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Saugus football: Denley and no one else

Saugus defensive lineman is the person he wants to be

Posted: August 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Saugus senior defensive tackle Denley Rodriguez, the younger brother of 2008 All-CIF player and All-Santa Clarita Valley and Foothill League Player of the Year Desi Rodriguez, was chosen as the Foothill League's Lineman of the Year in 2011.

When asked to grind his teeth and give an angry look, Denley Rodriguez clearly had a hard time with it.

His top lip covers his top teeth and he juts out his jaw, just bottom teeth showing.

He can’t really pull the look off.

If you asked his coach and his teammates, it’s the look and mentality that they would want from him on a daily basis.

But it’s not the 6-foot-1-inch, 275-pound defensive tackle’s nature to be that way.

He laughs and smiles. He’s good-natured. That whole “big teddy bear” thing — he’s heard it before.

For years, people have wanted Denley Rodriguez to be something he’s not.

Yet despite his friendly approach, the Saugus senior is still a beast on the football field — one who was awarded the 2011 Foothill League Lineman of the Year.

“I’ve talked to (Saugus head coach Jason) Bornn about that,” says Denley’s brother Desi about what people want his little brother to be. “The problem is if you keep trying to make a rock a diamond, it’s not going to work. It’s something my parents had to realize, too. Denley isn’t Desi. He’s smarter than Desi, more social than Desi. In football, he won’t be the same, but that’s Denley’s personality. That’s who he is. “

Desi is arguably Saugus’ greatest football player ever.

The 2009 Saugus High graduate led the Centurions to their first-ever Foothill League championship in 2008 and was the Santa Clarita Valley Player of the Year.

In three varsity seasons, he was one of the most dynamic football players in the Santa Clarita Valley.

A sophomore defensive back then a two-year starter at quarterback, Desi was quick, could pass, leapt over and by defenders and made big plays in almost every single game he played in.

“He used to embarrass kids,” Denley says of his big brother. “I remember at Westlake he jumped over a kid. I was like,

‘Did that just happen?’”

Denley came in right when Desi exited.

In 2010, he made the varsity team as a sophomore tight end.

It was clear that he wasn’t Desi.

Desi was under 6-feet-tall and was lean.

Denley was over 6-feet-tall and big.

“I like Coke, he likes sprite. He likes bacon, I like sausage,” Denley begins. “He likes hot dogs, I like hamburgers. He likes Play Station 3, I like Xbox. I like hip-hop, he likes country, jazz nonsense stuff.”

Yet some people expected Denley to be like Desi in other ways.

Desi lived and breathed football — it helped earn him a scholarship to the Air Force Academy.

Denley, according to his brother, sees that football isn’t the be all and end all.

Desi expected more from his brother, as did Bornn.

“That’s been one of our challenges. We really tried to get hat out of him,” Bornn says of trying to get Denley mean.

“He’s very nice off the field. It’s tough for him to be that nasty player we want him to be. When he does it, he’s almost unstoppable.”

Denley blossomed last year.

As a sophomore, he tore his ACL in his right knee.

Through Saugus’ first five games last year, he was quiet.

Then Foothill League play began and he was a different player.

“He was a nightmare for other teams’ centers,” Bornn says.

Apparently, Denley has a switch.

When he was younger, Denley’s elementary school teachers used to tell him to be gentle because he was a big kid and didn’t realize his own strength.

Bornn theorizes that maybe that translated to the football field.

Yet it clicked for him last season.

His words tell how nasty he can be.

“The teams around this valley, my dislike for them, the players, the offensive line, I realized I had to turn it on for league,” Denley says.

For his play, he was chosen as the league’s Lineman of the Year. Bornn says he nominated him for the award in the season-ending league meeting, not expecting the other coaches to buy in.

Four out of five of the other coaches, he said, agreed that Denley was the guy.

He is deceptively quick for a kid his size. And he’s powerful.

He made 2 1/2 sacks and 43 tackles. He also forced two fumbles.

Now he’s poised to improve on last season.

But Bornn is asking for something.

“We need Denley to play with a level of tenacity that he doesn’t realize he’s capable of at times,” Bornn says. “He’s got to be a guy where we say, ‘Denley, we’re climbing on your back. Carry us there.’”

Bornn asked the same of Desi.

Denley’s not Desi.

But Denley wants two things that Desi achieved — winning and playing football for an NCAA Division I football program.

So whether it’s with a smile on his face, or with his best attempt at looking angry, Denley is committed.
And that’s not a nice thing for Saugus’ opponents.



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