During preseason football workouts, Davis High defensive coordinator Ty Brown said he would take his group of linebackers — Wally Perez, Brendan MacDonald and Eli Castro — over any group in the entire state.
That was quite a statement.
But halfway through the season, Perez, MacDonald and Castro — known as The Cartel by Blue Devil coaches and teammates — have backed up Brown’s bold statement and are the leaders of a dominant Blue Devil defense, which has posted three shutouts in five games so far this season.
DHS is 4-1 and had a bye this weekend. The Devils dive headfirst into a challenging Delta Valley Conference schedule with Friday’s Homecoming game against Monterey Trail.
While the entire local defense is using this midseason break to refocus for DVC play, Brown says the trio of talented linebackers are some of the most dedicated players on the team:
“They show up every day at practice and they give everything that they can possibly give. They show up in the meeting rooms and they’re watching film and asking questions. They show up on Saturdays to look at extra film and do the weight training. They put in the time to be an elite group.”
The hard work that MacDonald, Castro and Perez put in on the field has not only made them into better players, but it has also helped improve the entire defense as well.
“We didn’t always have that depth and that level of talent at (the linebacker) position,” Brown said. “(Castro, MacDonald and Perez) have allowed us to do a lot of things on the back end in the secondary because we’ve got such good linebacker play in front of them.”
The arrangement has worked great so far as the Blue Devils already have six interceptions on the year, one away from matching last year’s total.
With Castro and MacDonald now in their senior seasons, and Perez, a junior, playing his second year on varsity, all three have grown into leadership roles in 2013.
“It’s been unquestioned leadership from these guys,” Brown said. “It’s them stepping up in big moments in games, taking the leadership role during practice, getting guys organized in the weight room. They keep guys focused.”
According to Brown, each player has qualities that make them special players and great linebackers.
“With Castro, when he steps on a football field, he sets his hair on fire and just goes,” Brown said. “The kid plays with reckless abandon, and its heartwarming to watch him play. It’s almost emotional, almost makes me tearful sometimes.”
Perez, who wears No. 7, has had a special look to him since being brought up to varsity as a sophomore in 2012.
“Wally shows up and does what we coach him to do,” Brown said. “If we say, ‘Wally, fill the hole,’ he fills it. ‘Wally, follow the pulling guard,’ he does it.
“What makes Wally so special is how physical he is. He’s the kid, when you look out there, doesn’t do anything flashy; but you look at the film after the game and go, ‘Whoa, look at seven!’ He did his job and did it really, really well.’”
MacDonald, who is a team captain, got only praise from Brown.
“B-Mac is a consummate professional, to use that word at this level,” Brown said. “To see Brendan out there looking like a high school Ray Lewis going sideline to sideline, barking out the play calls, getting guys lined up, keeping his teammates fired up, he is just a consummate leader, and a great guy to have on your team. Whatever college program is fortunate enough to land that young man, they’re getting a true diamond.”
MacDonald can be considered somewhat of a renaissance man. The stout middle linebacker also plays the cello in DHS’ Baroque Ensemble, a group whose conductor Angelo Moreno is up for a Grammy this year.
Brendan, the son of Leslye Barkey and Dan MacDonald, is the youngest child, with sister Bridget currently attending UC Berkeley. MacDonald has played football since he was 13, and is hoping to continue his football career at either Claremont McKenna or UC Davis.
“I’ve gotten a couple offers, and if things work out, I think I’ll definitely take one of those up,” MacDonald said. “I think it would be a great experience. I want to get a good education, so I want to go somewhere where football and a good education is available.”
Perez, the son of Adam Perez — a DHS assistant football coach — and Laura Delgado, has grown up around the game, first playing when he was 5 years old. Perez is the oldest of three with two younger sisters, Allie and Bella.
Being a coach’s son, Perez spends much of his free time watching film at his house. As a junior, Perez hasn’t yet looked into specific colleges.
“I definitely want to play in college, I think it would just be a great thing,” Perez said. “I mean, being on a field in front of all those people: what more can you ask for?”
Castro was the late starter of the three, first playing football in his freshman year as a defensive back. After just one year, Castro was called up to the varsity squad before the Blue Devils played against regional power Grant.
“I wasn’t really confident going into that game,” Castro said. “At the end of the first half, I was doing alright. But by the end of that game I was just making tackle after tackle, and that really showed me that anything is possible.”
And last year was another change for Castro, who moved from safety to linebacker after last year’s Woodland game, a 40-0 win in Week 5. Eli, the son of Anna and Matias, is one of six Castro children. He does not plan to play football in college, but he does plan to continue by playing a club sport.
But before the three LBs look to their college futures, The Cartel has its sights set on one goal: getting that playoff berth that DHS missed by just one game last season. After last year’s heartbreaking end to the season, these three guys want to change that feeling in 2013.
“(The team is) all basically my family,” Perez said. “I knew how bad it felt when we lost, and (the) seniors … didn’t have another chance (to get to playoffs). This year, I don’t want to let my seniors down.”
Castro added: “We don’t want to make the same mistakes as last year’s defense. We don’t slack off, and we want to keep the tempo up. We have to play fast, physical, and smart, just like coach Brown says.”
“Last year hurt,” MacDonald said. “Elk Grove, that final game … It hurt. It was tough to be so close to going to playoffs, but falling short. Some of us didn’t leave that field for a solid half hour, and we just kind of sat there. We know that feeling and we want to change it this year.”
— Reach Thomas Oide at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterThomas