At 24 and fresh from starting for an undefeated University of Maryland football team, Peter G. “Pete” Ladygo Sr. had a job title that would make any athlete at least a little envious, even in 1952: guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But as the teacher and lifelong coach later confessed to a friend, playing on the field wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
“I think he enjoyed being a coach more than he enjoyed playing football,” said Frank Vancheri, Mr. Ladygo’s brother-in-law and a friend since high school.
“He was not the kind of a guy to try and hurt someone. I think it pained him when he hurt anybody.”
Mr. Ladygo, of Keyser, W.Va., died Friday. He was 86.
Born in West Brownsville, Washington County, the rising athlete moved with his family to Pittsburgh’s North Side in time for him to enroll at the former Allegheny High School, where he played football. After a short stint in the Army, Mr. Ladygo enrolled at Potomac State College in Keyser, W.Va., before transferring to Maryland.
His football career took off in earnest with the Terrapins. At first a linebacker, he later switched to offensive guard, playing for a team that would win the Sugar Bowl in 1952, defeating the University of Tennessee, 28-13, to cap an undefeated season.
That’s the year the Steelers drafted Mr. Ladygo, who was picked up in the later rounds of the draft. His starting salary was $5,000 a year, just a tad more than Mr. Vancheri’s, who had a master’s degree and was a chemist. Mr. Vancheri, a Pittsburgh resident, still chuckles about that. He played in all 12 games as the Steelers compiled a 5-7 record.
An injury sent him to the sidelines in 1953, but he came back to the field in 1954, when the team again finished 5-7.
Another opportunity then beckoned, though: The Ottawa Rough Riders, a Canadian Football League team, wanted him for their lineup, and they were offering $10,000 a year.
“He jumped for that money,” Mr. Vancheri said, laughing.
Soon Mr. Ladygo was back in Keyser, where his wife, Jacqueline, who died in 2003, grew up. Hired as a shop teacher at Bruce High School in Westernport, Md., he took the reins as head football coach in 1962. Later, he worked as an assistant coach at Potomac State.
It fit his temperament, Mr. Vancheri said.
Despite his achievements, Mr. Ladygo stayed humble, with a smile and an easy word for everyone.
“I could sit down and talk to him, and he would just talk to me like he was just a neighbor,” he said. “There were no airs about him at all.”
Mr. Ladygo is survived by a daughter, Jackie S. DeLawder, of Keyser; a son, Peter G. Ladygo Jr., of Hagerstown, Md.; and a sister, Elizabeth Vancheri of Ross. Services are private. He will be interred at Potomac Memorial Gardens in Keyser.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Peter G. Ladygo Sr. Scholarship Fund, which benefits athletes at Potomac State College. They can be sent in care of Jackie S. DeLawder, Route 1, Box 122L, Keyser, WV 26726.
Andrew McGill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1497