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Perricone, Valencia fighting in the trenches for Shamrocks
The Yuma Catholic public address announcer has called out all of senior running back Kody Hazlett's touchdowns and long runs.
The defense routinely tackles in groups so the crowd doesn't know who's who.
But in the trenches — away from the spotlight and the glory — are junior offensive tackle Jose Valencia and junior defensive tackle Marco Perricone.
And that's just the way they like it.
“Flying under the radar and people aren't going to notice you, they're going to notice the linebackers,” said the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Perricone, who along with Valencia is preparing to face No. 4 Scottsdale Christian in the second round of the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division V State Playoffs.
“It's awesome when Kody scores because it means we did our job and got a chance to score,” said Valencia, a 6-foot, 215-pound left tackle.
After moving to defensive tackle from defensive end, Perricone has done well for a Shamrocks defense that lost star linebackers Ryan Gill and Tyler Moreno from last year's state champion team. With them gone, Stallworth expected somebody to step up.
“With their absence, it has put a lot more pressure on our defensive line to help the linebackers out,” Stallworth said. “And they've responded well. And the times they've struggled in the beginning of the year is when we've struggled.”
Leading that defensive line has been Perricone, who has a team-high 8.5 sacks to go with 60 tackles on the season for the No. 5 Shamrocks.
“He's great on the run and great on the pass. He's got a great swim move and a lot of it is he's got a great motor. And on the defensive line if you don't have a motor, you're not going to be very good.”
For Valencia, the chance to play in his second straight Division V State Tournament was something that may not have happened without a little convincing. Before the first game of his sophomore season, Valencia decided to hang up his cleats. Football, he decided, wasn't for him.
“I was just being a little girl, trying to find the easy way out because football's tough and not everybody can do it,” Valencia said.
But Stallworth saw the potential in his big, agile lineman and he wasn't about to let Valencia walk away without a fight. The two had a heart-to-heart talk in Stallworth's office and with his friends in his other ear, Valencia put his shoulder pads back on.
“Kids get discouraged about the sport. It's a rough sport and it's taxing on the body,” Stallworth said. “We had a heart-to-heart with him to stick through it and now look at him. He's an all-conference lineman last year and could be an all-stater this year, who knows?”
Considering Perricone only plays defense for the Shamrocks, his presence on the scout team defense has created a mutually beneficial relationship with the offensive line. Perricone gets to spend practice going up against the Shamrocks' starting offense, while the line has to block him.
“I just try and keep my intensity,” Perricone said. “There's no better practice. We're always fighting.”
“It helps him improve and it helps our offensive line get better,” Stallworth said. “He never has a play off. When he's on scout defense our top offensive line is in there so he's getting a lot of work.”
On the offensive line side, Valencia has now teamed up with left guard Glen Justice the past two seasons, giving the Shamrocks a solid foundation on the left side. Hazlett, who has been a major benefactor from Valencia and the rest of the line, praised the junior left tackle's speed, which allows Valencia to run full speed and cut off his block. And Stallworth said that when the Shamrocks run a screen pass, it usually means there's trouble ahead for the defensive backs.
“If we run screens (Valencia) is downfield blocking free safeties — which is great because those safeties are shaking in their pants when they see this big lineman coming down the field,” Stallworth said.
There are times, Valencia said, that he wonders what would have happened if he really had quit the Shamrocks' team two years ago. When he talks about it, the junior lineman shows a relieved smile.
“I'm grateful for my friends and coaches for talking me into playing because I would have regret it.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.