Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 33
The Sun profiles four standout high school football players
BY KRISTINA SEWELL
To some, a football stadium is one of the most beautiful sights in the world. The plush grass is green, chalked, and waiting for the welcome wear and tear of cleats. The scoreboard stands ready to light up numbers powerful enough to make or break a team. While the bleachers wait to come alive with the spirit of the crowd, the lights illuminate everything and bring an indescribable magic to the most sacred of places.
A football stadium is a pocket in the world where anything is possible. In high school football, the stadium is an icon for the community and a home away from home for players. In this place, boys of the gridiron feel the power of victory and learn to accept failure with grace. It is a place where heroes are born, memories are made, and boys transform into men before our very eyes.
The football brotherhood is strong on the Central Coast, with a number of athletes making names for themselves, their schools, and the community. This week, the Sun introduces you to four football players from Righetti, Lompoc, Nipomo, and Pioneer Valley high schools. Nominated by their coaches as standout players, these athletes are making their own magic under the lights and proving that they are more than just the numbers they put up.
Matt Albright, Nipomo High School
Manning the quarterback position is no easy task. When the game comes down to the final snap, the pressure falls on one man—and if the game is lost, it’s all on his shoulders.
But junior quarterback Matt Albright from Nipomo said the pressure is something he has become immune to.
“I have to be a leader and help my teammates when they’re down,” Albright said. “You have to know you’re in the game no matter what the score is.”
The quarterback loves showing what he can do and getting a win for the community.
“When I make a good throw and score a touchdown, it’s an awesome feeling,” he said.
Albright has been making good throws and scoring touchdowns all season. With 1,580 passing yards and 16 passing touch-downs, Albright has helped lead the Titans to a 2-1 record in league (as of press time).
Albright’s personal goals for the season are to reach 2,000 yards passing and 25 touchdowns. This is the junior’s first year as starting quarterback and, while he was nervous at first, Albright said he is settling in.
“I just cancel out the noise, [and] focus on the play call and what I need to do,” he said.
Nipomo varsity coach Russ Edwards is in his second year of working with Albright. The first thing that stood out to Edwards about the quarterback was his intelligence and his ability to take instruction and apply it to a game.
“We would give him pointers and then he would make this surprising throw in a game. I’d ask him why and he would refer to what I had told him earlier that week in practice,” Edwards said. “Very few boys I’ve ever coached can process information that quickly and take it to games.”
Edwards said Albright thrives at quarterback because of his intelligence, arm strength, vision on the field, and his ability to pick apart defenses. Most importantly, Edwards said Albright handles the pressure very well.
“You can’t hide as a quarterback—the ball goes through them 70 percent of the time,” he said. “But Albright accepts it rather than letting it affect him.”
He added that Albright is a good player who has tremendous potential to be great.
Albright said former Nipomo quarterback Josh Correia has been a great source of inspiration to him, helping him a lot with his footwork and mechanics. The junior now tries to help the younger players, too.
“I stay positive, and if they mess up, I’ll pick them up,” he said.
Albright also excels on the baseball field, earning second team All-League as a first baseman. After high school, Albright would like to play college ball somewhere in L.A. to pursue a career as an athletic trainer.
“Football has taught me to be more confident,” he said. “Being quarterback helps you become a leader. You know what to say to cheer people up when they are having a bad day.”
Jacob Fowler, Righetti High School
Jacob Fowler remembers being a little boy and going to Righetti High School football games with his parents. He had dreams of playing for the Warriors one day, but because of his size he was worried he would never have the chance.
But Fowler isn’t worried anymore. Looking back on it, the senior said it’s one of the most amazing feelings in the world to be a part of this varsity squad.
“I never was very big or athletic, but it’s great to be a starter and I’m grateful to be out here,” he said.
Fowler is an important part of that, leading the team in interceptions. The tight end/defensive end has accumulated 100 receiving yards and 16 catches thus far.
Coming into this season, Fowler wanted to become a captain, play both sides of the ball, and help his team put a football banner in the gym by winning the league championship.
Righetti coach Ed Hermann couldn’t say enough good things about Fowler. He said the senior never misses practice, never complains, and “works his tail off.”
“He is a very cerebral player,” Hermann said. “But he never gives up; he gets between the lines and gives it his all.”
He said that even though Fowler might not be the biggest or the fastest player, he makes up for it with good hands, the determination to succeed, and toughness. The veteran coach cited an instance in which Fowler had his hand stepped on by a cleat in the game, but he refused to be taken out.
“I love the physicality of the game and depending on a team,” Fowler said.
For the senior, the most important thing to do in games is to never play to the score and to stay confident in his ability.
“Always play like it’s zero-zero and know that you’re better than the guy you’re up against,” Fowler said.
Hermann said he will miss Fowler next year, but he knows that whatever this young man chooses to do, he will be successful. Hermann said in addition to being a great football player, Fowler is also an excellent student, carrying a 4.2 GPA.
“He is a ‘do it all’ kind of guy; he is very steady and you always know what you’re going to get,” Hermann said.
While the senior is investigating Division III schools for football, he said he wants to major in education to become a teacher. Working with the students at Dunlap was a major highlight to his season, he said.
In light of his senior year, Fowler shared that these remaining games are going to be different and twice as special.
