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Hollister High’s Alex Valencia aims to be a tackling machine

Inside linebacker Alex Valencia, seen here in a mid-August practice, is averaging nine tackles a game for the Haybalers this season. File photo.

Before the season started, Hollister High senior Alex Valencia set a lofty goal for himself: average 10-plus tackles a game. The 5-foot-11, 190 pound inside linebacker is close, which means he’s having a pretty solid season.  

“I’m averaging nine tackles a game so I feel like I’ve been doing well,” he said. “I just go out there and try to make every play on the field.”

Valencia’s best performance came in a 12-6 loss to Valley Christian on Sept. 8. He collected a career-best 17 tackles and late in the fourth quarter hit the opposing quarterback to force an incompletion. Valencia is a third-year varsity player and in his second season as a starter. 

He credited the Hollister coaches including defensive coordinator Tod Thatcher for getting him up to speed so he could become one of the team’s premier inside linebackers starting last year.

“I was taught very well sophomore season which set everything up,” he said. “Last year I felt like I was a little shaky at first, but I got more comfortable with more games. This year everything is coming more naturally, everything feels easier.”

Valencia said he’s improved on the hustle plays, or just always being around the ball. That comes from desire, hard work in practice and a lot of prep time watching the video scouting report. Since his goal is to play at the four-year level, Valencia knows every game is an opportunity for him to make an impression on someone. 

“I want to be that standout player that when scouts are at the game, they’ll say, ‘Dang, this kid can play,’” Valencia said. 

The Hollister players have video film sessions Monday through Thursday during their lunch period. Upon review, Valencia knows he’s had a good game if he’s pinpoint on his assignments, getting key reads off the opposing linemen, having a quick first step, being stout against the run and providing coverage against the pass. . 

“In the Salinas game (33-13 loss on Sept. 23) I thought I did very well in the pass game getting into my drop and going across the field making hustle plays,” he said. 

Hollister entered the week 3-3 overall and 1-1 in Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division play. Even though the Haybalers have struggled against the perennial powerhouse teams like Wilcox and Salinas—and to a lesser extent, Valley Christian—Valencia said the team is close to getting over the hump. 

“I feel like once we click it’s going to be dangerous for any opponent that plays against us because we’ll bring it,” he said. “The offense is picking it up week by week and I think against Salinas we got better as a team even though the score might not show it.”

When the Balers have a Friday night league road game, the locker room opens at 4pm. Valencia likes to get there a little early to get the process started to where he’ll be properly focused for the game. From getting situated to the bus ride to getting to the visiting locker room, Valencia does everything that will help him deliver a peak performance. 

“We’re locked in on the bus ride,” he said. “We don’t have music playing. We have to be quiet on the bus. We all have earbuds in and everyone is locked in on their scouting reports.”

Valencia comes from a family of athletes. He said his grandfather was a linebacker at Cal and Valencia’s cousin, Andrew Sotelo, is a former Hollister High standout in baseball and football. Valencia knows he has to be in tune mentally to shine physically. 

So, he carries with him a certain mentality in everything he does, especially on the field. 

“I have a strong belief you don’t have to be the biggest player on the field to be the best player,” he said. “I’m not the biggest player on the field, but I try to play like the biggest player on the field.”

Alex Valencia (24) is usually around the opposing ball-carrier for a tackle as is the case here vs. Wilcox. File photo.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at elee@weeklys.com