Andrew Palacio has quickly become a do-it-all player for Raymond S. Kellis football.
The junior, through six games, led 1-5 Kellis in tackles (49) and rushing yards (159).
On a thin roster – coach Stephen Hogg said during a mid-week practice that the Cougars had just 29 healthy players at the varsity level, far less than most of their 5A opponents – many players have to play both offense and defense. Palacio even trots onto the field for most of the special teams snaps. Rather than a punishment, he appreciates taking the gridiron on every play he can.
“I don’t think it’s tiring because football is so amazing. I see it as a gift to be out there as much as I can. When I get home, I have to take a hot bath and I’m definitely sore, but I love it,” he said.
That desire to improve, and versatility to play all sides of the ball, is one of the major factors for his success. Palacio began playing at seven years-old. Strong and fast, he played several positions growing up, and played quarterback on the freshman Cougar team two years ago.
As a sophomore in 2018, he was moved up to varsity to play corner, a position he had not played since middle school. Hogg remembers Palacio being aggressive to the point of detriment, playing up and challenging receivers too shallow on cover 3 formations, or dropping too deep in cover 2. But
“From last year to this year he has made incredible improvement,” Hogg said.
Even that position did not last, though. Palacio was moved to safety, where he could utilize his strength and love of contact, to lead the team in tackles and help call out defensive assignments.
However, in the team’s first game against run-heavy Barry Goldwater on August 30, Hogg realized he did not need two safeties. He moved Palacio to outside linebacker, where he did so well that he stuck there for several games.
“It allowed us to line up in a 3-3 stack, which was a variation of what we were doing. It made a big difference,” Hogg said.
And, when starting quarterback Kalen Jordan had to miss time with a concussion, it was Palacio that got the nod to take his spot temporarily.
“I asked him Monday whether he could take snaps and play there, and there was no question, no concerns of whether he could handle it or not,” Hogg said.
Playing both sides of the ball, Palacio said he uses his experience as a quarterback – both for many years leading up to high school football, and the time he spent playing the position for Kellis – to evaluate what he should do for defense.
He thinks about the reads he might have made as a passer, and tries to attack those specifically. It has led to quick development on the defensive side. Now, Hogg is challenging him to become even more of an emotional leader.
As a junior, Palacio said he did not have ultimate seniority to speak his mind at first. However, showcasing his work ethic and talent each day in practice, he has gained heavy respect from his teammates. He believes Kellis is trending in the right direction.
“We may have not won a lot, but we’re a better group,” Palacio said. “We’re all listening to each other, and enjoying the sport, and it’s been a good year in that way.”