Looking across Temple’s defense, you might overlook Jairo Almonte, the Owls’ 5-foot-8 defensive back.
But ask any of his teammates or coaches, and they will tell you that he plays bigger than his size.
In his first year at Temple, the Bronx, NY native was the team’s top newcomer.
He tied for fourth in the Big East with three forced fumbles and returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown against Rutgers.
This season he has one interception, 52 tackles and one forced fumble.
The coaches call Almonte “The Fierce Chihuahua.”
“I’m fairly small for the position I play,” Almonte explained. “I’m only 5’8″, but I make big plays and I make things happen on the field.”
Almonte plays a new position that Temple created called Owlback, a combination of linebacker and safety.
His responsibilities include covering receivers like a defensive back and stopping the run like a linebacker.
The new Owlback position is arguably the toughest position to play in Temple’s defense.
“I love to hit people, and I get to do that more playing Owlback,” Almonte said.
“Football is the only time in life when you’ll be able to hit people with no penalty. In order to play this position with a size disadvantage, you have to be extra tough. I just try and do the small things right to help us win. The small things on defense are important, because if you do your job right, you will help everybody on the team.”
As the captain of the defense, Almonte shows his leadership on and off the field.
He’s a vocal leader on the field, and off the field he helps his teammates improve their game by telling them what areas they could improve in meetings.
Almonte and Temple’s defense have come a long way.
“Last year our defense was ranked fairly high (19th nationally), and I still think we have that same talent level,” Almonte said.
“Out rushing defense has improved from last year. We get after the ball a little better now. Our passing defense is not as good as it used to be last year. This year we have a younger defense line so the experience from last year is not there.”
Almonte is a transfer from SUNY – Canton Junior College, where he was the team captain in 1999.
He was a two-time All-North Eastern Conference selection and led the conference with seven interceptions as a freshman in 1998.
Almonte grew up in New York City and started playing baseball during his childhood.
He began his football career at John F. Kennedy High School.
He garnered all-city honors during his junior and senior seasons as the team’s captain.
Almonte, never being a big fan of the NFL, watched college football.
Transferring from SUNY Canton Junior College and playing at Temple has allowed Almonte the chance to play the school he followed as a youngster – Miami.
“It was a fun challenge, but I wasn’t intimidated at all,” Almonte said when asked about Temple’s matchup with Miami earlier this season.
“I know our defense is good enough to put up a fight against them. We only made a few mistakes that gave Miami an edge against us.”
Almonte is majoring in criminal justice and aspires one day to become a pilot.
Commercial airliners were his interest as a child, and he has kept that love.
If the NFL isn’t an option for him, flying always will be.
“Football prepares you for life,” Almonte said.
“It teaches you how to handle situations, pressure and to work as a team with others. Football just prepares you for the challenges of life.”
David Cargin can be reached at I3AKDRAF@hotmail.com.