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Michael Aguilar came out of his shell at the right time

Posted: November 20, 2008 10:52 p.m.
Updated: November 21, 2008 4:59 a.m.

Hart High linebacker Michael Aguilar, left, has stepped into a very important role for the Indians this year - their middle linebacker.

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The sun is going down and a pair of portable lights illuminate part of the Hart High practice field.

Michael Aguilar's figure is silhouetted in the night.

The word on Aguilar was that he was quiet, maybe introverted.

What has come to light recently, though, is the senior has changed.

"Now he's got all the confidence in the world and he shows it every day in practice," says Hart head coach Mike Herrington.

Confidence is essential if you are going to play linebacker at Hart, a position with a deep history of success.

The men in the middle have won All-CIF honors 13 out of the last 14 years, including stars like Brian Elledge, Pat Norton, Dan Howell and most recently Patrick Larimore.

"It's a great tradition - an honor," Aguilar says. "I've always wanted to play here. My brother played soccer here and he used to always take me to the games when Dan Howell and Kevin Ciccone played. Loved the games and always wanted to play here."

Aguilar played with Larimore, who is now at UCLA, but didn't start.

He now is.

The 6-feet-tall, 190-pound linebacker has responded by leading the team with 81 tackles. He also grabbed an interception in Hart's 29-27 victory over arch-rival Canyon on Oct. 24.

"It's a little nerve-racking now, but I just watched Larimore last year - how he played, and picked things up from him," Aguilar says about becoming the starting middle linebacker.

However, Aguilar did not begin the season as the defensive leader.

The Indians endured a rough pre-league season, bottoming out at 2-4 following their loss to eventual-league champion Saugus.

But a switch was made following Hart's 52-14 loss to Loyola on Oct. 11.

Herrington said he was going to have to re-tool the defense.

Aguilar was given the reins.

First-year defensive coordinator Keith Matkin recalls the senior's response.

"The minute we told him he was in charge, we saw him come out as not only a player but also as a person," Matkin says.

The gravity of the promotion was not lost on the senior.

"It's a big honor trying to fill those shoes," Aguilar says. "I just have to do what the coaches tell me and do my job, help the defense improve."

Aguilar and Matkin have a lot of in common.

Both are stepping into rolls previously held by people with large shadows.

When longtime defensive coordinator Rick Herrington left for Alemany High before the season, many people wondered how the Indians would respond.

He was as much a staple for the Hart defense as any player that came through the program.

Matkin says he and Aguilar joke - Aguilar giving him a hard time about being "broken down."

The humor alleviates the stress so that, according to Matkin, when it comes time to make the big play, there is better focus in times of extreme pressure.

Aguilar has responded well to change, Matkin says.

"He's become a solid leader for us," Matkin says. "He sponges it up. At the beginning of the season, he didn't ask a lot of questions and learned on the fly. Now he's the guy that asks all the right ones."

Out of so much transition and adversity, the Indians have still been able to salvage their season, making the playoffs for the twentieth time in Herrington's 20-year tenure.

Has Aguilar's elevated play and leadership been a primary factor for a team that heads into the first round of the playoffs with a two-game winning streak?

Herrington was quick and to the point.

"Absolutely," he says.

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