“Putting on my jersey and stepping under the lights is the best feeling in the world,” he said. “You get to put on a jersey that says Warriors and go out with your brothers you have been working so hard with. I’m going to miss it so much.”
Chris Carter, Pioneer Valley High School
Around his wrist, Chris Carter always wears a blue rubber bracelet—to school, in games, it is always with him. For Carter, a senior football player at Pioneer Valley, this bracelet is a constant reminder to do all the things his late little brother can no longer do. It is a driving force behind his performance on the field.
Last year, Carter lost his 3-year-old brother to stage-four neuroblastoma, a type of cancer. An unwavering commitment to his team and an enlightened spirit kept Carter from missing any practices during that difficult time.
“I made a commitment to my team,” Carter said. “Death is a part of life. It’s tough, but life goes on, and the world doesn’t stop when bad things happen.”
With this amount of dedication, it’s easy to see why head varsity coach Dan Ellington chose Carter as his most standout player this season.
Playing tight end and defensive end, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior has racked up 24 tackles on the season. Ellington said Carter has improved tremendously at the defensive end position with a toughness that can’t go unnoticed in football.
“He is a technician who understands his position. You know he will work hard,” Ellington said.
He said Carter’s athletic physique, long arms, and good field vision make him an above-average athlete. While all of these traits make this senior a wonderful player, it’s Carter’s character that Ellington admires most.
“Character-wise, he is the best kid I have ever coached,” Ellington said. “He is a team captain and I give him a lot of responsibility. He is a really unique individual on and off the field.”
Plus, Carter comes with all the intangibles—coachability and being able to overcome his own mistakes.
“The team really looks up to him; everyone says they want to be like Chris,” Ellington said.
Defense in particular is a good fit for Carter because he craves the reaction.
“Defense is all reaction and animal instincts—you have to overpower whoever is in front of you,” Carter said.
He added that he’s the kind of player who understands the importance of working hard to achieve goals.
“I didn’t do very well my first three years of football, but I knew I could accomplish anything if I worked hard,” he said.
For this athlete, his football team is his second family and his teammates are his brothers—something he is reminded of every time he dons his teal and black uniform.
“A uniform is something that distinguishes you and associates you with something,” Carter said. “So you want to do good. It’s a reminder that this is your family.”
Coming into this season, Carter’s goals were simple and as selfless as the player himself.
“I wanted to help my team and be the best player I could be,” he said. “I wanted to be a good brother and friend.”
As a captain, Carter said he tries to be the light for the team by always keeping his head up and staying positive. Off the field, Carter’s stellar character shines through in his church activities, his 3.8 GPA, and his role as an Eagle Scout. Ellington said that if any player can go on to play at the college level, it would be Carter.
The senior said he has learned a lot about life from football—dedication, perseverance, and respect—all things he plans to take with him.
“Football is a great sport that teaches boys how to become men,” Carter said. “Whatever I end up doing, I want to continue making a difference in the world.”
AJ Florez, Lompoc High School
AJ Florez has been patiently waiting and diligently studying in Lompoc High School’s football wings for three years. But this season, the senior running back has been able to spread his wings—and he is soaring.
With 645 rushing yards and 92 carries, Florez has become one of those players opposing teams have to be very aware of.
“I want to get to 1,000 rushing yards this season with 15 touchdowns,” Florez said. “But mostly I wanted the team to have a good year.”
Coach Andrew Jones, a Lompoc football alum, has worked with Florez for three years. The senior doesn’t talk very much, but Jones said he does his talking on the field.
“The key to being a running back is taking care of the ball like AJ, and you have to have vision for how plays will develop,” Jones said.
Jones said Florez has been playing linebacker for defense as well—and he always wants the ball. The coach said the player was pulled up as a sophomore and has learned what it takes by watching the great players who have come before him.
“He has gotten bigger and faster,” Jones said. “It’s good to see a person who has worked so hard and been so patient succeed.”
Florez said he came into this season wanting to increase his speed and power, and put in a lot of time after practice to work on those skills. For this bull-nosed player, his single-minded focus is getting to the end zone—so don’t get in his way.
“I like people coming after me and trying to take me down—it gives me the best feeling,” Florez said. “I want to give credit to my offensive line—they are the best in the league and open up good holes for me.”
Jones said rather than weaving his way down the field Florez is the kind of running back who will run right at players and punish whoever gets in his way.
Florez’s spirit and determination landed him a captain position this year via a unanimous vote from his teammates. But being a captain doesn’t come without its challenges.
“Sometimes it’s hard trying to bring everyone together when people don’t want to listen,” Florez said. “But I work to be an example: [If] I show up every single day and do whatever my coach asks, people will start to follow.”
The part of football that Florez thrives on is the input and spirit from the crowd.
“I love the noise and I feed off the crowd—it gets me pumped up to play,” Florez said. “I get to walk out with best friends I have played with since sixth grade and we are going into battle.”
The senior said he is heavily influenced and inspired by his older brother and former Lompoc running back, RJ Florez (class of 2009).
“He is always at my games if he isn’t working and he taught me how to play aggressively,” Florez said.
As of right now, Florez said he wants to play football at the university level, but will probably play at a junior college and then transfer to pursue a major in business or graphic design. With football always on his mind, Florez said the sport has given him some invaluable life skills.
“It’s taught me that I am a strong person,” he said. “When something difficult comes my way in life, I know I can battle through it.”