Recruits: Indianapolis, California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, Hawaii
RJ Ghilarducci completed his third season on the Valpo coaching staff in 2022. After serving as the nickelbacks coach in Spring 2021, he was promoted to a full-time role on staff as defensive line coach prior to the Fall 2021 season, then was promoted again to co-defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator while transitioning to linebackers coach prior to the 2023 season.
Over the last three seasons, Ghilarducci has been on staff for 12 Pioneer Football League victories, the most in a three-year period in program history. The program finished with a PFL record of .500 or better for a third consecutive season in 2022, the first time that has occurred since 1998-2000. Prior to that, Valpo had not had a stretch of three straight years with a league record of .500 or better since 1961-1964.
The program won four PFL games in the same season just once in the 27 seasons prior to Ghilarducci’s arrival. Now, the program has reached that threshold in three straight seasons with Ghilarducci on staff (Spring 2021, Fall 2021, 2022).
Ghilarducci’s third season saw the program accrue 70 tackles for loss, tied for the fifth most in a single season in program history. The program has totaled 150 TFLs in his two seasons as defensive line coach, two of the top five single-season totals in program history.
The 2022 campaign also saw Valpo lead the PFL and rank sixth nationally in fourth-down defense, holding opponents to just 30 percent on fourth down. The program led the PFL and ranked eighth nationally in red-zone defense at .705. The team also ranked in the top five in the PFL in the following defensive categories – turnovers gained (16), sacks (2.25 per game, third), TFL (5.8 per game, fourth), rushing defense (151.5, fourth) and interceptions (10).
The 2022 defensive line featured an All-PFL Second Team honoree (Sam Hafner), an All-PFL Honorable Mention Choice (Kevin Spelman), a member of the FCS National Freshman of the Year Watch List (Spelman) and two Academic All-PFL First Team performers (Hafner and Kurt Kessen).
Ghilarducci’s position group thrived during the Fall 2021 season. The defensive line helped Valpo notch 32 sacks, the program’s most since 2000 and fifth-most in a single season in program history. Valpo ranked 15th nationally in FCS and led the PFL in sacks per game at 2.91. Valpo was also among the national leaders in tackles for loss per game at 7.3, ranking 15th in FCS. The team’s 80 TFLs were its most since 1984 and the second most in program history. Valpo had 18 tackles for loss in a single game vs. Presbyterian, tied for the most in the Division-I nation (FCS and FBS). The team’s 10 sacks vs. the Blue Hose were tied for the fifth most in FCS. Valpo had its highest single-game TFL total since at least 2004 and the program’s first double-figure sack total in over 20 years. Valpo had two safeties in a single game vs. Dartmouth, the first time the program recorded two safeties in the same season – let alone the same game – since 2006.
Ghilarducci’s defensive linemen also played a role in Valpo leading the nation in blocked kicks with nine during the Fall 2021 campaign, the second most in program history and most since 1991. Valpo was the only team in all of Division-I college football (both FCS and FBS) to block nine kicks during the season. On Oct. 30 at San Diego, Valpo tied a PFL record for blocked kicks in a single game with three.
Trejuan Purty finished the Fall 2021 season with 15 tackles for loss, tied for the fifth-most in single-season program history. He recorded five TFL vs. Presbyterian, tied for the fifth most in the FCS nation in a single game during the season. Austin Martins had 4.5 TFL vs. San Diego, tied for the 14th most nationally in a single game, while Gavin Twigg’s four vs. Presbyterian tied for 26th. Purty was named to the All-PFL Second Team, while Martins earned All-PFL Honorable Mention and was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Ghilarducci was on staff in Spring 2021 as Valpo posted its best winning percentage since 2003 and tied for the squad’s best winning percentage since 1999. The team garnered Pioneer Football League runner-up honors, the program’s highest finish in the league standings since the PFL championship season of 2003.
He was part of a defensive staff that led the Spring 2021 team to the program’s best defensive season in four decades. Valpo held opponents to 283.3 yards per game, the program’s best total defense in the last 40 years. Valpo limited the opposition to 172.2 passing yards per game, the program’s best passing defense since 2008. In addition, the squad boasted its best rushing defense (111.2 yards per game) and scoring defense (18.7 points per game) since 1999.
Ghilarducci joined the Valpo football staff for the Spring 2021 season after spending the previous three seasons at the University of San Diego, where he served in multiple roles including assistant defensive backs coach, assistant defensive line coach and specialists coach. While at San Diego, he was part of three Pioneer Football League championship teams and multiple FCS playoff appearances. His position groups produced seven all-PFL performers, including FCS all-time sacks leader Jonathan Petersen. In addition, Ghilarducci was part of the first nonscholarship program to win a playoff game in FCS history.
Prior to San Diego, Ghilarducci worked as a defensive line and outside linebackers intern at the University of Oregon, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2015 and was an all-conference rugby player. He graduated from Oak Ridge High School in 2010 in his hometown of El Dorado Hills, Calif.
What They’re Saying About Coach Ghilarducci
“RJ has three qualities that you always want in a coach. He’s smart. He’s passionate. He’s a worker. He is going to do a great job at Valparaiso.” -Six-time NBA All-Star, 1989 NBA Finals MVP and NBA Hall of Famer Joe Dumars, 1985-1999 Detroit Pistons
“RJ is a tireless worker who will do whatever it takes to make sure the job is done right. Valpo has hired a good one.” -Jacques Cesaire, Buffalo Bills Assistant Defensive Line Coach
“We were very fortunate to stumble upon RJ quite some time ago. He came here as an intern and was one of the best we’ve ever had. He is extremely intelligent and does a great job with breakdowns and working with computers. He’s one of those guys who has a feel for coaching and is able to see the big picture and the small parts that make it all work. We were fortunate to have him here and we hope that he has a wonderful coaching career. We think he’ll go far.” -Dale Lindsey, University of San Diego Head Coach