Prep football

Highland taking spaghetti and meatballs into West Side game

2013-10-30T17:00:00Z 2013-12-12T22:08:18Z Highland taking spaghetti and meatballs into West Side gameSteve Hanlon steve.hanlon@nwi.com, (219) 933-4198 nwitimes.com
October 30, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

If you're a side actor in a National Lampoon film, having the nickname of "Meatball" is probably a good thing. Something to build a wacky career with.

But if you're two undersized linebackers in football -- like Highland's Josh Salazar (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) and Jeff Pasquinelli (5-foot-8, 185 pounds) -- it's likely not the greatest moniker.

Something like Bronko, Brutus, Killer or Head Hunter might be a little more shivering to opponents.

"Our linebackers are called 'Spaghetti and Meatballs," Salazar said. "Me and (Pasquinelli) are the meat balls. We're small. We run around and make tackles together. That's what we do."

The outside linebackers -- Matt Foundos and Griffin Grider -- are called "Spaghetti." That's because they're taller and thinner. And ...

"Because they run a lot faster than us," Salazar said with a laugh.

The bowl of pasta Trojans (5-5) will host West Side (6-4) on Friday in the Class 4A Sectional 17 semifinal. In last year's semifinal between the same two teams, Highland won 41-34.

That was considered an upset. If it happened again, it would be even bigger.

"Those two are our spark plugs; they get after it on defense," Highland coach Trent Grider said. "They've anchored us for two years. They work hard in the weight room and the young kids look up to them.

"We never look at them and tell them they have to pick it up."

Neither Pasquinelli nor Salazar ever played Pop Warner. Both played football for the first time in seventh grade. Although small for the position, the two have played next to each other for several years.

"We don't have too much height in our family," Pasquinelli said. "There's nothing you can (do) about that."

West Side's elite athletes are extreme. Wideout Lonnie Johnson is heading to Ohio State. Cousin JonVea' Johnson is being heavily recruited by Indiana. Quarterback Ramone Atkins has Illinois all over him.

The Cougars are coming off a surprising 30-9 win over Lowell. The Red Devils beat Highland 22-0 during the regular season.

But last Friday's West Side-Lowell game was played on turf. Heavy rain this week could slow the surface at Highland by kickoff.

"For me, I'm excited about getting a chance to prove myself against the best athletes in the region," Pasquinelli said. "You can't get too nervous about it. You can't be in awe of them. We play better together.

"It's not like we have three or four good guys. Our whole team is good."

Salazar concurs.

"Last year, our senior class was hungry," Salazar said. "This year, we have 20 seniors who are all about football. A lot of kids are starting to realize this may be it for them. I can't explain how intense practice has been this week.

"Our program has changed so much in the last two years. We're not playing for ourselves anymore. We're trying to revive a program."

One meatball at a time.

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