Pimienta stepping up for Caribbean Connection
Juan Pimienta (56) won PFL honors for his game against Dayton.
Juan Pimienta (56) won PFL honors for his game against Dayton.
Juan Pimienta is picky.

He’s also 6-feet tall, weighs 280 pounds and runs like a fullback. And while that would be great if he played offense, he plays defense where he’s is learning to run like a bulldozer.

Pimienta, a defensive tackle from Apopka, Fla., has roots stretching to the Dominican Republic and is part of the defensive line’s Caribbean Connection along with fellow tackle Mike Mayoral (roots to Puerto Rico) and end Luidji Michel (Haiti). The fourth up front starter, end Chance Smith, has no Caribbean roots and is known as “The Englishman’’ to the rest of the group.

“My mom and my grandpa came from the Dominican,’’ Pimienta said. “And my father is from Colombia.’’

It’s pretty safe to assume JU coach Kerwin Bell is happy the Pimienta family found its way to Florida as he speaks glowingly about the player’s attention to detail.

“The players always laugh at me because I tell them you are supposed to keep your locker like Juan Pimienta, he does everything the right way,’’ Bell said.

“I’m just OCD (obsessive/compulsive) and really picky,’’ Pimienta said. “My room is clean as hell, everything has got to be organized and I’m a germ freak. But, I think if you do the little things right, you get better.’’

He clearly is getting better and as proof look no further back than last week’s game at Dayton.

Against the Flyers he had six tackles, one sack, a quarterback hit and was in on one and a half tackles for loss. For his efforts one national organization named him Pioneer Football League Defensive Player of the Week and the stellar game came just a week after he missed the Webber International game with a neck problem.

“We had an issue with his neck and he had an MRI,’’ Bell said. “We were hoping to get him back and I told him last week before the game I was glad to see him back. We think he’s going to be a dominant player and he showed that last week.’’

While Pimienta is appreciative of the accolades, he says last year’s final game at San Diego was a better game for him and he won’t be resting on recent laurels.

“There was a different vibe in San Diego,’’ he said. “But, I’m never satisfied and want to keep progressing. (Defensive line) Coach (Ernie) Logan puts us in good situations and he gets the best out of all of us. He pushes me to where I need to play.’’

He’s also quick to point out that playing behind both Mayoral and DT Rolando Fines last season helped him become better this time around.

“Playing with Fines and Mayoral, I got better,’’ he said. “I could see what they did and that helped me be a better player. I’m just a dude who wants to win a championship.’’

Mayoral, a senior from St. Augustine, Fla., seems to be getting a kick out of watching Pimienta grow.

“Every year he just gets better with his technique and he’s starting to step up into a leadership role, he’s matured a lot, really,’’ Mayoral said. “He’s always asking questions and I give him answers and it’s always been like that with assignments and stunts. We played a lot last year (with Fines in the mix) last year and we haven’t lost a beat.’’

Bell rests a bit easier with the Caribbean Connection anchoring the defense.

“They are pros at what they do,’’ Bell said. “Mayoral is a great leader, he practices the right way and you know what you’re going to get out of those guys. They are going to practice hard, they are going to be there every Saturday and they are going to give you great effort and play at a high level. We tell a lot of our kids to follow the lead of Mike Mayoral and Juan Pimienta.’’

- Jim Nasella