Joe Davidson

Small players make big plays for Placer, Rocklin, Antelope, Highlands

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None of them sees height and weight as a hindrance.

They’re football players, diminutive and dangerous in the open field, and their motto just as might well be: “Good luck catching me.”

Four area high school seniors are propelling their teams toward the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. None is generating much recruiting interest, if any. Still, the snub that they’re “too small” fuels them.

“These guys didn’t just become small,” Antelope coach Matt Ray said in sizing up Jared Halbert of Placer, Evyn Holtz of Rocklin, Devaughn Silver of Antelope and Isaiah Tenette of Highlands. “They’ve been small all their lives. I don’t know if they have a chip on their shoulders, but they certainly have a better understanding of strengths than most kids.”

How they size up:

Jared Halbert – Halbert is listed by his coaches at 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, but he politely insists he’s closer to 5-9 and 170. He wants to squeeze out every inch and every pound – the same way he squeezes out every inch and yard on the field. Halbert has rushed for 717 yards and 10 touchdowns for the No. 9 Hillmen (8-0).

The wing-T offense is designed to feature backs of any size with myriad fakes the key.

“Jared plays like he’s 225 pounds,” Placer coach Joey Montoya said.

Halbert said attitude is vital to success.

“I don’t care how big I am, I’m going to give it my all on every play,” he said. “We put a lot into this. It means a lot to us to play for a program with this kind of tradition.”

Halbert said one thing about smaller players is they don’t miss meals.

“My freshman year, I was 5-6 and 120,” Halbert said. “I ate a lot. I couldn’t wait to get bigger. I hope to keep growing.”

Evyn Holtz – Rocklin coach Greg Benzel said his staff members have never seen Holtz’s size as an issue. They see results.

“Evyn just makes plays,” Benzel said.

He makes plays in the same manner as a former Thunder running back. Jackson Cummings, 5-8 and 180 pounds, powered Rocklin to a 14-1 season in 2009 and earned a scholarship to Stanford.

I’m still growing, and my attitude is to just work, work, work.

Evyn Holtz, Rocklin running back

Holtz is 5-8 and a muscled 190 pounds. He feels his way along the offensive line, finds a seam and then jets up field as one of the region’s most explosive players. He’s rushed for 774 yards and 16 touchdowns for the No. 8 Thunder (5-3).

“Every time I run, I’m thinking of chasing our team goals,” Holtz said. “A lot of college recruiters look at size and strength, and they look for bigger guys. I just eliminate all of that from my mindset and I feel like I’m 220 pounds and I run with 4.4 speed.

“Even though I’m small, I do have an advantage, setting up my blocks and then going for it,” Holtz said. “I’m still growing, and my attitude is to just work, work, work. It doesn’t matter how big you are. If you work, the results will come, no matter what.”

Devaughn Silver – Silver looks across the dinner table or across the line of scrimmage in practice and sees a mirror image – his twin brother, Darnell. They are both 5-6 with Devaughn weighing 170 pounds and Darnell 150. They were born almost two months premature, arriving at a combined 10 pounds, and they soon grew to love football and food. Don’t let their stature throw you, family members say. The Silvers attack the contents within a refrigerator like they do opposing teams.

While his brother plays defense, Devaughn Silver has rushed for 567 yards and seven touchdowns for the No. 5 Titans (8-0). Silver’s 186 yards and three touchdowns, including his game-winning two-point conversion run in overtime, led the Titans past Cosumnes Oaks 42-41.

“What’s the saying? You can’t catch what you can’t see,” said Ray, the Titans’ coach. “Devaughn’s pretty strong, very explosive. Both of the Silvers are.”

Silver’s hair jets out from the back of his helmet and he jokes that it makes him faster, unlike Darnell, who sports a tight look and isn’t as fast, Silver insists.

“I love playing football with my brother, and we have a brotherly competition all the time,” Devaughn said. “Our attitude is: We may be small, but we play with big hearts. I know I’m going to run extra hard to help my team. We’ve been playing backyard football since we were little, and no one could catch or tackle us.”

Isaiah Tenette – Tenette won’t buckle any scales at 5-8 and 145 pounds, but he buckles defenses as a one-man offensive machine for Highlands (5-3).

A quarterback, Tenette has passed for 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns and he has rushed for 1,680 yards and 28 touchdowns.

I embrace the fact that I can do a lot of things in a game to help our team, and I use my advantage – my feet, my speed – despite any size disadvantages.

Isaiah Tenette, Highlands quarterback

“I embrace the fact that I can do a lot of things in a game to help our team, and I use my advantage – my feet, my speed – despite any size disadvantages,” Tenette said. “Playing well in sports, it’s good for our community and school, and it gives something for people to follow, to stand by.

“I play hard on every down, every possession because I need to. I like the pressure. I like a game-winning drive all on my shoulders, take it or leave it.”

Tenette, who plays guard on the Scots’ basketball team, said he’s been blown away by his statistical totals.

“I didn’t realize how big the numbers are,” Tenette said, laughing. “I’m just doing the best I can.”

Said Highlands coach Matt Cokley: “Isaiah only knows one way, his motto since he first had a ball in his hands.”

A common theme for smaller players everywhere.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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