career is, I don’t want to work too hard, because my body is pretty beat up as it is, playing for nine years. But I have to keep the mass on so I can continue to do it.”
Do you think you’d be ready for an NFL training camp? How does your training regimen now compare to a normal offseason and how does that correlate to how ready you are?
“We’re having seven-eight week virtual offseason programs. So the playbook stuff will all be up to par. It’ll be more on the field doing the physical stuff that we’re going to have to play catchup with. But we have a really good infrastructure here in Buffalo. We have a really good group of guys. So we’re pretty lucky and blessed that we’re ahead of this thing. We rely on our player leadership a good bit to develop the program. I don’t think, other than being in a weight room and being able to lift heavy weights, I think we’re pretty much going to be on par.”
As someone who grew up in the Orlando area, how did you get to South Carolina?
“Honestly, South Carolina was my only really big offer. I had a lot of interest in other non-SEC, non-ACC schools. But my parents both went to Florida, my mom’s parents live in Gainesville, I went to three or four Gator games a year growing up and I always dreamed of being a Florida Gator. That was my lifelong dream. [Former Florida head coach] Urban Meyer recruited me a little bit more toward the tail end of my senior year because I had such an incredible year. The second round of the playoffs, he was at our game, and I threw a touchdown, caught a touchdown and had like four sacks. My phone rang the next day and it was Urban Meyer and [Florida assistant coach] Charlie Strong. I was like, ‘Oh, you’re a little late to the party guys.’ And they asked if I wanted to be a preferred walk-on.
“Honestly, if I didn’t go to Florida, I wanted to play for the guy that I saw kind of build the Florida program, and that was Steve Spurrier. I’m lucky and blessed that my uncle [PGA golfer Chris DiMarco] has a relationship with him. My uncle played golf at Florida, and coach Spurrier, there’s two things he knows, and that’s golf and football. But I was a two-star prospect coming out, and South Carolina started looking at me my sophomore year. I did a showcase in Columbia and the offensive line coach that was there was responsible for recruiting the Orlando area. So he came down for a couple of visits. I wanted to play big-time ball. That was my dream. I lived in The Swamp, essentially, growing up, and wanted to play against those teams. I wanted to play and prove I was good enough. For being a two-star prospect to playing in every game from the day I stepped on campus, that was pretty cool.”
Your freshman year you guys beat No. 11 Georgia in Athens and No. 8 Kentucky at Williams-Brice. What do you remember from those experiences?
“I do remember our running back, Cory Boyd, breaking one of their safety’s ankles and running for a touchdown at Georgia. That was pretty good. And I remember Jasper Brinkley at the very end of the game picking off a pass to seal it. That was kind of my welcome to college football.
“OK, between the hedges, we’re here, it’s thumping, it’s loud, it’s crazy, and I played a decent bit. I think I played a couple snaps on offense. I was more the receiving fullback. I was behind Lanard Stafford my first year, and he taught me a bunch. ... And then we played Kentucky, and they had Andre Woodson at quarterback. It was a Thursday night. I remember it being Thursday Night Football. And I scored my first college touchdown that night. I ran kind of a corner route out of the backfield and juked one of the linebackers and Chris Smelley threw me a great ball and I went up and made the play. It was pretty electric inside Williams-Brice Stadium.”
Then, of course, knocking off No. 1 Alabama 35-21 your senior. What do you remember about that day in Columbia?
“I have chills just hearing you ask that question. It was so cool. We always used to go to the movies before every game, home and away. They’d rent out a movie theater and give us two options to watch. My senior year we stopped doing that. I think it was more for a health standpoint, because guys were eating popcorn and candy. So we cut back on that and started doing a movie at the team hotel. And coach Spurrier was on a Secretariat kick that year. Literally it was the only movie shown the first nine or ten weeks. He was like, ‘We keep winning, we’re going to watch it again.’ He would steal little quotes from it and give them in his pregame speech.
“And then I remember walking off the bus for our Gamecock Walk — it was much smaller then than it is now — and I remember giving my mom a hug. It was when that song with the lyric ‘Tonight’s going to be a good night’ was out, and my mom whispered that in my ear during our hug during the Gamecock Walk. And I remember giving her a hug and kiss and shook my head and thought, ‘She’s on to something here.’ Sure enough, [Quarterback Stephen] Garcia played an incredible game, [receiver] Alshon [Jeffrey] played an awesome game and [running back] Marcus [Lattimore] played an awesome game. Our defense played incredible, and it was quite an awesome upset. And I’ll tell you what, Columbia was rocking that night. ... I had some friends who lived in the Lofts right behind the stadium, right behind the Cockabooses, and we went and hung out there after the game. It was crazy over there.”
You only overlapped for one year, but what was it like blocking for Marcus?
“He was a special player, man. He was one of a kind. He kind of helped spark my career, honestly. I was a senior and he was a freshman, but the way that he just understood the game and the way that he kind of attacked every day, truly was incredible. He pushed me and he probably didn’t realize he pushed me, because he was a freshman and I was a senior captain. But the way that he played made me want to play better. We developed a relationship really quick. Me and Marcus just had an immediate feel. He rushed for like 180 yards against Georgia and it was like, ‘OK, there’s a reason this dude was a 5-star.’
