Hyacks little big man in the backfield
Aldrin Asuncion disappears as he heads into the New Westminster Hyacks huddle as if he's magically absorbed by a huge orange sponge. The top of his helmet can't even be seen because it's obscured by the shoulder pads of his teammates.
Asuncion is a little man making big plays in a big man's game.
The five-foot-four running back is averaging about 150 yards rushing a game. In a recent game he ran and ran and ran all the way to a Hyacks' single-game rushing record of 309 yards on 35 carries. He also tied a school single-game record with four touchdowns.
Asuncion is the latest entry on a long list of small running backs that have had success in the Hyacks program over the last decade, most notably Mike Tuangkitkun and John Drury. They're not just football small, they are horse-jockey small.
Asuncion's parents, Armando and Aileen, brought the family to Canada from the Philippines when he was three years old. He grew up in New Westminster's West End going to Lord Tweedsmuir elementary. Asuncion didn't dream about playing football in those days but after arriving at NWSS got bit by the pigskin bug watching his cousin play for the Hyacks, and didn't start playing until he was in Grade 10.
"I just wanted to come out and see how I could do. I ended up being pretty good at it and stuck with it," says Asuncion.
When he showed up, Lalji talked about the legacy of small running backs the program has. Asuncion's stature would not be a factor. His play would. Lalji says when he was in high school the team had a wide receiver who was only five-foot-five but as tough, or tougher, as anyone else on the team.
"I really don't care about your size, but regardless of your size or your limitations you've got to bring something to the table," said Lalji. "He's really quick and really explosive. He's got good vision, and he can make people miss."
"He was timid when he first came out but then he realized it doesn't hurt so much. He figured out 'they can't hurt me if they can't catch me.' "
By the last game of his junior varsity year, Asuncion was ready to be the top gun in the backfield.
Lalji had seen him make a good play in practice and told him it was "a tremendous football play." He went out and rewarded Lalji with a 40-yard touchdown run.
"He told me he has a lot of confidence in me, and that made me have confidence in myself," says Asuncion. "I took that to heart and played as hard as I could play."
Although he gets nervous before every game, it's just excited adrenalin that goes away once the game begins, not a fear of getting smacked by an opponent weighing twice as much, or more, than him.
"As a running back I always know I'm going to get hit, you really can't get around it. I just try to make guys miss," says Asuncion.
When he talked to his parents about playing football, his father, Armando, told him to go for it while his mother, Aileen, balked. But not for long. She quickly became his biggest fan. When he's on one of his long runs his ears can pick her cheers out.
"My mom's probably the loudest one in the crowd. I can hear her from the bleachers when I run a touchdown or get hit," Asuncion says.
Lalji says an aspect of Asuncion's game he needs to work on is blocking, something that baffles the coach because "he's not tentative when he's carrying the ball going into contact."
Asuncion, though, points out there's a big difference in circumstances because when he's blocking he has to hit an opponent head on, and when he's carrying the ball he's trying to make the defender tackle air instead of him.
Asuncion's size can be a huge benefit because he can hide behind his offensive linemen until he sees a little hole and then scat through it.
Many times, all that's needed for him to bust a long run is a small hole from the offensive line to sneak through, a couple of nifty moves on a linebacker or two and he's off to the end zone.
"If I just get one hole open up, it doesn't have to be a big one, if I can get to the open field and after that, it's just off to the races," says Asuncion, who frequently utilizes lineman Jordan Chin to build those holes for him. "He's quick and big. I get behind his back, he usually covers me, and I just cut off of him and find the open field and it makes it easy for me."
This is Asuncion's last season with the Hyacks but it's likely he isn't the end of the succession of small running backs.
"I have two more like him in junior varsity just like him," says Lalji.