If an opponent was spread-eagle on his back, No. 80 for the Brainerd Warriors was likely in the vicinity.
Senior captain and linebacker Mike Valesano administered numerous punishing hits on the football field this fall in addition to leading the Warriors in tackles (208) and earning honorable mention on the Associated Press all-state team.
Valesano's performance led to him being selected the Dispatch's all-area defensive player of the year.
He helped Brainerd to an 11-2 mark and its first trip to the state semifinals in 17 years.
"It was an honor to be part of this team," Valesano said. "We really became more of a family toward the end of the season. It was something great to be part of. It was the chance of a lifetime.
"I had a good season but I don't like to base my season on that. I base it on how we did as a team. As a team we were great."
Warriors head coach Ron Stolski called Valesano an "inspirational, fierce leader," one who moved from outside to inside linebacker this fall.
"Pound for pound he was as good a linebacker as we saw this season," Stolski said, "and I think our opponents would agree with that.
"He was our leading tackler. Beyond the numbers was his terrific work on special teams. I don't know how many kickoffs where we would see it was No. 80 that made the hit."
Warriors defensive coordinator Bob Brakke said Valesano's tackling and special teams ability were vital to Brainerd's success, along with calling the defensive signals and his knowledge of the game.
Weight: 185 pounds
College: Possibly Winona State or St. John's
"One of the best things is that Mike took a lot of time to learn what the other teams were doing," Brakke said. "He watched a lot of video on his own. He would come to practice and say, This is what they do when they do this.' He did a great job preparing himself mentally and physically his good speed went along with that.
"On some punt returns he made some hellacious peel-back blocks. Obviously, he had a lot of big plays, a lot of big hits that inspired our defense. He was our Sam' linebacker (strong side). We set up our defense for Mike to go to the play side as much as possible."
Many factors enabled Valesano to stand out, including a defensive line that pressured quarterbacks and helped stuff the running game.
"Playing a 3-5 our defensive line is definitely an important part of our defense," Valesano said.
"They usually take most of the blocks, and me and Colby (Ring) get the tackles. They don't always get the limelight they want but Laramie Lucas, Bill Sather, and a combination of Cody Granley and Nick Boettcher, all had outstanding seasons."
Valesano, who is considering possibly playing at Winona State or St. John's next fall, was a member of a fierce linebacking corps that included Ring, Jacob Carl, Travis Lauer, Alex Rahn, Nick Anderson and Andy Mans.
"We all worked well in practice together," Valesano said. "As the season went on we worked better and better with each other."
A talented defensive backfield of Kyle Crocker and Desmond Janousek at the corners and Jed Magstadt at free safety backed up the linebackers with big plays. They combined to intercept 16 passes.
"That's probably where we came on the most this year, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year," Valesano said. "At the beginning we were really young back there. By the end of the year that was one of the strongest parts of our defense."
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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