Interception, fumble recovery or big hit?
It only took Carson High senior middle linebacker Junior Valladares seconds to answer which he liked more.
"I like to get the big hit," Valladares said, as Carson prepared for tonight's Sierra League game (7 p.m.) against South Tahoe at Carson. "I nailed the quarterback at Spanish Springs, and the whole crowd saw it and heard it. It pumped me up to go even harder the next play.
"I like the middle better (he played outside as a freshman and sophomore). A lot more plays come at you; you are more involved. You get to hit them dead on."
Valladares plays with a physicalness that belies his 190-pound frame.
"He's probably our most physical defender," Carson coach Blair Roman said. "He's a hitter, and we have a lot of hitters on this team. He's always been fearless."
One has to credit extra work in the weight room and wrestling for his durability and strength among other things. He has a strong upper body which enables him to handle blockers coming his way without giving a lot of ground.
"It's helped with speed and quickness," Valladares said. "When I drill in wrestling, I do a drill faster each time I try it. You just become faster and quicker as a result. In wrestling we have to stay low, and that helps me stay low on the field."
And, like the entire Carson team, Valladares has gotten better each week.
"I've had some pretty good games, but the Reed game was the best of the three. I think I'm getting better as the season goes along."
"He's gotten better every week," Roman said. "Number one, he was excellent playing his gap responsibilities. The first two games, he was out of position. He wasn't misreading, he was just going to the wrong gap. He had a scraping issue. He was going under blocks instead of over blocks. We feel we've rectified that.
The Reed game was Valladares' best for another reason. He scored his first career defensive touchdown, a 39-yard fumble return in the first half, helping Carson to a 33-6 lead. He should have had an interception too, but dropped a ball right in his hands, which prompted some good-natured abuse from his teammates.
"I saw it on the floor and immediately thought I have to run as fast as I can," Valladares said, recalling the play.
Bob Bateman, Carson defensive coordinator, said that Valladares has a "sense for the ball. He's more football aware this year even in practice."
That has come with experience. Valladares didn't even play football until his freshman year at Carson, which meant his peers had a leg up on him. That advantage has since passed.
Save for the McQueen game, Carson has been pretty stingy giving up just 27 points in wins over Spanish Springs and Reed. Teams have been able to move the ball between the 20s, but the Senators' defense usually is able to come up with a big play.
"If you have a breakdown and give up a big play, you can't back down," Valladares said. "You have to shake it off and focus on the next play. It's hard for some guys, especially if they are the ones that made the mistake. They take it a bit harder."
One of the things that Valladares has been working on recently is the depth of his drops, according to Roman.
"He was getting sucked up on bootleg action," Roman said. "He's worked hard (in practice) at getting more depth. I think we've rectified the problem.
"Some of it is experience. Unfortunately you have to go through games like McQueen as a whole defense to learn from."
Obviously Carson learned plenty when it tamed Reed's prolific offense.