This tale has a familial feel to it

Among the hazards of being in the storytelling business is the inevitable feeling that you’re telling one that you’ve told before.

But this time, it’s more than a feeling.

When he came to study and play football at Whitworth University, Emilio Sulpizio wasn’t necessarily planning to work off the decade-old blueprint left behind by his older brother Scott. Even if they were intentional, the similarities would still be a little eerie.

It was 10 years ago this week that Scott Sulpizio’s tale was outlined in this space. Four-year starter at center for the Pirates, after a redshirt season. Delayed taking a one-credit independent study class so he could return and play his final season. Brainy 3.9 student in biology, bound for grad school. Owner of a dazzling 1937 Chevy pickup, a tag-team restoration with his father.

And Emilio?

Well, he’s his own man, to be sure. But he, too, has started at center for four seasons – after redshirting his first year. He, too, saved a one-credit class for this semester to postpone his official graduation, though he walked last spring. He has the same gaudy grade-point average – in bio-chemistry – and is in the midst of applying to med schools. And he’s putting the finishing touches on his own vintage wheels.

Not that the parallels are absolute.

Only medical redshirts are allowed at the NCAA Division III level now, a change since Scott’s days, so if not for a broken foot suffered his first year Emilio wouldn’t be suiting up Saturday for the Pirates’ 2011 home finale against Linfield.

“The joke on the team is how long I’ve been there,” he said. “I’m the only fifth-year senior.

“But football has been such a huge part of my life – the friendships, the lessons I’ve learned. To be honest, it was just not something I was ready to walk away from.”

And the one-credit class?

“Water aerobics,” he confessed – and if you’re amused by the image of a 270-pound football player on a flotation noodle, well, he gets that a lot.

In any case, not much homework. Instead, he pulls a 20-hour week working at Christ Clinic on North Monroe in the medication assistance program for low-income patients.

And the car? It’s a ’47 Chevy coupe, first rescued from a field near Colville and then from a swap meet. But rather than a collaboration with his father, it’s become something of a tribute.

It was three days after Christmas 2003 that Denny Sulpizio suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 59. A freshman at Mead High School at the time, Emilio struggled to reconcile the traumatic changes.

“My dad was such an amazing guy and one of the strongest individuals I’ve known,” he said. “I wanted to refocus and rededicate myself, honor his legacy and make him proud, and I fed off the support of my family to do that.”

Scott was in the process of finishing up a masters at Colorado State in bio-med engineering, a field that might have taken him anywhere. Instead, he and his wife, Katie, moved back to Spokane.

“I wanted to support him in football and help him finish his car, the way our dad helped me finish mine,” Scott said, “and just support him in general. To lose a dad at that age was obviously hard for him, but it helped him grow up fast.”

Ten years apart, the brothers Sulpizio are close nevertheless. Fall Saturdays began with Emilio’s YMCA games and ended at the Pine Bowl with Scott helping the resurgence of Whitworth football. As a teenager, Scott’s summer job was babysitting his brother – which meant toting him along to the Mead weight room for football conditioning.

“I’m sure he was bored,” Scott said.

“No, for a 6-year-old kid that was a crazy experience,” Emilio insisted.

And now they share another crazy experience.

In Scott’s last two college seasons, the Pirates specialized in dramatic comebacks – five games were won in the last 65 seconds. Several of Whitworth’s games this season have gone down to the wire, too – alas, with different results. Until last weekend, that is, when the Pirates went on the road to upset Willamette in double overtime. Scott and his mother, Marigail, were in the stands.

“She gets super freaked-out at games,” he said. “She used to be the same way at mine – she covers her eyes and can’t watch – and she’s still like that. He used to give me crap about that and now it’s my turn to sit there and deal with her.

“So they play this great game and Mom was freaking out – and I guess I was freaking out, too.”

Funny, you’d think the guy who drew up the blueprint would have seen it coming.

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