CHARLOTTE — After Independence's first football game this season, coach Bill Geiler talked with Hough coach and friend Bobby Collins. The Patriots had just won 31-14.
Independence defensive back Jack Tocho had blocked a field-goal attempt, but Collins had another topic in mind.
All coach Collins wanted to talk about is how Jack, as a senior, is trying to take leadership and how he wants his (players) to grow into that, said Geiler, in his third year as head coach.
Tocho, a 6-foot, 185-pound senior who has committed to N.C. State, is the only senior in a secondary with three sophomores. He spends the game making sure he and fellow defensive backs know what they should be doing.
Tochos leadership should play an important role in the Patriots success as they hope to improve on last seasons 10-3 record. Despite a shutout loss at Vance last week, the Patriots (2-1) are No. 14 in the Observers Sweet 16 poll. They will play at 7 p.m. Saturday at rival West Charlotte (1-2).
For the season, Tocho has 14 tackles. He had two interceptions and a 99-yard kick return in a win against North Mecklenburg last month.
He and (quarterback Jason) Connella are the leaders, said Geiler. We did not elect captains this year because I felt like it would be unanimous and it was just a waste of time.
They started in April. Connella leads the offense and Jack does the weight room and does the defense. They just follow him out of respect or fear or whatever it is, but he gets results and thats all I want.
Tocho, whose parents are from Kenya but met in the United States, started playing football in fourth grade. He was inspired by the Carolina Panthers run to the Super Bowl in 2004.
I was really excited about football and just always wanted to play, said Tocho, 16. I just always had a passion for playing football and just learning new things.
Tocho started as an offensive lineman. Being put there gave him motivation to work harder.
I wasnt playing the position I thought I was capable of playing, he said. I wanted to get better to get noticed and play a skill position or something like that.
He eventually moved to defensive end, played some running back in middle school and came to Independence as a defensive back. There, he got noticed.
Coaches moved him to linebacker after seeing his aggressive hitting ability. He played there until the end of his sophomore year.
Since then, he has been at his favorite position: cornerback.
I like that youre the last line of defense, said Tocho. When the quarterback throws the ball all eyes are on you and the receiver and who will make the play.
Geiler said Tocho is especially suited to the position. He is quick, strong and has the ability to forget bad plays.
Playing corner, youre out there on an island, especially him because hes going to cover the best receiver the other team has, said Geiler. Hes going to get beat sometimes and we know that and he knows it. He doesnt worry about what happened in the past.
Tocho, the 43-ranked ranked senior recruit in the state by the Observer and News & Observer, made 48 total tackles, intercepted five passes and had 28 pass breakups as a junior.
During the summer, he attended college camps. He went to Wake Forest first. The next weekend, he was at Duke one day and N.C. State the next. The Wolfpack offered a scholarship the next day. After a week of thinking, he committed to N.C. State over Charlotte, Ball State, Army and Air Force.
They had a lot of interest in me when I was just starting to play corner at the end of my sophomore season, said Tocho. I always liked the facilities. I learned a lot about them and I had a close friendship with the coaches.
Tocho also wanted a school where he could pursue a degree in accounting. Academics are important to Tocho, who had a 4.6 GPA at the end of last year. He said. math is his favorite subject.
It was definitely important to be a student-athlete. Student first, said Tocho. I dont want to go somewhere just to play football and not get an education.
Geiler said he wants to see Tocho continue to improve. But when it comes to leadership and being a good teammate, Tocho is at the top of his game.
The kids like him, the coaches like him, the teachers like him, said Geiler. I mean hes just what you want your son to be and your daughter to marry.
Inscoe: 704-358-5923; Twitter: @CoreyInscoe