“He just had a second sense of being able to — and I see it a lot in today’s NFL backs — being able to feel the initial line of scrimmage but also read the linebackers and safeties at the same time. It was a special skill. Not many guys in the NFL have it, where they can trust what’s going on in front of them and set everything up on the second level. And he did it to a T. He wasn’t the fastest guy and he wasn’t the most elusive guy, but he just had that understanding of the game. And he had such good balance and such good leg drives. I hate that he got hurt, because he’d still be special to watch in the NFL.”
How did being at South Carolina affect you as a man and as a person off the field?
“It was huge for me. Coming from a standpoint of growing up in Orlando, it’s the south but it’s not really the south. Going to Columbia, it’s just southern hospitality at its finest. Such genuine, nice people. If I was walking around with my shoes untied in a mall in Columbia, someone would stop me and say, ‘Excuse me Sir, your shoe is untied.’ In Orlando, one of my buddies is going to try to step on my shoelace and trip me.
“From a standpoint of southern hospitality and learning how sweet people are, our Fellowship of Christian Athletes program and the chaplains who shaped my spiritual growth, and then the educational standpoint, I got a double major in marketing and management from the business school. It was just a huge head start in life. I feel like, when I got to the NFL, I understood how to be a pro, even as a young guy, because the regimen that coach Spurrier had and the standards that we had at South Carolina. From how demanding schoolwork was in the business school and also being able to play at a high level on the field, it was challenging. But at the end of the day it was extremely rewarding.”
How important are off-the-field causes for you and what was it like to be nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award?
“Up in Buffalo, I’m on the social justice committee. I think that was implemented three years ago when all the national anthem stuff was going on. It was league-wide where they implemented a matching donation program, per ball club. It was me and a handful of other guys who were on the committee. We actually had a Zoom call yesterday to kind of allocate where the money is going to go. We actually had over $250,000 to give out to local charities in the Buffalo area. It’s just incredible. But my heart is towards children. And it’s towards putting youth in a better place than they are now, whether that be from an educational standpoint, whether that be from youth sports. That’s kind of where my heart is. And we live in Atlanta in the offseason, so we spend a lot of time with charities here.
“Honestly, probably the best accolade I’ve had in my career is being the Walter Payton Man of the Year [nominee from] the Atlanta Falcons. I remember preparing for the speech and I was taken aback. I was like, ‘Wow, this is such an incredible award.’ My wife was a marketing major at South Carolina, and her passion has always been in non-profits. We still do a lot with the Children’s Heath Care of Atlanta. Me and my wife actually volunteer up there two to three times a year. And we’ve been donating meals every week or every other week to the nurses and the staffs that are working at the hospitals during COVID right now. And we also support the Atlanta Mission, which is a men’s and women’s shelter with kids, that we work with pretty closely. We actually donated some money recently to help their employees during COVID. I know I have an incredible platform, playing nine or ten years in the NFL. It’s a lot more than I ever dreamed of doing and it’s been super fulfilling, and it’s a duty when you’re given such an incredible opportunity. You’ve got to pay it forward and you’ve got to pay it back.”
What do you think about the evolution of the fullback position? Many teams don’t even have a full-time player at the position you’ve managed to make a career out of playing.
“It’s definitely a different role. When I got to South Carolina, my first two years there, we were more pro style, with an I-formation and two backs. Running power, running lead. And then [offensive assistant] Shawn Elliot and [offensive line coach] Eric Wolford came in and we started running zone scheme. It started becoming more shotgun. And that’s when, my senior year, I played tight end.
“Coach Spurrier, during spring ball, was like, ‘Hey D-Mark, you’re pretty smart. Do you you think you can learn tight end and play it for us this year?’ So I played a lot of tight end my senior year and some fullback. And honestly that was one of the best things to happen to my career, because I learned a whole new position and learned another dynamic of the game. Even at the NFL level, we’ve had tight ends get hurt in games and I’ve been able to step in for a bit. I just think, having a true fullback, and I even talk about this with Sean McDermott, our head coach in Buffalo, it just brings such a different dynamic to the game. It’s, ‘Hey, we’re going to run it and you know we’re going to run it.’ But defenses don’t see many fullbacks, so it gives them something else they have to prepare for. ... Fullbacks have to be versatile and find their niche. Thankfully I was able to do that via special teams and offense. You can’t just play fullback in the NFL. You have to be able to blend and find your own role.”
What do you think of South Carolina playing with a fullback more often now with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo? Do you know anything about Gamecock fullback Adam Prentice?
“I don’t know about Adam; I’ll have to look him up. But I’m still pretty close with [assistant director of player personnel] Logan Hall. His wife is actually one of my wife’s sorority sisters, so my wife was in her wedding. I actually went and played golf with him a couple of months ago and I was like, ‘Dude, when are you guys going to start playing with a fullback? You know, I’m tired of watching all this spread and throwing the ball everywhere.’ And he was telling me that Bobo had this kid coming from Colorado State and he was looking to implement the fullback position again, so I got excited. I think I got too exited and pulled my drive 40 yards left on the next hole. I couldn’t find that ball.”
For more on Patrick DiMarco, subscribe to Spurs & Feathers and see our June issue.