Greg Arispe was angry. The Anzar High senior had just allowed a completion of over 20 yards in the first half in a game against Pinewood on Sept. 28, perhaps the longest ball caught against him all season. A couple of plays before that, Arispe felt like he should’ve had an interception.
Combine that with the fact that Pinewood wasn’t shying away from throwing his way early on—this despite Arispe pretty much shutting down any receiver he was on—put Arispe in a slightly agitated state. So what happened next? With Pinewood trailing by a couple of scores and marching down the field, they elected to throw to the receiver who Arispe was covering.
Bad move. Arispe intercepted the pass and ran it back 40 yards deep into Pinewood territory. A couple of plays later, Arispe rushed for a touchdown to give the Hawks a lead they would never come close to relinquishing. The sequence of events—Arispe making an impact both offensively and defensively—highlighted what Arispe has been doing all season.
“Against Pinewood I was frustrated before that interception because their QB kept throwing it toward me, and there were three passes where I could’ve intercepted each one of them,” Arispe said. “But I misread them. On the interception, I was watching the QB all the way and remember him throwing the ball in my area. I picked it off and it pretty much iced the game.”
Arispe is a major reason why Anzar recently completed its best season in program history. The Hawks finished the season at 5-4 overall and 3-1 in the 8-man Pacific Coast League, the first time in school history the team has posted a winning record without the aid of a forfeit victory (which happened in 2013).
“I know Anzar has had a lot of good players, but I just cannot imagine anyone has been as good as Greg,” Hawks coach Kollin Kosmicki said. “I’m thankful I’ve been able to coach him these last two years. He’s really dedicated and one of those leaders in the weight room. He just loves football.”
And loves to compete. Arispe suffered a bad ankle sprain in the first game of the season, plaguing him and the team, which got off to a 1-3 start. The slow start can be chalked up to Anzar playing tough competition and a rash of injuries that slowed the Hawks down.
However, once Arispe healed up, Anzar found its stride. In the team’s fifth game of the season against Crystal Springs Uplands of Hillsborough, the Hawks trailed by 14 points at halftime before unleashing a comeback that turned around its season. Anzar went on to win that game and lost just once the rest of the way, a 54-26 decision to Cornerstone Christian of Antioch, the league champion and a formidable team that finished the season with a perfect 9-0 record.
“They came out (after halftime of the Crystal Springs game) and responded, and the train hasn’t stopped since then,” Kosmicki said.
It’s no coincidence that the Hawks started finding their rhythm when Arispe was inserted as the starting quarterback for the second half of the Crystal Springs contest. Dynamic, shifty and ultra athletic, Arispe baffled the opposition on the read option. Arispe eluded would-be tacklers with his ability to make a cut on a moment’s notice, but he also broke a lot of tackles, which was an underrated part of his game.
“He’s got a real motor on him and he keeps his legs moving,” Kosmicki said.
Anzar has also been buoyed by the play of Eric Chavarria, Jose Arriaga, Tony Aguilar and senior Logan Ledon, who plays the other cornerback position and like Arispe had a couple of interceptions and forced several incompletions. Ledon, who also plays receiver, caught a 40-yard touchdown pass just before halftime in a win over Woodside Priory in the penultimate game of the season.
Kosmicki said few teams in the 8-man league could boast the talent in the defensive backfield that Anzar had with Arispe and Ledon. Arriaga, a junior defensive end who is in his first year of playing football, also has the proverbial motor that never stops.
“Jose has been putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback,” Kosmicki said. “He along with Tony Aguilar—who has been one of our best defensive players—have really made a big impact for us.”
As has Chavarria, a running back and linebacker who was vital to the run game with his ability to block and make strong runs. Defensively, Chavarria was always around the ball, a testament to his athleticism and instincts. Arispe didn’t start playing football until he was 14 with the Hollister Rebels Pop Warner team. He showed flashes of brilliance then, but the auspicious start to his football career didn’t last long.
Arispe’s freshman season was cut short after he was declared academically ineligible, something that has served as a wakeup call going forward.
“I got kicked off the team for not making grades, and I wasn’t taking anything seriously,” he said. “Not being able to play football, I realized how much I loved the game and needed to play. So from then I focused on keeping my grades up.”
However, success still eluded Arispe during his sophomore season. Relegated to a wingback role where he was mostly used as a blocker, Arispe felt like his skills weren’t being used. But that all changed with the arrival of Kosmicki before the start of the 2017 season.
“Coach Kollin saw my skills right away and put them to use,” Arispe said. “Everything changed for me and the team when he got here.”
In addition to all of Arispe’s aforementioned skills, Kosmicki said the standout player also possesses the intangibles that are necessary for success.
“He has the ‘it’ factor,” Kosmicki said. “Aside from the superior physical things like his speed and quickness, he’s a really smart player and brings as much passion to the game I’ve seen. You combine that with his game-breaking ability, and that’s why he can do some amazing things.”
An example of that came in the game against Woodside Priory, in which Arispe looked like he was going to be caught in the back field for a big loss only to slip out of numerous tackles en route to a huge gain. Just when it looked like Arispe was merely dancing—football lingo for making unnecessary moves in place of going forward—Arispe ended up busting off a huge gain.
“My initial instinct on that play was unfolding was to get sort of frustrated because the play was going nowhere,” Kosmicki said. “All of a sudden he slips out of a tackle, does a spin move and goes the other way. “
Kosmicki was left in amazement, knowing few players in the 8-man league could pull off such a move.