Torero Alumni Connections to Sunday's Big Game: 49ers' Ross Dwelley '18, Referee Bill Vinovich '83

This Sunday’s National Football League championship game, Super Bowl LIV (54), pits the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs in a battle for supremacy at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.


Millions will watch the game, the commercials and the halftime show. But for University of San Diego football fans and, especially those connected to USD’s Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, they will have a hearty rooting interest for one player.

That’s because 2018 Industrial and Systems Engineering alumnus Ross Dwelley will be wearing the No. 82 jersey for the San Francisco 49ers and will make it onto the field as both a special teams player and as a back-up tight end. Dwelley, a Torero football standout from 2014-17 and who finished as the program’s all-time leading tight end statistically, signed with the 49ers as a non-drafted free agent in 2018.

The just-turned 25-year-old (birthday was Jan. 26), 6-foot-5, 240-pound athlete worked hard to make and then stay on the 49ers’ roster. The El Dorado Hills, Calif., native has been a solid, versatile contributor when called upon by head coach Kyle Shanahan and has provided adequate depth at his position, such as catching two touchdown passes in a 49ers’ victory this year against Arizona.

Dwelley has 15 receptions for 91 yards this season while backing up star tight end George Kittle (85 catches, 1,053 yards 5 TDs). Shanahan and his staff have plenty of trust in Dwelley, judging by a move made earlier this year that when fullback Kyle Juszczyk went down with an injury, Dwelley was temporarily inserted there due to his effective blocking skills. That kind of versatility and confidence shown by a head coach and his staff goes a long way. It shows that if Dwelley’s number is called on Sunday, he’ll be prepared.

USD Football-Super Bowl Connections

Just getting to a Super Bowl is a tough enough task and is certainly a dream of all NFL players. Dwelley’s chances of playing are quite good and whenever he does get in, he’ll become the first USD football player alumnus to play in a Super Bowl. The closest a former Torero player has been to playing in a Super Bowl was when former standout wide receiver John Matthews was on the Indianapolis Colts’ roster for Super Bowl 44 in 2010 as a practice squad member.

For the sake of balance, the 49ers' opponent, the Chiefs, will also have a USD connection on its sideline. Wide receivers coach Greg Lewis was the Toreros' wide receivers coach for the 2012 season under former head coach Ron Caragher. When Caragher left USD to take the head coaching job at San Jose State in 2013, Lewis joined him. 

There are also past USD-Super Bowl connections. Former USD head football coach Jim Harbaugh coached the 49ers to their last Super Bowl appearance — a loss in Super Bowl 47 in 2013. Current Toreros head football coach Dale Lindsey, a former NFL player, was the San Diego Chargers’ linebackers coach for the team’s lone Super Bowl appearance, Super Bowl 29, in 1995.

For the second time in six years, a former USD alumnus, Bill Vinovich, will definitely be on the field Sunday and it will be for the entire 60 minutes (and more if it goes to overtime). Vinovich is the head referee for his second Super Bowl in that capacity. He was the head referee for Super Bowl 49, pitting the New England Patriots against the Seattle Seahawks. Vinovich is a 1983 USD School of Business alumnus who majored in accountancy. He is a certified public accountant when he’s not an NFL referee or officiating college basketball games. Vinovich was a football player for USD in 1981 and 1982 under then head coach Bill Williams.

While the Super Bowl this year turns 54, we’re quite certain there are others who have Torero ties who’ve had a role — coaching, officiating, etc. — affiliated with the big game. But, on Sunday, Ross Dwelley can take that first step forward for the Torero program as a football player.

— Compiled by Ryan T. Blystone

Photos contributed by USD Archives, USD Athletics, Ryan T. Blystone


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