July 14, 2024
Former NFL player and coach David Diaz-Infante gets a win in his first game as head coach at his alma mater Bellarmine

SAN JOSE — Unable to make a dent in the Menlo-Atherton defense in the first-half, Bellarmine asserted itself in the second and held on to beat the Bears, 17-14, to mark the coaching debut of David Diaz-Infante at his alma mater.

After a pro playing career that spanned 14 years and included two Super Bowl victories, and six seasons as an NFL assistant, Diaz-Infante was content to spend his self-described “semi-retirement” in his Arizona bubble.

When Bellarmine reached out to discuss its coaching vacancy, Diaz-Infante was not interested. But after a month of conversations and contemplation, he changed his mind and returned to the school that was dominant force in football during his playing career on the San Jose campus.

“Bellarmine’s meant everything to me,” he said. “Coming back has probably been one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Upon his return, Diaz-Infante discovered that the Bells were not the force they once were, especially in the powerful West Catholic Athletic League.

“I think the whole league’s better when Bellarmine’s better,” Diaz-Infante said. “The league’s really stepped up and we’ve got to keep up with it.”

It’s a work in progress and that was evident against Menlo-Atherton in the season opener at San Jose City College. Competing against a ferocious M-A defense, the Bells failed to earn a first down in the first half while being held to minus-7 yards on offense.

Still, the Bells led 3-0 at halftime on a 55-yard field goal by Connor Tripp, who actually attempted two 55-yarders in the first half, with the second attempt barely wide.

Tripp told his coach before the game, “I’m good from 60 yards in,” and Diaz-Infante had no problem turning to his kicker on the Bells’ first possession.

Bellarmine needed a strong defensive effort of its own to stay at a relative stalemate. Two sacks by linebacker Charles Swall, including one that forced a fumble, contributed against an M-A offense that was led by versatile M-A junior quarterback Xander Eschelman and his 6-foot-7 target Alec Marshall.

Listed as a tight end, Marshall lined up wide most of the game in mismatches against smaller defenders. Though not a huge weapon last season as a junior, Marshall is one now. He caught eight passes for 95 yards and scored on a 2-yard reception.

His jumping and size advantage on fades, and ability to get position, complemented his great hands. Marshall made a fingertip grab of a low pass on a 30-yard play that sparked the Bears’ first touchdown drive, and showed great body awareness on his TD catch that began an M-A comeback from a 17-0 deficit.

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Some blocking adjustments and the hard-running of Reece McKeever got Bellarmine’s offense on track. McKeever carried 29 times for 113 yards – all but 10 of it in the second half – to lead the Bells’ resurgence that crested with quarterback Parker Threatt’s 23-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter.

However, M-A countered with a score, followed by interception by Oskar Flodh, his second of the game, to set up a short drive that brought M-A within three points on Eschelman’s 2-yard sneak with 7:17 left. But the Bells used 15 plays and two timely 15-yard M-A penalties, to run out the clock and give Diaz-Infante his debut victory and a purpose – making an impact on young people, just as Bellarmine made an impact on him so many years ago.

“It’s about being great,” Diaz-Infante said. “That’s what we’re striving for. We have a tradition of excellence. I’ve been a part of that history and I want to get us back there.”

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