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On the ball, always on call

12/05/2012, 9:04pm PST
By John Maffei

Santa Fe Christian counting on ‘Johnny Football’ to play offense, defense, special teams.

Santa Fe Christian quarterback Hunter Vaccaro takes a snap in practice from twin brother Connor.


— There is no question, said Santa Fe Christian football coach Nick Ruscetta, “Hunter Vaccaro is our version of Johnny Football,” referring to the do-everything Texas A&M quarterback who is a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Listed at 5-foot-8, 155 pounds, Vaccaro is really about two inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter than listed. He is, however, the Eagles’ big man, a three-way player — offense, defense and special teams.

As Santa Fe Christian prepares to play Arcadia Rio Hondo Prep in Friday’s Division IV CIF State Regional Football Championship at 7:30 p.m. at Del Norte High, Vaccaro is SFC’s leading passer, second-leading rusher and second-leading tackler.

Pound-for-pound, the senior is the strongest player on the team. Vaccaro bench presses 215 pounds, power cleans 210 and squats 310.

Plus, he has done 35 pull-ups, has a 30-inch vertical leap and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.66.

“Over the summer, people told me I had to get bigger,” Vaccaro said. “I wanted to get up to 170 pounds, but I thought I’d be a tank.

“I play every down — offense, defense and special teams — so for me it was more about strength and endurance than bulk.”

Connor Vaccaro, Hunter’s twin brother, got the bulk.

At 5-11, 195 pounds, Connor plays on the defensive line and is Hunter’s center.

“The coaches kid us all the time,” Connor said. “They ask if Hunter was taking snaps from me in the womb.”

Not really because Hunter moved in as the starting quarterback this season, taking over for Connor Moore, who led the Eagles to an 11-2 record last season.

Because Hunter and Connor are twins, the chemistry between QB and center is amazing.

Hunter explained that in Friday’s San Diego Section Division V championship game against Francis Parker, Connor snapped the ball without a sound being made, without the coaches, his teammates or the defense being aware.

And the Eagles converted a key fourth-and-2.

“I was groomed to take over at quarterback, and I knew it had to be a fast evolution because a lot is expected of the quarterback in this offense,” Hunter said.

Santa Fe Christian runs the wing-T with variations.

The quarterback rides the fullback into the line of scrimmage, reads the defense, then decides to hand off, keep the ball or pitch it to a halfback.

“Hunter is so quick, but he’s also so intelligent,” Ruscetta said. “I’ll send in a play — say ‘Flex Right Reach, 21 Rocket Pass, Z Special Post.’ Kind of a complicated call. Hunter never asks me to repeat something. And he never messes up a call.

“Really, he’s not just good, he’s really good.

“And his conditioning is amazing. During lacrosse season last spring, he flipped the switch and hit the weight room with a passion.”

With Vaccaro’s responsibilities on offense, one might imagine defense would be a place he would relax.

Guess again.

Vaccaro has 39 tackles, 42 assists and an interception from his free safety position.

“Hunter is our quarterback on both sides of the ball,” said SFC defensive coordinator Dan Egan, who along with Ruscetta joined the Eagles staff when Brian Sipe came on board nearly 10 years ago.

“Hunter is an exceptional leader with great instincts, and has a tremendous football IQ. He understands what we’re trying to do and embraces it.

“I know it’s a cliche, but he’s a coach on the field. He’s one of the best we’ve ever had here.”

Vaccaro said playing quarterback has helped him become a better defensive player.

“Playing quarterback has forced me to understand line play,” Vaccaro said. “Because of that, I can read the linemen. I know where the ball is going, and it makes me a step faster.

“I love to fly around and make plays. And no one on this defense is afraid to tackle.

“Ego isn’t a huge part of what we are here. I have huge respect for offensive linemen because they practice 10 times harder than the backs.

“The line makes me look good.

“Because of them, our run game is so hard to stop.”

Vaccaro can’t be stopped in the classroom, either, where he carries a 4.45 GPA.

He already has been accepted at TCU and has applied to Stanford, Notre Dame and UCLA among others.

“I’d love to play college football, but no one is recruiting me,” Vaccaro said. “Football isn’t my only avenue, but I love the game.

“If I can’t play at the college level, I’ll play intramurals.

“No matter what course I take, I’d love to come back to SFC and coach. Because for me, football is a part of life.”


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