NEW WESTMINSTER — One is called Zeus and the other Big Papi.
On a football team, such nicknames of endearment are reserved for those who bring true presence, the kind which can help shape the temperament of the entire collective.
Ask New Westminster Hyacks head coach Farhan Lalji what Yanni Angelopolous and Isaiah James have come to mean to B.C.’s No. 1-ranked Triple A football team, and you don’t need a stethoscope to understand the depth of his answer.
“Those two are the heartbeat of our team,” said Lalji earlier this week as the Hyacks (6-0) prepared to host the South Delta Devils (5-1) Friday (7:30 p.m., Mercer Stadium) in a game which will determine, on the final weekend of the regular season, the Western Conference championship.
“They are both captains, both leaders,” continued Lalji of the co-seniors who not only start at the two defensive tackle and offensive guard spots, but wrestle together, eat together and have been best friends throughout high school. “They are two guys who lead by bringing the right actions and setting the mood.”
The pair have been a part of the stingiest defence in the Western Conference, a unit which has allowed 79 points over its first six games.
The offence, which has featured the likes of quarterback Kinsale Philip, receiver Sebastien Reid, and runners Sammy Sidhu, Lucas Sabau and Broxx Comia has combined to score the most points in the West at 207. As well, the New Westminster’s plus-128 point differential tops in the conference.
And so on Friday, in front of a big house at Mercer, Zeus and Big Papi, along with the rest of the Hyacks seniors, will play their final regular-season high school football games.
A BIG MEETING
“I can remember the exact day that we met,” begins Angelopoulos, the 5-foot-10, 255-pounder affectionately known as Zeus, after the Greek god of thunder.
Angelopoulos is speaking about James, the 6-foot, 270-pounder nicknamed Big Papi after the former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.
“I was at junior bantam practice (with the Royal City Hyacks) right around the time I was starting high school, and all of a sudden, I see another big guy, just like me, on the field.
“I thought I was getting replaced,” continues Angelopoulos. “Back then everyone was hyping me up, and I didn’t think that he could be very good. But we did a drill. I was on defence and he blew me up. It shocked me. But ever since then we’ve laughed about it. Ever since, all we’ve done is make each other better.”
So tight have the pair become, that like brothers, they let nothing fester.
And as the team works towards what it hopes will be a long and fruitful run through the Subway Bowl playoffs, keeping everything real snap-to-snap can be a key building block in team unity.
“We trust each other out there, but we also make mistakes,” continues Angelopoulos. “And when that happens, we let each other know about it, and we’re not always nice about it. We yell at each other a lot, but in the end, we face our mistakes and we fix our mistakes, we laugh with each other and we know that we trust each other, no matter what.”
Angelopoulos, as you’re no doubt detecting, has no trouble finding words.
He is loose and happy and always ready with a joke.
James? He carries a level of intensity that in some ways makes him a polar opposite.
Says James: “I’m a little more serious and Yanni is a little more goofy, but I guess it works out.”
Adds Lalji: “Yanni, in 10 years, will be everyone’s favourite uncle, that gregarious, fun-loving guy with a whole bunch of nephews who all say Uncle Yanni is their favourite human being. Isaiah is more the overt alpha dog that takes charge by the scruff of the neck. Yanni is no less confident. He has a gift because he can keep everyone loose. You can have fun. But we want focus within the fun.”
WHO IS YANNIISAIAH?
The intense James, the cut-up Angelopoulos.
In a way, you can say they represent the two sides of the brain.
Yet you can also say they are cut from the same football cloth.
“We do joke that ‘Yanni Isaiah’ is almost like one word,” says Lalji. “I joke to them that they think with one brain.”
Which this season, especially along the offensive line, is a good thing.
Over the off-season, Angelopoulos moved from centre to left guard, and with James manning the right guard spot, the two are constantly having to play off of each other in the Hyacks’ Wing-T offence.
“When we run our base play, whomever is the lead guard has to make a decision, and the backside guard then makes his decision based on that,” said Lalji. “We don’t flip them because one is not better than the other. They have the same skill set.
“I think they have this thing where they can just adjust,” Lalji adds. “There isn’t verbal communication. More than anything, it’s a trust thing.”
Adds James: “This is Yanni’s first year playing guard and he is just starting to get into the groove. It’s been working out pretty well. We talk about trust. You make your read and then you give the other guy your total trust.”
The level of athleticism the pair have brought is typical of what Lalji has liked to see along his offensive line, but he admits that the pair bring a different dimension to the proceedings because of their sheer size.
“In our system, our linemen really have to be able to move and get into space,” he says. “So our guards have mostly been in the 200-pound range. But Isaiah is 270 and Yanni is 250 and both can get into space, change direction and be athletes.”
On the day they met, as junior bantams, it may have felt like they were two big guys cast in a competition against each other.
That lasted for just a few moments, and ever since, they’ve had a good time making each other better.
“We can just say one word and get the other laughing,” says Angelopoulos. “We hang out every day. It seems like it’s 24/7. We joke around and we tell people we’re brothers. But we pretty much are brothers.”
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