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Linebackers make defense a family affair

10/17/2013, 12:01am PDT
By Steve Brand, Special to the U-T

David Vasquez and Diego Uranga, Hilltop High linebackers, look a lot alike on the field.

It makes sense that David Vasquez and Diego Uranga, Hilltop High’s inside linebackers, look so much alike on the field.

That’s because they’re cousins. They’ve been playing and sometimes fighting since they were 4 years old.

“We’re pretty much brothers,” said Uranga, who at 6 feet, 195 pounds, is two inches shorter and five pounds lighter than Vasquez. “I have a real older brother but I’ve been around David longer. He’s my brother.

“We’re so close that if someone on the other team is mad at me, the next play he’ll have to deal with me and David. We look out for each other.”

Because they’ve been playing football together from such a young age, they are almost like twins who have a second sense about each other. They can almost read each other’s minds and they know instinctively where the other is on the field.

“We’ve played other sports but we’ve always been on the same team and we’ve always known that football is No. 1,” said Vasquez, who is easy to distinguish from Uranga because he has long hair and Uranga’s is short.

“No matter what team we’ve played for, since Pop Warner, we’ve both been linebackers. We watch college football together on Saturday and pros on Sunday and we’re always watching the linebackers.”

Lancers head coach Cody Roelof wasted little time recognizing that these two cousins were special after they helped lead the freshman team to an 8-2 record.

“You could see they were pretty good,” said Roelof, who had Uranga starting by three games into the cousins’ sophomore season and had Vazquez right alongside his lifelong friend by the season’s midpoint. “They stood out as freshmen and I said to myself that they could make the varsity the next year.

“They brought knowledge of the game. They recognized plays, were very intense, highly motivated and showed the kind of leadership that makes them great team players. As a sophomore, Diego led the team in caused fumbles.”

Because Vazquez is 6-2 and showed good hands, the head coach didn’t hesitate to make him a tight end on very short notice when one of his players was injured. Very short — as in the end of practice the day before a game.

“He learned during the game,” said Roelof, who also wasn’t in the least surprised how quickly Vasquez adapted to a new position, much as he never hesitates to use Uranga as a running back. “Both of them are real good athletes and we use them on offense. But they excel on defense.”

The Lancers, who won their first five games before dropping a nonleague game to Sweetwater, are among the section leaders, allowing only 58 points through the first six games. Give the cousins much of the credit.

“Every game we want to put up a zero,” said Vazquez, who through the first six games has 57 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble.

“If the other team scores, we don’t make excuses,” said Uranga, who has 37 tackles, 3½ sacks and four caused fumbles. “We try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

After a nonleague game against Mater Dei Catholic this week, the Lancers open South Bay League action, looking to put up the school’s first football banner in more than three decades.

“We want that banner,” Uranga said. “We’ve been close (second) the last two years (each time losing to Mar Vista). Nobody expected us to be 5-0 to start the season but this is a very strong senior class. We believe we can do it.”

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