As important as former Capuchino High School running back Justin Ewing was to the team last season — he set the single-season Central Coast Section rushing record with 2,956 yards for the 2012 Peninsula Athletic League Lake Division champions — middle linebacker Royal Ale was equally vital to the team's success.
"Absolutely," said Adam Hyndman, who coached at Capuchino last year and is now an assistant at San Mateo High School. "Royal made so many plays that impacted the game. He has everything a coach would want in a football player."
Including a nose for the ball. The 5-foot-11, 235-pound Ale — last year's Lake Division Linebacker of the Year for a Capuchino squad that went 6-5 overall and a perfect 5-0 in division play — recorded a team-best 57 tackles and three interceptions during a breakout junior season, repeatedly displaying an uncanny instinct for being around the ball.
"A lot of times it's just instinct, and a lot of it is playing the game with an attitude," Ale said. "Wherever the ball is, you just have to be there."
Tough, durable and strong, Ale can bench-press 275 pounds and squat 585. Ale loves being in the weight room, and led his teammates in the summer lifting workout sessions.
"We had a coaching transition [from Hyndman to current coach Josh Horton], and I knew everyone was depending on me to hold meetings and take control," Ale said.
Hyndman has known Ale for five years, and talks about the star linebacker as if he was his own son.
"He's got tremendous overall character," Hyndman said. "Then you look at what he does on the field, and it's amazing. Whether the ball was 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage or 20 yards down field, Royal was there. When you have a middle linebacker like that, you know you have someone special who can affect the total outcome of the game to achieve success."
Ale was somewhat of an unknown entering his junior year, then played as if his reputation was at stake. Often launching himself like a torpedo at incoming running backs or receivers, Ale was a tackling machine. Having never played organized football until entering high school, Ale has made up for lost time in a hurry.
"Last year was really unexpected," he said. "I never thought I would have that much success, but now that I have more confidence, I'm going to aim higher and expect more out of myself."
Ale, who also played offensive guard last year, will have to be that much better if the Mustangs are to contend in the tougher Ocean Division this season. With two of the league's traditional powers — Aragon and Burlingame — in the Ocean for 2013, the Mustangs face a supreme task. But if anyone is up for the challenge, it's Ale, who was named Royal because his mom wanted him to stand out. In name and on the football field, Ale has done just that.