No matter how many linemen he leaves gassed, no matter how many quarterbacks he drops, Gabriel Cordero won’t be satisfied
It’s the linebacker way at Turlock High, which has produced some of the meanest, hardest-hitting tacklers in the Stanislaus District under defensive coordinator Raven Keene.
Cordero is the latest to come off the assembly line, a converted safety with an explosive first step.
“We felt his speed off of the edge could help us a few weeks ago and he hasn’t looked back since,” Turlock coach James Peterson said. “We’re really happy with the change to outside linebacker.”
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So is Cordero, whose combination of speed and power have made him a regular in the backfield, disrupting plays and harassing quarterbacks. He has a team-high eight sacks, including five last week in a 14-7 victory over Modesto.
“That was one of the best games of my life,” said Cordero, a senior. “I prefer safety, honestly, but it’s not my choice. Linebacker is a great fit right now. Just put me out there and I’ll do whatever I can.”
Keene is the mastermind of this game-changing defense, a unit largely responsible for the Bulldogs’ two wins. Dustin Grein and Antonio Ruiz Suarez returned interceptions for touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 14-13 victory at Clovis on Sept. 1, and then last week, Cordero was a wrecking ball.
He had 10 tackles to go along with his career-high five sacks. He has at least one sack in his last three games.
“It’s my explosiveness off of the line,” Cordero said of his advantage against the Panthers, a team blessed with experience and picked to contend in the Modesto Metro Conference. “I feel like I have the speed and power to get past the first move the lineman puts on me.”
Cordero’s rapid development has helped Keene replenish his linebacking corps, a level once occupied by Mustafa Noel-Johnson, a two-time Central California Conference Defensive MVP, Dom Silva, and Bear Padilla, to name a few.
Many of those players turn up on the sidelines on Friday evenings.
“Last year, playing with Mustafa and Dom Silva, those guys were always getting tackles and sacks,” Cordero said. “They still come to the games. That’s a big motivation for me to see them there. I want to be like Mustafa and those guys.”
Peterson believes he’s well on his way. Beyond his physical gifts, Cordero is coachable. He was humble enough to accept a position change, and he allows himself to be trained by Keene and the coaching staff.
“Gabriel’s an awesome young man to coach,” Peterson said. “This year, he’s been on a whole new level. He just keeps getting better and better every week.”
Turlock’s first league title defense since 2004 begins Friday in Atwater against Buhach Colony (2-2). With an offense struggling to score points, Cordero says the defense is prepared to shoulder the load.
“Defense has been one of our strengths for years,” Cordero said. “Coach Keene keeps a high level of expectation. He’s a major factor. His coaching is on point, and he’s relentless in practice.
“That’s what makes a defense … his intensity rubs off on us.”
Now, here’s a look at the rest of last week’s “Stat Stars”:
Seth Van Slyke, running back, Beyer: Van Slyke rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns in a victory over Atwater, becoming the first Beyer running back to post back-to-back 100-yard games since Jay Green (now at Southern Utah) in 2015.
Marcus Garza, safety, Pitman: Garza picked off Downey quarterback Bryce Peterson twice, each time making an incredible adjustment on a tipped pass. Those turnovers allowed the Pride to stay in the game early; it was tied 20-20 early in the third quarter before Downey’s final kick.
Hayden Sauser, quarterback, Modesto Christian: Sauser was 6 of 9 for 192 yards and three touchdowns in his first start under center, a 42-21 win at Gustine. Sauser started the season at middle linebacker, but was given his shot after the Crusaders’ 0-3 start.
Miles Lewis, running back, Downey: Lewis idolizes Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers, widely regarded as the best running back in today’s NFL, and it seems to be working for the Downey senior. Lewis found the end zone twice against Pitman, pushing his season total to eight. He has scored in every game.
Anthony Caballero, quarterback, Los Banos: Caballero is another converted quarterback. He played wide receiver for the Tigers last fall, leading the team with 36 receptions and finishing second with 314 receiving yards. Caballero appears to be a better fit under center, where he threw for a school record six touchdowns and 306 yards in a win over Dos Palos.
Jacob Bettencourt, quarterback, Orestimba: Bettencourt is distributing the wealth. He threw touchdown passes to three different receivers in the Warriors’ rout of Esparto. After three consecutive road games to start the season, Orestimba will make its home debut Friday against Ripon Christian.
Jake Gookin, quarterback, Sonora: The Wildcats’ running quarterback had a team-high 178 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against Hilmar, according to statistics reported by the school. Gookin was part of an offense that lived on the ground, chewing up 369 yards.
Alex Kukor, tight end, East Union: Listed as a tight end, Kukor enjoyed a breakout game running the ball in the Lancers’ win over West. Kukor had a team-high 198 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries.
Bobby Avina, quarterback, Gregori: Avina had his most productive night of the season in a win over McNair. He completed 20 of his 31 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. On the season, Avina is completing 74.4 percent of his throws with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9 to 1.
To submit a “Stat Star,” please email reporter James Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org, or message him on Twitter @jburns1980.