Among his range of receiving skills, the quality Cody Maldonado takes the most pride in is his dependability.
"Coach (Wally McCormack) likes to call me his security blanket," the Portage senior said. "It seems like when there's a situation where we need something big to happen, they can depend on me to make a play. It's a really nice feeling. I'd take the ball every play if I could. Whatever it takes us to win, I'm down."
By themselves, Maldonado's stats don't jump off the page. When put in the context of Times No. 8 Portage's totals, they clearly stand out. He has 30 catches. No one else is in double figures. He has 421 yards. Only one other player is over 100. Of Gage Pearman's eight touchdown passes, seven have been to Maldonado.
"He has very good hands; he doesn't drop balls," McCormack said. "He's a good route runner. He competes for the ball. He's not afraid to go over the middle and catch the ball in traffic. He's not as fast as some and certainly not as big as others, but he's fast enough and he's good at keeping people off him. He's gotten better at learning to set up routes. He's a good blocker. He's just an all-around player who's good at his craft. The best part is he just wants to win."
A modest 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, Maldonado has always excelled despite his size. He and Pearman have been life-long neighbors, developing a chemistry that predates their Pop Warner days.
"Sam Schest, our other safety, and I are just those short, quick, scrappy kids who like to get into plays and hit people," Maldonado said. "I've always had a knack for football. It's always been the sport I shined in. It's always been my true love. Gage and I have always been playing together. It's just like when we were on the playground when we were young. We have fun with it. He likes to throw me the ball and when he does, I'm very confident I can make plays."
Portage has been at its best of late with Pearman not locking in on Maldonado, something the quarterback had to learn the hard way last year. Maldonado was sidelined by a back fracture in week four, an injury he sustained at an unknown point earlier in the season. He avoided surgery, spending three months in a back brace.
"I made sure I wore it at all times," Maldonado said. "I wanted to play my senior year."
He's making the most of it, also playing defense and special teams.
"He's pretty smart, football-wise," McCormack said. "He has a good understanding what we're doing in the passing game, which has helped him be a pretty good (defensive back). He's a little guy, but he's tough. He likes playing. He likes to hit people."
From his safety spot, Maldonado has made 35 tackles and an interception.
"As a receiver, I know all the tricks," he said. "I know what stuff I don't want done to me, so I can do that, try to influence receivers."
College football likely isn't an option for Maldonado. He will graduate mid-term and begin taking college classes in January with plans to go into pharmacy.
"Education's No. 1 for me," he said. "Any game could be my last. I learned that last season. It's a big factor in how I play. I always play my hardest. I just try to work harder, make myself better and better, to help the team."
Winners of four in a row, Portage (5-3) plays LaPorte tonight before next week's rematch with Penn. It's a game Maldonado has been wanting since the Indians' 32-0 loss to the Kingsmen Aug. 30.
"It's all about the name on the jersey, Portage," he said. "I've always lived here. I love Portage. To know after I leave, that it's still heading in the right direction, it makes me feel a lot better."