Little guy, big game: Garrett Duffina making his mark with Ocoee football -- Observer Preps
Standing just 5-foot-7 and weighing about 150 pounds, the Ocoee senior receiver's stature doesn’t intimidate many opponents. But his play — that’s a different story.
| 10:30 p.m. September 21, 2017
OCOEE Garrett Duffina still remembers the looks he got back in 2014 when he first went out for the Ocoee High football team.
Standing just shy of 5 feet tall and weighing 100 pounds soaking wet, teammates and coaches alike looked puzzled by his presence — not that Duffina minded much.
“My dad has always told me, ‘Don’t worry about your size — it’s all about what’s in your heart and what happens on the field,’” Duffina said. “I used to be the smallest kid in Pop Warner, too, so I just took that and kept going on and doing my best.”
Despite the curious glances, Duffina made the junior varsity team that fall. It was the final year for the Knights under former coach Dale Salapa, and the next spring saw the arrival of Ben Bullock and his staff, which included the program’s current head coach: Jason Boltus.
Duffina had grown some — he currently stands 5-foot-7 and weighs 155 pounds — but he was still one of the smallest guys on the field.
Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for Boltus, then the offensive coordinator, to recognize there was something special about Duffina.
“It was no time until you figured out how much heart he had,” Boltus said. “He sticks out — he’s the guy that’s working the hardest.”
This fall, as a senior, a lot has changed. Although he may not be much larger, physically, he’s a larger presence on the team — both as a leader and as a playmaker. Duffina is a starter for Ocoee on both sides of the ball, playing wide receiver on offense and in the secondary on defense.
He hardly rests during games, and that’s his choice, a byproduct of a love of football that goes back more than a decade.
“My brother (Brennan Castillo) and my dad played football, and ever since I was 5 years old, I’d watch Florida State games with them,” Duffina said. “I always wanted to play.”
“(Duffina will) block and do all the unglorified things the receiver position is supposed to do. He’d play every position if I let him … he wants to be that guy.”
— Jason Boltus, coach
Despite his size, Duffina played linebacker in Pop Warner. When he got to Ocoee, he quickly realized his heart would have to be combined with work to keep pace at the high-school level.
“I have to put in more work in the weight room and more field work so I catch up,” Duffina said.
Considering all the work he has put in over the years, it’s no small wonder that Duffina is a vocal teammate — whether it’s during a game, during practice or during a session in the weight room.
“He’s encouraging people, pushing people,” Boltus said. “(Duffina) had all those leadership qualities as an underclassmen.”
After being recognized as the junior varsity team’s player of the year as a sophomore, Duffina’s role grew with the varsity squad as a junior during Ocoee’s best season in program history. In a stable of talented and dynamic players that propelled the Knights to the playoffs, Duffina earned playing time because of his willingness to do whatever was necessary.
“He’ll block and do all the unglorified things the receiver position is supposed to do,” Boltus said. “He’d play every position if I let him … he wants to be that guy.”
A large graduating class paired with some transfers forced the Ocoee roster to get younger this fall, not to mention the coaching change when Bullock left for Lake Highland Prep and Boltus was promoted.
In addition to a leadership vacuum that Duffina has sought to fill, he also has stepped into a larger playmaking role. Against Boone, for instance, he had one touchdown catch and nearly 100 receiving yards to pair with six tackles and a forced fumble on defense.
“We’re motivated a lot. We’ve had some ups and downs these past three games, but we’re going to come back in district play, and we’re going to be just fine.”
— Garrett Duffina
Increasingly, the little guy is the focal point of much of what the Ocoee offense is trying to accomplish.
“(Duffina has) worked at his craft all summer and put himself in a position to be successful,” Boltus said. “He’s very smart — he knows everyone’s position on the field, everyone’s job. He has great hands, and he’s very crafty running his routes.”
For Duffina, being a part of Ocoee football for one last fall is something to cherish. Although he has ambitions of proving people wrong once again and continuing his career in college, for now, he is focused on showing people that the Knights — even in spite of an 0-3 start — are not to be written off just yet.
“We’re motivated a lot,” Duffina said. “We’ve had some ups and downs these past three games, but we’re going to come back in district play, and we’re going to be just fine.”
And if the rest of team can adopt just some of the young man’s spirit, the Knights — who have their most important games ahead of them — may be just fine, after all.
“If there’s one word that exemplifies Garrett, it’s heart,” Boltus said. “As a coach, you can only ask for 100 Garrett Duffinas.”