LONGMONT — From an early age, Silver Creek football coach Mike Apodaca’s sons Austin and Andre separated themselves as two very different football players.
Austin, the eldest, was lanky and Andre was stocky. Austin didn’t care much for hitting while Andre relished it. By the time they reached high school, Austin had developed into a live-armed quarterback. Andre went the opposite direction.
In 2011, the spotlight surrounded an offense led by Austin Apodaca, who threw for 3,849 yards and 44 touchdowns his senior season to lead the Raptors to their first Class 3A state title game. Austin is now at Washington State University and younger brother Andre is leading a Raptors playoff run of his own. Only this Apodaca, and this year’s Raptors, are besting some of the state’s top teams with their defense.
“I think our defense really played in the trenches last year. We played with a really big chip on our shoulder and we were OK with being the ones that people didn’t see as much,” Apodaca said. “It’s fun to see that we’re getting credit for what we’re doing. We have a crazy good defense.”
Behind the defense, the 10th-seeded Raptors have reached a showdown with the 15th-seeded Pueblo Central Wildcats (8-3), who upset No. 2 Discovery Canyon 24-14 in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs. Along their run, the Raptors (9-2) have allowed 17 or fewer points in all nine of their wins this season, including a 33-14 first-round win over No. 7 Elizabeth (7-4).
At the heart of the Raptors’ 4-4 defense is middle linebacker Andre Apodaca, who leads the Raptors with 126 tackles (11.5 per game) as a junior. Among a group that prides itself on discipline and accountability for individual assignments, Andre Apodaca is the leader.
Apodaca is responsible for getting the plays in and getting everyone in the right spots before the snap. He played middle backer as a sophomore, as well, but with senior Nathan Dunlavy next to him, Apodaca could simply attack the play without being burdened by having to manage the defense.
“Last year I didn’t have the same leadership role I have this year,” Apodaca said. “I was just kind of there to do my job but this year I have to know what the defense is doing and account for what everybody is doing and communicate what everybody’s doing.”
Once the ball is snapped he’s responsible for the A-gap but also has to attack the play to both sides of the field. He has above average size (6-foot-1, 195 lbs), but he’s no monster. He has good speed (4.8 40-yard dash) but he’s no track star. His ability to read and react, Mike Apodaca said, and to get to his spot before the offense can block him, is what separates Andre as a linebacker.
Mike Apodaca, a middle linebacker in his own day, said he has a special appreciation for leaving his mark on the defensive side of the ball. He also enjoys seeing his younger son do things his own way.
“It’s hard enough to follow in footsteps and if it’s the same position it makes it harder,” Mike Apodaca said. “Andre’s always been able to do his own thing. What he is and what his skill set is, he’s really taken ownership of that.”
The Raptors offense is prolific and is averaging 30.7 points per game. But the defense is the more experienced unit and has repeatedly proven the difference-maker in games.
Andre Apodaca said a legitimate love for keeping points off the scoreboard is the driving force behind the Silver Creek defense.
“We need to be the ones who are the enforcers,” Apodaca said. “Our defense is really what’s going to get us to the state championship. If they don’t score, they don’t win.”
Against the Wildcats (27.8 points per game), the defense will be tested by sophomore tailback Nikko Valdez, who has rushed for 1,550 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
“He’s a lot of their offense,” said senior outside linebacker Anthony Emberley, who has 75 tackles this season. “We’ve put the emphasis and that and we’re looking forward to taking him out of the equation and playing some hard-nosed defense. They’re a big offense and we’d like to hit them in the mouth.”
As far as their approach to the game of football, Andre and older brother Austin can agree to disagree. Where they can always see eye-to-eye, however, is that winning is winning no matter how you do it.
“I just always liked to be the enforcer and he liked to be the one making the huge plays,” Andre Apodaca said. “I think you can do that on defense, too.”
Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradCochi