MINERAL — Aaron Aponte is a soft-spoken individual that enjoys faith, family and the outdoors.
On the gridiron, the Louisa County senior plays with a passion and focus that mirrors some great leaders.
Those attributes were on display Friday night as Aponte anchored a Lions’ defensive unit that limited to Chancellor to just 134 yards of total offense during a 38-13 win in their home opener.
The 6-foot-3, 207-pound edge rusher posted eight tackles, including three solo stops, and a sack, as Louisa County improved to 2-0 on the season. Chancellor scored on its opening drive, but the Lions’ defense held the Chargers’ offense in check over the final 45 minutes.
Aponte put an exclamation point on the victory in the second half when he dropped Chancellor’s Kim Caruthers for a 17-yard loss on a jet-sweep play. On the play, he came off the edge quickly to get his hands on the ball carrier. Caruthers’ stiff-arm dislodged Aponte’s helmet, but the senior remained committed to the play and finished it off with a belly-to-back suplex that would make former WWE champion Kurt Angle proud.
For his efforts, Aponte has been named the Daily Progress Athlete of the Week.
“It was definitely one of my favorite games ever and got me excited to keep getting better,” Aponte said. “It felt good to see how well we responded to the adversity we faced immediately. Almost getting another safety was great, but getting that big suplex with my helmet off was one of my favorite plays I’ve ever had in football.”
In two games, Aponte has 14 tackles, two sacks and a safety to lead. He nearly added another safety against Chancellor, tackling the running back on the one-inch line in the second half.
Aponte’s love for football started at a young age. He grew up playing a number of sports, including baseball and basketball, but developed a keen fondness for the competitive nature of the gridiron.
“Around nine years old, I started playing football and fell in love with the passion, camaraderie and hard work that the sport entailed,” he said.
Nearly a decade later, the senior has developed into one of the top linebackers in Central Virginia.
“My favorite play is when it’s me blitzing and it’s just me, one-on-one with a lineman or a running back trying to stop me pass rushing,” Aponte said. “My mindset is coming in hot to punish anybody while maintaining control of the outside.”
Aponte is a true student of the game. He grew up watching football with his father and studied the greats of the game, from all eras, and tried to incorporate that in his game.
“I emulate lots of old players from the 60s, 70s and 80s who played football with violence and toughness, the way it should be played,” Aponte said. “Players like Ronnie Lott, Steve Atwater and J.J. Watt.”
Another benefit to his growth as a player was weight training at an early age. Aponte started lifting with his father at the age of 11 and it has become part of his lifestyle.
The results are impressive. This summer, he hit a max bench of 300 pounds and deadlifted 500 pounds. He has squatted 395.
Aponte said that work in the weight room definitely shows up on the field.
“I just love the feeling of working out,” he said. “I’ve improved by constantly working out. I’m most proud of being stronger than guys who weigh 100 pounds more than me.”
This offseason, he continued to refine his game by utilizing agility drills to help add more speed and skill to his game.
“My favorite part of playing defensive end is the simplicity of it,” Aponte said. “It’s just about doing your job, being tougher than the man against you, and dominating the other team.”
Another aspect of Aponte’s game is on the offensive side of the ball.
Playing tight end, he has two receptions for 40 yards and is a vertical threat down the middle of the field. In addition, his presence as blocker in the running game was a big factor in the Lions’ second-half surge against Chancellor.
“I would say the most underrated part of my game is my offensive skillset,” he said. “I like to violently block and can catch the ball and run very well. I like to block for the running backs and then get the ball thrown to me whenever I can.”
Off the field, Aponte has myriad interests, which keep him busy. Along with weightlifting, he he’s an avid outdoorsman and finds solace in nature.
“I love to hike, fish and be out in nature and relax,” Aponte said.
He said he typically hikes twice a month during the offseason, sometimes more.
One of his favorite spots locally is Shenandoah National Park.
“One time we did 30 miles in two days,” Aponte said. “It was really hard, but a fulfilling experience.”
In the classroom, Aponte is a self-proclaimed history buff.
“I love all the American conflicts,” Aponte said. “My favorite would probably be the Revolutionary War because of how big of an underdog we were. George S. Patton would have to be my favorite because of how he led our troops and some of his great quotes from World War II.”
Another passion of Aponte’s is his faith.
“Most people don’t know my passion for God,” he said. “Being a servant for God is the most important thing to me. I believe it doesn’t matter what you accomplish until you accept Jesus into your heart. I also would like to possibly become a pastor one day, God willing.”
Much like Hall of Fame defensive lineman Reggie White, who was an ordained minister, Aponte prides himself on being a player that opposing coaches must game-plan around.
“It’s a good feeling knowing when other teams watch film that they are going to be trying to run the opposite way of me,” he said. “But I think we’ve got some great athletes on defense that every player should be feared.”
A staple of Louisa County’s defense over the past several years is the emphasis on stopping the run and providing a physical presence. From Job Whalen and Raquon Jones, to Brandon Smith and Malik Bell, Aponte is proud to be a part of a great tradition.
“Louisa’s founded on toughness and hitting hard,” Aponte said. “I’ve played with those guys my entire life. They taught me how to work hard and keep getting better and to be your own player.”
Aponte admits he wants to help raise the bar even higher, not just for himself, but for his team and future generations of Lions.
“I want to be the best me I can be,” he said. “I try to pass down to younger players that the season never ends. You have to be grinding all year. You have to hold yourself to a higher standard than you could ever reach. You have to be the toughest person on the field. You can’t feel pain while playing. That’s not what Louisa is about.”
Louisa is hungry for more.
The Lions remember all too well last season’s last-second loss to Eastern View in the Region 4B playoffs and it served as motivation heading into this season.
“I’ve been working really hard every day since we lost to Eastern View,” Aponte said. “I have 10 other men on the field doing the same thing with that passion.”
When the Lions took the field before Friday night’s home opener, Robert Morgan IV ran through the fireworks holding a green flag with the message “Be Elite.” Aponte embraces that challenge.
“This season, as always, I felt like a lot of people were counting us out and saying we lost lots of people,” Aponte said. “But we had faith in our young guys to step up and they’ve been balling out. That being said, we are never satisfied and are never good enough.
“We will continue working and taking it one game at a time until we get that ring.”