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By Bill Bray

FREMONT – When one thinks of football at Fremont Ross, names like Kaden Holmes and Bryson Hammer come to mind of two players who have turned in spectacular throws, catches and runs the last four seasons.

            Not taking away from their masterpiece-like performances, but less noticeable is a young man at middle linebacker who has taken his defensive game to the top level of Ross football and has set two school records while he was at it.

            Mason “the real deal” Villarreal is the young man that has broken not only the record for most tackles in a season, but with that came the most tackles in the history of the school.

            Coach Chad Long who wore #26 at Bowling Green State University, the same number that Villarreal wore for Ross, teased with Mason recently. “Don’t be embarrassing that number,” the coach joked.  In fact, he has not. He has made it a number to remember as future players step onto the field for the purple and white.

            “Breaking the season tackling record feels great it was one of my goals coming into this season,” Villarreal said. “I’m so proud of myself that I was able to achieve that. Even though we came up short this year, I was proud of my efforts towards the team.”

But then word came that the 5’10”, 210 lber broke the school’s career record in that category gave him even a bigger thrill.  “That’s insane,” Villarreal said. “I seriously couldn’t believe I set the school record in most tackles for a season and now the most tackles in the history of Fremont Ross? I’m speechless.”

Mason Villarreal entered his final season this summer.

Villarreal ended his career with 284 tackles two tackles better than the 1983-85 record held by Derek Isaman of 282.  Anyone familiar with Isaman’s exploits knows that he was an outstanding linebacker at The Ohio State University after his graduation from Ross and was also a gold glove boxing champion.  “I have an idea who he is, but didn’t’ totally know him for real,” Villarreal said with a laugh. “But I also had no idea I was close to being #1 in that category, that shocked me.”

            Villarreal has worked extremely hard to get to the top of every “total tackles” category and it is a high school career that has meant a lot to him. “Thinking about the last four years I will take with me my huge work ethic. We all treated each other like family. It was a true brotherhood.”

            Starting at middle linebacker since his sophomore season in 2020, the covid year, Villarreal feels strongly about the ‘little things’ as he calls them that has led him through. “I must eat right, get proper rest, and spend the proper amount of time watching film of the opposing team. I must practice hard every single day.  But it all goes back to the little things,” Villarreal reasoned. “If you want to be a great player, I believe everything is important. Sleep, nutrition, academics, film to study and caring about the game and passionate about wanting to do well for yourself as well as for the team. I strongly believe in those little things, because everything happens for a reason. What you put into it; you will get out of it.”

            Four years have come and gone in a high school career that ends with goals accomplished and assists from some terrific people to help those goals become reality. “I have met some of the best friends I have ever had. I have met some of the greatest people I have ever met, Villarreal said. “If you want your goals to happen, I truly believe in working extremely hard and you can attain them.”

            Villarreal complimented his school for helping him to grow and stay on the straight and narrow path. “Fremont Ross has been the place where I have been able to see those goals become a reality. It’s true with any goals you have whether it be in sports, academics or in anything else you have in mind, I really do think that if you come to Fremont Ross and you want to achieve your goals, you can do it here. “

Starting his starting career as a sophomore taught Villarreal much and lessons that he will take with him as his journey continues.

            One person that Villarreal singled out when asked who was instrumental in his development was his coach, Chad Long. “My sophomore year, he gave me the confidence as I started at linebacker for the varsity for the first time,” Villarreal said.  “He was definitely one of the guys who was always trying to help me and look out for me and was definitely trying to help me develop into a better football player,” Villarreal continued. But the one thing his coach did that truly helped Mason’s development was to introduce him to the sport of wrestling.  “I had never done it before,” Villarreal said. “I started wrestling and I really felt like it took my football abilities to a new level for sure. Being able to do hand to hand combat with the bigger guys up front as well as tackling better from my position as well as the conditioning. Wrestling had a very, very big part in my continued development as a football player.”

The head coach had nothing but praise for his senior linebacker as well. “The Rock” (Villarreal as Long calls him,) I call him the Rock because he is the rock as well as the glue to our defense,” Long said. “He is the quarterback of the front seven. He watches a lot of film and is the hardest and most dedicated player we have on the Fremont football team.”

Villarreal, now the leading tackler in the history of Fremont Ross football, looks to and ponders his future. “I feel well set on playing college football either in the NAIA or Division two levels. We’ll see how it goes.”

Mason Villarreal has added his name to the Fremont Ross Football Record Book, and it is a fair bet that whatever school is lucky enough to add “the real deal” to their college football roster, won’t be sorry.

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