All-Empire Small School Football: Calistoga’s Dylan Alvarado is defensive player of the year


In addition to playing linebacker, Calistoga's Dylan Alvarado rushed for 1,978 yards and 29 touchdowns. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

In addition to playing linebacker, Calistoga’s Dylan Alvarado rushed for 1,978 yards and 29 touchdowns. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

The best defense is a good offense, so choosing the All-Empire Small School Defensive Player of the Year was a simple task.

Calistoga High senior Dylan Alvarado led the Wildcats to a 10-2 record and a North Central League II co-championship. In the process, he topped the team in tackles from his linebacker post while finishing among the top rushers in California as a running back.

The 5-foot-8, 170-pounder drew attention while rushing for 1,978 yards to rank second in the North Coast Section in yards per game. He scored 29 touchdowns. He was, almost literally, an unstoppable force.

He also was a hero in his tiny hometown.

“Oh, my gosh! Did it affect my personal life?” Alvarado said of his amazing season. “I’d be walking downtown with my girlfriend and two or three people would stop us and want to talk to me about football. They’d want to know about the last game or where I was going to play in college.

“I just looked at it like our team and our town was finally getting recognition for football. So, it’s not like I really minded people approaching me to talk.”

It didn’t take long watching Calistoga on the field to realize that Alvarado was the most punishing tackler on the defensive unit. He hit holes hard and fast on offense, but he hit opponents’ ball-carriers even harder and got to them even faster.

“I’m just competitive,” Alvarado said. “Whether it was on offense or defense, I just played hard and did what our coaches taught us to do. There were games where I think I helped the team more on defense than on offense. It just depended on the game.”

Alvarado led the Wildcats with 91 tackles, with 80 being solo takedowns.

“Dylan is a fast, strong kid,” Calistoga coach Paul Harrell said early in the season. “People who look at him and underestimate him because of his size are making a mistake.”

This year was more than a dream season for Alvarado. In fact, he’ll remember it more as the year a group of lifelong friends lived a dream they’d shared for years.

“The seniors on our team have played football together for nine years,” Alvarado said. “I love my teammates. We grew up together. Being such good friends got us to where we were. It got us through the hard work and the adversity. We know one another so well. That made this a really special season.”

Alvarado shrugs off questions about how he’d have fared playing in the North Central League I or any other league with bigger, more talented teams.

“I guess we’ll never know,” he said of how he thinks he’d have done against elite competition. “It’s been shown time and time again that size doesn’t matter if you work hard and give everything you have. If I needed to make a tackle, I made a tackle. Our team was a true team. You can’t measure or guess how we’d have done against a different level of competition.”

Alvarado said that his football career could have come to an end in the North Coast Section Division 5 playoff loss to Ferndale.

“I’ve played for nine years. I have no idea if I’ll play in college,” he said. “It’s been great fun playing, but people have no idea the amount of time and effort football requires. It takes 100 percent of your time and the season is really a challenge for everybody on every team. I’ve played a lot of football already. I’m undecided what I’ll do.”

Whether he plays in college or not,

Alvarado achieved the goals he and his lifetime friends set.

“The hard work finally paid off for all of us,” the senior said.

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