Brothers Ty and AJ Puliano provide a powerful punch for the Black Tornado
One is measured, the other a little more than the cuff.
Together, Ty and AJ Pugliano combine to provide a driving force for the North Medford football team on both sides of the ball.
“There’s no question the impact these two have,” said Black Tornado head coach Nathan Chin of the Puliano brothers. “From AJ’s point of view, he just brings a lot of energy to everything and is so dynamic. Ty just has that workhorse mentality and reliability. Ty is that athlete that you know if he has to make a play, he’s going to make it. He has shown it time and time again.”
It’s a relationship that works well between the brothers, who feed off each other in different ways to get the best out of each other and the North Medford football team every time.
Tye is a 5-foot-10, 185-pound running back and linebacker/safety hybrid who is enjoying his senior season with the Black Tornado. He was one of the leading rushers in the Southwest Conference a year ago and ran for 202 yards and three scores in last week’s 35-14 breakthrough win at West Salem. He now has 58 carries for 295 yards through three games.
“Besides his sheer skill, Ty kind of holds our team together and I think everyone on the team knows that,” says AJ. “He’s just a beacon for us out there.”
At 6-4, 220 pounds, AJ is one of the top recruits in the state as a tight end/linebacker for the Class of 2024. The junior standout was one of the conference’s leading receivers as a freshman before an injury cut short his sophomore season.
This year, AJ caught 11 passes for 118 yards and two TDs — both coming in last week’s win — and continues to build on a resume that includes offers from Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State and Arizona and talks with the likes of Ohio State, Clemson and several Big 10 programs.
“AJ is obviously a big recruit,” Ty says, “but he’s the ultimate supporter and teammate and always worries about everyone else more than himself, whether it’s the team or individual recruiting or just how they manage. I feel like it’s very humble of him to do that and not worry so much about himself or talk about his recruitment or things like that.
Aside from physical stature, the two brothers differ most in their voice reading.
Ty, 17, relies more on leading by example and picking and choosing his moments to let his voice be heard so his words carry more weight.
“I’m not going to say anything unless it’s positive or I feel it’s really necessary,” Ty says. “But when we need some energy and vocal leadership, I’d say that’s definitely him.”
Anyone who’s ever been around gregarious AJ knows he’s as chatty and friendly as they come, and he can get fired up like any 16-year-old competitor.
“I like to have fun there; that’s what I’m there for,” says AJ. “I’m there to give some energy and be excited, and (Ty) likes to be cool and calm, so we’re like fire and ice. I’m out there and I’m a bit loud and he does the opposite, keeps things calm, so we complement each other well.”
That innate complement on the field—knowing exactly where AJ will force a ball carrier so Ty can tackle or how one will attack a defense so the other can lend a hand—often translates into off-field compliments between the brothers.
They understand more than anyone how hard the other works and trains for their big moments, and there’s always that brotherly love when one or the other succeeds on the field.
“We’re so close and being on both sides of the ball with him and celebrating with him is amazing,” said Ty, who carries a 4.0 grade point average (4.3 weighted). “When he scored those touchdowns last week, I was excited for him. It’s just nice to have him there, somebody you trust so much, and he does a great job blocking for me as well.”
AJ adds of his older brother, “He’s the guy I can count on the most because I know his habits and I know what he’s put into it, and his mentality will never waver. It just means a lot to be able to rely on him completely on the field and know that regardless, he’s going to be able to make a play or at least give his all to make a play. Having that complete trust in someone is very important, especially when it’s a key moment, like me blocking for him or him defending the pass for me to get the ball. I know he won’t let me down.”
And off the field?
“Off the field, he’s my best friend,” says AJ. “He has to drive me everywhere and he has to deal with me more than anyone else. But when we go out on the field, we complement each other very well. He’s one of the smarter players I know and our dynamic isn’t quite like brothers, but I’d say we’re best friends and it’s nice to have that.”
It’s that football IQ from Ty that AJ credits for much of his success, both on the local and national circuits.
“I’ve been to football camps up and down the West Coast and all the way to Florida,” says AJ, “and the preparation I want before I go to camp, when I’m like, ‘Hey, what can I do, I have to work to preparing to go out in this camp,’ I want Ty Puliano on the field to watch me and tell me what I can work on with my stems coming from safety. I want him to press me because he is patient in his press.
“Then I go to camps and say this guy may be more athletic than Ty or more naturally gifted, but his fundamentals are easier to pick apart. It comes down to this, Ty’s fundamentals are better than anyone I’ve ever met, so when I go to these places, the preparation that Ty gives me and no one else, it all comes out.”
Both will get a chance to test their full potential again Friday night when the Black Tornado (1-2, 1-0 SCFC) play host to North Salem (3-0 ,1-0) in the home opener after a Week 1 clash with West Linn was to be moved to Eugene.
Kick-off on Friday is 19:00 at the Spiegelberg Stadium.
“It’s a big relief to finally be playing at home,” says Ty. “I feel like we found our energy last week and it will be even better now given that we are at home. It’s just exciting because we had to push it back three weeks, so it just makes it that much better.”
While it might be better, it certainly won’t be any easier against a North Salem team that advanced to the Class 5A state quarterfinals a year ago and returns several dynamic forces of its own in quarterback TC Manumaleuna, running back Josiah Davis and sprint champion DeMarie Thompson.
Helping North Salem to a 3-0 start since 2002, Davis has an ankle injury and one of the state’s leading players could be unavailable Friday.
“It was nice to be able to build that confidence in what we’re doing this week,” Chin says, “but we’re playing a team that has that as well. They have horses and athletes in some key spots so we should really be able to rock and roll come Friday night.”
Ty, in particular, sees last week as a big springboard for himself.
After a few weeks of what he considered a “wobbly” run behind an offensive line led by senior David Fuyava and junior Terrell Kim, last week was a different feeling.
“Last year it kind of worked, but I feel like I was just too hesitant at the line,” says Tye, who credits his staff for everything he’s been able to accomplish. “Last week when we finally put it together, I just thought I was going to get 3 or 4 yards before anything else, and I think that really helped me be explosive through the line and also get through the holes quicker, and some of those runs turned into 10, 15 and 20 yards instead of just 3 or 4.”
For AJ, last week was the first where he really had a chance to shine. West Linn naturally limited its coverage around the star tight end, and the Week 2 loss in Bend was hampered when starting quarterback Kaiden Lacy went down with an injury in the second quarter.
With Lacy’s return last week, and AJ feeling like he’s got his feet under him more after missing time this summer with a knee injury, it’s just been back to where the Tornadoes know they can be to be a violation.
“I’m just glad I was able to get the ball in the end zone a couple of times,” AJ says. “It definitely helped my confidence going back home and hopefully we can do even better. West Salem was just the beginning of what we can both do and what we can do as a team.
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Andy Atkinson/Mail TribuneNorth Medford senior Ty Pugliano, left, and younger brother AJ Pugliano fire up the Black Tornado on both sides of the football.
Andy Atkinson/Mail TribuneNorth Medford’s Ty Pugliano runs past Sherwood’s defense for a score in the 2021 season.
Andy Atkinson/Mail TribuneNorth Medford’s AJ Pugliano makes his way to the end zone after making a catch during a 2021 contest.