The Santa Maria Saints football team gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘brothers in arms.’
When the Saints host the Big Bear Bears Saturday night in the CIF Southern Section Division 12 championship game, Santa Maria will field three sets of twins.
“It’s definitely a unique experience,” said Santa Maria head coach Dan Ellington during Thursday’s practice at Ralph Baldiviez Stadium. “I’ve never seen this — three sets of twins — on any other team. We always talk about brotherhood. This takes brotherhood to a whole new level.”
Seniors Gabriel and Jesse Bravo are fraternal twins while seniors Jesus and Gerardo Zul and juniors Carlos and Oscar Rodriguez are identical twins.
“With the identical twins, the hardest part is figuring out who’s who,” said Ellington. “I’m always messing up their names. It’s easier to just call them by their numbers.”
Ellington’s dilemma is compounded by the fact that the twins play similar positions.
“Jesus Zul is our center on offense and a defensive tackle. Gerardo is our sack leader. He’s a defensive end and tight end,” said Ellington. “The Rodriguez twins are both defensive backs — Oscar plays cornerback and Carlos safety. “
The Bravos, while not identical, both play on the line. Gabriel is an offensive guard and defensive end while Jesse is a defensive tackle.
For the Rodriguez twins, the season has been all about their learning curve.
“We’re not starters and for us, the year has been more of a learning experience,” said Carlos Rodriguez.
“But just like everyone else, we’re working hard,” said Oscar Rodriguez. “And since we’re juniors, we get to come back again next year when we’ll be better than ever.”
The Saints actually began the year with a fourth set of twins — juniors Kenneth and Kenny Olpindo.
“My brother Kenny decided to leave the team,” said Kenneth Olpindo. “So I’m a twin, too, but my brother isn’t playing.”
“And don’t forget our cousins Bobby and David Ruiz,” said Gerardo Zul. “They’re not twins (Bobby is a senior and David is a junior) but they are part of our family (as is Pioneer Valley head coach John Ruiz).”
“I think it definitely does help having your twin brother on the field,” said Gerardo Zul. “Not only on the field, but at home, too. We’re always talking football. We play similar positions so we can help each other out and it helps with the team chemistry.”
“There’s a competitiveness that runs in our family,” said Jesus Zul. “Growing up, you always wanted to outdo each other. Now we work together to outdo the other team. Sometimes we line up next to each other and during games we can help each other out.”
The Zul and Bravo twins have played with and against each other since they were very young.
“We all started elementary school together and have been best friends ever since,” said Jesse Bravo. “We never played youth football but we played a lot of pickup games against each other. Then when we started at Santa Maria, we all joined the football team together. All four of us are basically like brothers.”
“Those three sets of twins are some of the most high character kids on our football team,” said Ellington. “And when you think of it, you get two for the price of one.”
Working on the offensive and defensive lines, the Zul and Bravo twins don’t get the same kind of press coverage that tends to put the spotlight on the offensive backs.
“Blake, Bobby and Jonathan get most of the recognition,” said Ellington of quarterback Blake Truhitte, running back Bobby Ruiz and wide receiver Jonathan Ramos. “But these kids have done a great job in the trenches. It’s really our lines — offensive and defensive — that have made this season, this playoff run, possible. It’s not just the twins but all of our line work that has led to such a big improvement in our game. We wouldn’t be here without them.”
And as the Saints (9-4) head into their biggest game in decades, the entire team is healthy.
“We’d lost (offensive guard and defensive tackle) Mario Carreno and (offensive tackle) Jesus Joaquin didn’t come back to play until the Nipomo game (in the last week of the regular season),” said Ellington. “But they’ve all been back together for our playoff run over the last three weeks. That continuity really helps us.”
David Ruiz (offensive tackle) has been healthy for every game. He rounds out the group of linemen that has powered the Saints’ success.
“We’re all looking forward to the Big Bear game,” said Jesus Zul.
“We know they have a great record (12-1) and they run a weird wing-T offense but their record is not important. We’re not coming into this game cocky. If we play disciplined and do our jobs, we’ll be alright,” said Jesus Zul.
“Big Bear is not as big as some of the teams we’ve faced but they are quicker. We just have to outwork them, outhustle them and we can beat them,” said Gerardo Zul. “We’re ready for Big Bear. We want to show our fans what they want to see — a winning football team. We’re going to take the ‘W’ — we’re going to win.”
“This game is not too big for them, any of them — the twins and everyone else,” said Ellington. “They feel like they belong in the championship game. They are all just excited to go out and show the people of Santa Maria that we are a good football team.”
The kickoff for Saturday’s game has been pushed back to 7:45 p.m. to avoid a conflict with the annual Santa Maria Christmas Parade of Lights.
“Maybe we’ll have to have a second parade next week,” said Ellington. “That would be great.”