New London - It's the best of New London High School, really: No labels. Just an everlasting, earnest acceptance of everyone. Maybe that's why Sam Miranda, Jose Garcia, Caleb Camacho and Nico Ramos, all those days awaiting snap counts at the line of scrimmage, never noticed they were all Hispanic.
"Never crossed my mind," Garcia said.
But now that you mention it …
"I don't think I've ever seen it," assistant coach Kent Reyes was saying recently, alluding to four receivers of Hispanic (in this case Puerto Rican) lineage on one team.
And so much for football not being such a popular sport among Latinos. The best way to stop Miranda, Garcia, Ramos and Camacho this season has been to wait for the official to signal "touchdown," a counter-productive strategy in the extreme.
Garcia: 21 receptions, 402 yards, six touchdowns. Camacho: 22 receptions, 392 yards, eight touchdowns. Ramos: 13 receptions, 359 yards, two touchdowns. Miranda: 19 receptions, 192 yards, three touchdowns. It should be noted that Garcia writes the words "speed kills" on his sneakers.
They'll be the primary targets for quarterback Ackee Barber during the Saturday Morning Showdown, the latest rendition of the Ledyard-New London rivalry, later this week. The game coincides with The Day's foray into live video coverage on theday.com that will have the look, sound and feel of a network broadcast.
Both teams are 6-2 and need a win to keep playoff hopes alive.
"When they get the ball in their hands, they're not thinking a four, five or six-yard gain," New London coach Duane Maranda said. "They were dedicated in the weight room and passing league. They really took to the offense. It's a pleasure to coach them. It's probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance to coach this kind of talent level across the board.
"We have four guys who are probably the best four wide receivers in the league," Maranda said. "Take one guy away, one of the others will make you pay."
Maranda's hiring at New London in the summer inspired some excitement in the city's Latino community. They thought Maranda was Latino. He's not. Of course, that hasn't stopped Miranda, the receiver, from calling his coach "Uncle."
"I can't tell you how many people have asked me if we're related," Maranda said. "Even my mother."
Their lineage bears some significance, although Camacho grinned at the question of whether they try to confuse opponents by speaking Spanish to each other on the field.
"I'll talk a little Spanish to Sammy," Camacho said, "but I don't know if Nico or Garcia know how to speak Spanish that much."
Still, Maranda hopes their success will prompt other Latino students to try football.
"Not many Puerto Rican people like to play football," Garcia said.
"They're not usually good or stick to baseball or soccer. The fact we can actually be good at it … we take pride in that."
Besides, they have more fun doing this than they ever imagined.
They made fun of Miranda's hairstyle earlier this season. They call Garcia the "ladies' man." Ramos "might be the biggest clown we have," Garcia said. And they all agree Camacho is "the serious one."
"The connection we have is important," Garcia said. "We can all get in each other's face and get ourselves going."