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Love for the game helps Santa Ana's Briseno brothers do great things
SANTA ANA – They are best friends, high school and college football aficionados, and when the pads are on, each other’s stiffest competition.
The only real discernible differences between Santa Ana’s Briseno brothers are their jersey numbers on game day and hair styles when the helmets are off. Jorge Briseno sports the No. 5 and flaunts a bleached mop top. Jonathan Briseno is No. 6 and has maintained the natural shade in his shaggy black locks.
Being literal spitting images of one another is something they’ve grown up accustomed to. An unrivaled passion for football is what drives them on a daily basis. And of late, the thought of hoisting a CIF-SS championship trophy has become the rallying cry for the entire Santa Ana football family.
Santa Ana vs. Rancho Christian
at Temecula Valley High
Saturday, 7 p.m.
With the Briseno boys at the heart of the program’s revival, the Saints will look to capture the school’s first CIF title since 1985 when they travel to take on Rancho Christian on Saturday night at Temecula Valley High in the Division 13 championship.
“It’s always nerve-wrecking when you go into a championship game, especially when you’re facing a tough team like (Rancho Christian), those players, and the former Orange Lutheran coach (Jim Kunau),” Jonathan said after practice on Wednesday evening. “You have to be nervous. That’s what you need, though. If you’re not nervous, you don’t care.”
Caring has never been an issue for Jorge or Jonathan. They grew up playing Pop Warner for the Santa Ana Monarchs since the age of 6 and have maintained contact with former teammates like former Tustin High standout turned Utah-recruit George Wilson, and – evident by the seemingly endless postgame photo-taking – the entire Segerstrom roster.
The brothers joke that they drive their mom crazy with the amount of “SportsCenter” they consume daily. And on Saturdays, you better believe college football will be on the tube from sun up to sun down.
“This is the sport we love,” Jorge said.
“We live for this,” Jonathan chimed in.
It wasn’t until last fall, though, when Jorge in particular learned exactly how much the game means to him.
In a game against Loara, the Saints tailback took a handoff and felt his knee give out as he tried to brust through the line.
“When I tried to get up, I could just crawl,” he said. “I’ll be honest, after that, I didn’t know if I wanted to play anymore. Everything was going so good. I was leading the county in rushing. We were undefeated. Then that happened. Yeah, it was frustrating.”
The path back from a torn ACL wasn’t the easiest nor shortest of roads to navigate. A constant push from his brother proved to be the best medicine in the grand scheme of things.
“Not having my brother out there, or like our team calls it, one of our family members out there, it sucked,” Jonathan said of watching Jorge rehab. “But especially in the summer, he saw us in passing league playing some top competition, so he worked hard because he wanted to get back out there.
“Seeing him finally break out at Segerstrom this year was cool. Everyone knew, ‘OK, he’s back.’”
On Oct. 28 – one year and nearly three weeks after suffering the initial tear – in his first start at running back, Jorge racked up 245 yards and four touchdowns against the Jaguars in a game that locked up at least a share of the the Saints’ first league title since 1991.
In the last five weeks, Jorge has rushed for 1,027 yards and 19 touchdowns behind an offensive line that’s been mauling defenders up front. Jonathan and the Saints defense has done its part, holding five of their last seven opponents to single-digit point totals.
In last week’s semifinals win against Laguna Beach, Jonathan racked up nine tackles, three sacks and forced a fumble.
Santa Ana has rolled to a 13-0 clip this season, revitalizing one of the county’s proudest programs.
Several members of Santa Ana’s 1985 championship team attended practice Monday afternoon to show their support, donning old letterman’s jackets and championship rings for the newest generation of Saints to get a glimpse of.
“It goes to show how deep the roots of Santa Ana run,” Coach Charlie TeGantvoort acknowledged. “As the oldest high school in Orange County, with those years comes tradition.”
The Briseno brothers hope they can help pen the next chapter in Santa Ana’s storied history on Saturday night.
“Winning league for the first time in a long time, being undefeated, now making it to the championship, it’s been a fun experience,” Jorge said.
But as TeGantvoort made clear, “We’re not done quite yet.”
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