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More Hispanics Tackle Football
By Bill Buchalter
August 10, 2002
Still growing at 6 feet 2, Robert Torres caught the attention of college recruiters who came by Oak Ridge High School for spring football practice.
Torres showed promise as a receiver and defensive back. He also has good speed as one of the top returning track hurdlers in Central Florida.
But this past summer, visiting relatives in Puerto Rico, Torres often had to explain football.
"They would ask American? Or regular football? And I would have to tell them American," Torres said.
Torres reflects a growing trend among young athletes of Hispanic heritage who are becoming more comfortable with football, a staple of Florida high school sports.
"My friends started playing football, so I started playing," Torres said. "I enjoyed it and now it may bring me some opportunities."
One of his close friends, Edwin Cabrera, earned a football grant-in-aid to play for Ferrum (Va.) College. Also this past week, University graduate Gabby Torres, an all-Orange County running back, walked on at UCF, hoping to earn a grant-in-aid.
Six years ago Jason Jiménez was a tall teen walking the hallways at Cypress Creek High. Then head football coach David Langdon challenged him to get in the weightroom and build up his already big body.
Jiménez found out he liked the weightroom, so Langdon challenged him to play football. Now he is a starting offensive tackle for Southern Mississippi and, at 6-7 and 295, a budding National Football League prospect.
Torres remembers his humble football beginnings as being similar. A coach, noting his tall, skinny frame, told him to see Coach Marc Jackson, then, an assistant coach, about playing the new sport.
"Coach Jackson got me started and then I found out I liked it. That's the big thing with all your friends. If they see I'm having fun and that I like it, then they find out they like it, too."
One of Central Florida's biggest football players is Carlos Rodríguez, just a sophomore offensive lineman at Osceola. He is 6 feet 5 and weighs 345. Another big one is South Lake offensive lineman Russell Peña, who goes 6-3 and 250.
There's plenty of other good football players, like Eliaquin Marrero and Derek Hernández at Gateway, linebacker Jason Valencia at South Lake, defensive lineman Zhammanuel Cardona at University and linebacker Scotty Díaz at Winter Springs.
Díaz is one of the Springs' favorite student-athletes.
"He's a great kid," football coach Steve Katz said. "He's a little guy, 5 foot 5 or so, but he's a good wrestler winning district and placing second in region, and he's being recruited by Columbia for wrestling. He's overcome a lot."
Football is the growth sport for Hispanic athletes who still are making names for themselves in all sports.
Díaz is joined on the mat by Osceola's Javier Maldonado, who was a Class 2A state champ as a sophomore and placed 6th in Class 3A as a junior.
Gateway's Monique Avilés is on the verge of becoming Central Florida's all-time goal scorer, and she branched out to become a top 400 runner in track last spring. And Cypress Creek's Alfonso Rosa was an all-Metro and all-Orange soccer selection.
Dr. Phillips' Vitor Assuncao is one of Florida's top divers and competes nationally for Team Orlando Diving, the training home for U.S. Olympian and Puerto Rican-born Mark Ruiz.
Bishop Moore baseball standout Juan Ojeda has company from Cypress Creek slugger Jon Lozada and Gateway's Kalil Díaz.
Osceola High sisters Jennifer and Amy Encarnación participlated in trials to make the Puerto Rican national softball team. And Leesburg infielder Ericka Vásquez is one of Lake County's top softball players.
Shirar Maldonado was part of Bishop Moore's girls basketball run to the Final Four, and Shalimar Maldonado was the top basketball scorer as a freshman for New Dimensions in Kissimmee.
Danny Delgado of Leesburg and Danae Valderrama of Montverde are two of Central Florida's top tennis players. Pine Ridge's Daniella Concepción is a skilled volleyball defensive specialist.
South Lake's Santiago Emeric earned all-county honors in cross country and his twin brother Santiago was honorable mention.
Leesburg's Heather Esguerra earned all-county honors in swimming and Cypress Creek's Felipe Bianco is becoming one of the school's best-ever in the pool.