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FOOTBALL: The Titans Remember

You won’t find Mark Alvarado hanging up motivational posters or trying to fire up his players with billboard material.


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Unfortunately, the Highland Junior Midgets have good memories without reminders. Fortunately, the Titans have a chip as big as an elephant on their shoulders and are ready for redemption.

“Unfinished business” might be the motto for the season.

“It still eats at me, but I know it eats at a lot of us,” said Alvarado, referring to last season’s 14-8 loss to Kankakee Valley in the Pee Wee state championship. “It was a painful, painful loss.”

Highland was a wrecking ball leading up to the big game. A 10-0 record was matched by dominance and a team that only turned the ball over three times all season long.

“We had six turnovers in the state championship,” Alvarado said. “We had two inside the 10-yard line. We were always a ball-controlled team. The football gods just didn’t shine on us. I know if we played (K.V.) 100 times we would have beat them 99.”

The bitter loss was tough to swallow, but Alvarado knows his team has another shot at glory. He returns a loaded lineup on his Junior Midgets squad, with 19 of 22 players loaded with experience.

The kid to watch – and a future budding superstar – is running back/linebacker Raphael Rios, a former lineman-turned-halfback, who Alvarado can’t help but drool about.

“You only get one of them here and there, and he’s as special as you can get,” Alvarado said. “We were at a four-day camp (at Ben Davis) and he lit it up down there. He really came into his own. Every coach kept saying, ‘Wow, look at No. 40.’ He’s a man-child.”

Rios, a seventh grader, ran a 5.0 flat 40-yard dash at the camp, and was only topped by three eighth graders. Not far behind is Trent Slaven, the featured back until Rios broke onto the scene. Slaven, also a stallion, is the backup quarterback and also plays linebacker. At QB is Dean Foundos, with Alvarado’s son, Mark Jr., being a standout on the offensive line and defensive end.

Alvarado can’t help but gush talking about his team. He loves the wide receiver/cornerback tandem of Jake Steele and Tommy Crowel, and calls Jake Korcha “an animal.”

“Jake is 110 percent on every sprint, every drill,” Alvarado said. “He’s such an intense kid.”

Another newcomer is Jonathan Garcia, who has been dominant on the defensive line, while Brandon Phillips is an “up and comer,” according to Alvarado.


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“Deep in our hearts we know we were better than K.V.,” Alvarado said. “They beat us – give them credit – but we haven’t forgot it. The kids are fired up.”

Close is nothing new for this group. Two years ago, the Highland Junior Pee Wees hammered a team from Valparaiso 33-6 during the season. In the state quarterfinals, Highland lost to the same team 39-32, after Rios was lost to a hamstring injury and Slaven broke his thumb.

Luck might not be on its side, but talent sure is. Highland hasn’t had a losing season since Alvarado started coaching when the kids were 5 and 6.

“The parents say this could be the changing of the guard (for Highland High football),” Alvarado said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t count your chickens until they’re hatched.’”

Alvarado definitely knows. However, he also knows this season could be one to remember for Highland Pop Warner. A state title would erase all the past misfortunes and missed opportunities.

“Something would have to drastically go wrong for us not to get to the championship,” Alvarado said. “We’re not overlooking anybody, but the kids have worked so hard. We’re taking it one week at a time, but we’re definitely focused.”

 

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