Gone Too Soon: Fred DeBernardi, March 2, 1949 – Dec. 3, 2020 (September 2021)

Fred DeBernardi, six-time all-America in the shot put and discus in the early 1970s, died late last year in Las Vegas, Nev., after a battle with cancer. He was 71. Today, UTEP coaches and athletes remember him as one of the rarest of creatures in school history.

In ’72, the rangy Californian became only the second person to win the both the shot put and the discus the same year. At 6-5, 260ish, “DeBo” as teammates called him, was not only oversized for his time, but feral strong, fleet afoot and agile for a big man. 

“There was not a clumsy bone in his body,” marveled former UTEP track coach Wayne Vandenburg.

National champ Fred DeBernardi

While running the “Dobbs Mile” — imposed by head football coach Bobby Dobbs to measure fitness when players reported in August — Fred would not run his mile with his fellow linemen. Instead, he ran with the backs and receivers, towering over them as the gentle giant loped with ease four times around the Kidd Field oval.

Dana LeDuc, a national-class weightman in track himself, formerly worked as the strength and conditioning coach at Texas under Head Football Coach David McWilliams. 

“Of all the athletes I have trained as a collegiate and NFL strength coach,” Fred is one of the best I ever saw,” LeDuc said. DeBo was an 11th-round draft pick by the Baltimore Colts and stuck briefly in ’74 with the Kansas City Chiefs.

“The man could have been an NFL Hall of Famer at defensive end,” LeDuc said, “or a world-record holder in the shot and discus.”

DeBo came out of Southern California where Vandy recruited him out of Newhall High School. The son of a deputy sheriff, Fred was a reluctant astronaut. Finally, Vandy flew out to Saugus, Calif., to convince the young prospect UTEP was the place to be.

“I tried everything else,” Vandy said, “so I told Freddie I was not leaving until he said he is coming with me.”

The DeBernardi signature on a scholarship not only bolstered an already-strong track/field program, it further cemented Vandy’s reputation as a doggedly determined recruiter. 

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