Mike DeNiro was arguably one of the greatest football players ever to come out of the Mahoning Valley, no matter what era fans discussed or were compelled to compare.
Born August 29, 1949, his parents moved from Youngstown’s South Side to the West Side when he was a young boy where he attended West Elementary School through his ninth grade year.
During his formative years he was a standout baseball player in the Uptown Kiwanis League, playing football through junior high school as well.
He played in the PONY League (1962-63) for its Local 1330 entry, learning the finer points of the game under famed area coaches Rocky Siciliano and Lou Zitello where he helped the team to an 18-3 mark in ’62.
He would go on to star for DelSignore Construction in the area’s Class “B” League, moving over to the Class “AA” League where his star shone brightest under manager Ward Maloney’s tutelage as a member of the league’s East Side Civics contingent.
He was a budding star on the diamond – he played third base – and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1967 – there were 974 total selections made by MLB teams that year and he was drafted in the 10th round, the 194th overall selection – but never signed.
Football was in his blood, however, and it was on the gridiron that he would go on to excel, first as a member of head coach Lou “Red” Angelo’s powerful Chaney Cowboys teams of the mid to late 1960’s then as a standout on head coach Gene Stallings’ Texas A&M Aggies when they were members of the NCAA’s former Southwest Conference.
As a Chaney High student-athlete, he was a standout for his “Uncle Red” where he played end and halfback offensively, starring at end on the defensive side of the ball.
He helped the Cowboys to a 24-2 overall mark and two City Series championships during his three varsity seasons and for his efforts was named to the All-City Series team in both 1965 and 1966, was the 1966 area “Player of the Year,” earned all-State laurels and was named a Parade Magazine All-American in 1966 while playing in the famed Ohio North-South All-Star after his high school career drew to a close.Curbstone Coaches HOF Spotlight: Tom Manning, Football Honoree(Opens in a new browser tab)(Opens in a new browser tab)
Upon graduation he accepted a football scholarship to Texas A&M University and in three seasons under the watchful eye of Stallings – he was ineligible to play for the varsity as a freshman according to NCAA rules as all college student-athletes in football and basketball weren’t cleared to play until the advent of Title IX in time for the 1972-73 academic year – was part of the team that went 7-4-0 and 6-1-0 in the SWC that freshman year, defeating Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, 20-16.
In 1968 and 1969 the team went 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the conference but despite their sub-.500 overall mark, this year’s inductee was the only sophomore (1968) selected to the all-Southwest Conference first-team, earning league “Defensive Player of the Year” plaudits.
He was a first-team All-American at defensive end according to Countryside Sports magazine that year and earned Associated Press honorable mention All-American laurels as well.
In 1969 he was named honorable mention All-American once again by the AP and in 1970, was named to the Football News’ pre-season All-American squad, that same year he was also entered into the “Outstanding College Athlete of America” annual.
Sadly, his life was cut short after completion of his junior season, a car accident claiming his life on January 23, 1970, when he was on his way back to College Station, Texas from a wedding he had attended earlier in Louisiana.
He was awarded, albeit posthumously, the “Aggie Heart Award” in 1970 – the recipient is the player who extends himself to the fullest every time he dons his football gear, regardless of the situation, be it in practice or a game and is voted upon by the players of the football team – which until then was always awarded to a senior team member. He is the son of the late Carl “Duke” and Rose DeNiro.
His late brother, Gary, who passed away September 6, 2022 at age 64, also starred on the gridiron for Chaney High and later played collegiately for head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama where he posted 140 total tackles and helped the Crimson Tide to the 1978 and 1979 national championships.