LOS BANOS -- They share the same side of the ball, the same plot of grass, but for two Los Banos seniors with matching positions and playbooks, they might as well be on opposite sides of the planet. One attacks methodically, using his brain to break down plays as if they were algebraic formulas. The other crashes through with the conviction and demeanor of a wayward wrecking ball, heavy and wild.
Two vastly dissimiliar personalities and styles contained under one shell in Los Banos' 3-4 defense: the outside linebacker.
Really, the strange case of Matt Nunes and Brian Durham is no different from the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Nunes is the brainiac, a cerebral "Sam" linebacker whose athleticism and wit make him the focal point for QBs and offensive linemen.
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At any given moment, Nunes can stop his full-out rush around the right edge, read the quarterback's eyes and then leap into the passing lane.
Durham is his alter ego; a monster with a motor that pings in the red. Even in practice. The only thing the "Tiger" linebacker loves more than a pad-popping tackle is to talk about it afterwards.
"Our offensive guys, the coaches, it gets on their nerves because he's nonstop. He's going to hit you and let you know about it," Los Banos coach Dennis Stubbs said.
"Me, I sit back and love it, because I know it's going to make us better. Our staff has to find ways to deal with him."
Tonight, Los Banos' Dr. Tackle and Mr. Run-and-Hide become the opposition's problem.
Nunes and Durham anchor a new-look football program playing in a new-look conference.
Thanks to realignment and the opening of Pacheco High, Los Banos, a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff team the past two years and the reigning Central California Conference champions, moves down in division into the Western Athletic Conference.
Los Banos is expected to push WAC mainstays Central Catholic and Patterson.
Led by Nunes and Durham, defense will be its hallmark.
The two often played in the shadow of middle linebacker Julio Iglesias and an offense that featured two of the area's top talents, quarterback Erik Martin and running back Darron Brown.
"Everything in Los Banos has been about the offense, about Rubal (Sangha), Erik and Darron. The defense has always been overshadowed," Nunes said. "Every day we're shooting to beat the offense and we have been. Our offense will be good, but defense will carry the weight this year.
"It's nice to say that and finally hear that."
In the 3-4, Nunes and Durham double as defensive ends. Depending on their assignment and scheme, they could be asked to rush, play the run or drop back into pass coverage.
"With those two guys, there's so much we can do with them," Stubbs said, "because they have so much experience and they understand what we want to do."
Despite his smallish frame, the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Durham finished with 9.5 sacks and 90 tackles, second on the team, bullying ball-carriers with his fearlessness.
"Matt is more of a big boy. Me, I'm small but one of the fastest. I just try to hit whoever comes at me as hard as I can -- even if it's a 300-pound lineman," Durham said. "I love hitting. After every practice and every game, I go home with a headache.
"Hey, if a headache is the only consequence I get..."
Nunes had nine sacks and 70 tackles, and was a first-team all-CCC selection.
"We've been fortunate to have some really good linebackers in my short time here," Stubbs said. "These guys are right up there. They're both outside, not really inside guys, but these two are two of the best."
The linebacking corps could be one of the deepest in the Valley.
Junior Greg Williams, a breakout star at running back last season, steps into Iglesias' role in the middle, while Adrian Rivas, Peter Rodriguez and Sammy Palemia will battle for minutes at the other inside position.
But it's the combination outside, that clash in style and personality at Sam and Tiger linebacker that should strike fear into those standing across the line of scrimmage.
"Put us together," said the fast-talking Durham, "and we're pretty unstoppable."
James Burns is managing editor/sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.