Tony Gullotto, Southwestern College's freshman free safety, has been a busy player of late. In the last two weeks, he has intercepted five passes.
Three came last Saturday in Southwestern's 31-16 win over Rancho Santiago (formerly Santa Ana) as the Apaches improved their Mission Conference record to 3-0 and overall record to 5-0. Gullotto's performance tied a school record set by John King, who now plays at San Jose State.
Interestingly, though, the 6-foot, 185-pound Gullotto derives more pleasure from making a hard tackle than from making an interception.
"The interceptions are nice," he said, "but I have more fun sticking guys and making them drop the ball.
"If I have a good chance at an interception, I'll take it. But nothing beats putting a good hit on somebody."
Making good hits earned Gullotto a reputation last year at Monte Vista High School. He had only two interceptions, but made enough tackles to earn All-Grossmont League honors.
So how does he explain what happened against Rancho Santiago?
"On the first one (interception), the defensive line got a great rush," he said. "The quarterback was looking at the tight end all the way so I ran over and stepped in front when the ball was thrown.
"On the second one, I was in the right place at the right time. Our cornerback was playing man-to-man defense on the wide receiver. I went over to help, the ball was tipped and I caught it.
"On the third one I was watching my area and just beat everybody to the ball."
Bill Kinney, Southwestern's secondary coach, has been pleasantly surprised by Gullotto's play.
"It's tough for a freshman to start at this level because we throw a lot of information at them and it's difficult for them to assimilate all of it," he said. "But Tony's learned quickly and has emerged as one of our best."
Gullotto admits that moving from high school to community college football is a difficult transition.
"In high school, I had set assignments so I knew what I was doing on every play," he said. "Here, I've got to read and react to a lot of different situations."
Gullotto, who ranks fourth in the state with his five interceptions, has a chance at Southwestern's single-season interception record of eight, shared by King, Theo Barley and Harry Carroll. And, if he continues on his current pace next year, Gullotto could eclipse the Apache career interception record of 11 held by Mike Wright.
Still, he hasn't given much thought to the records.
"Interceptions are important because I think they impress scouts, and I'd like to get a scholarship to a four-year school," Gullotto said. "But I'm just worried about winning.
"My mom asked me how I felt after last week's game and I told her it was no different. I was just happy we won. Having a good game isn't worth much if the team loses."
Gullotto will be especially intent on winning Saturday night when Southwestern takes on undefeated Saddleback in DeVore Stadium. If Southwestern can upset the Gauchos, the third-ranked team in the nation, it will have the inside track to the Mission Conference title.
Saddleback's high-powered offense, led by quarterback Jason Schmid, will get its toughest test of the season against Southwestern's defense, which is ranked first in the conference and third in the state. The Apaches have allowed an average of only 204 yards per game (49 rushing and 155 passing) and have forced 21 turnovers.