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One is a football lifer who's been playing the game since he was in Pop Warner. He's outgoing and is often cracking jokes with his teammates or talking trash with opponents.
|Tyler Stockton and Athony LaLota are two of the nation's top defensive linemen.|
The other stepped on the gridiron for the first time last season after years of playing basketball. And he's definitely more laid back than his teammate -- more likely to laugh at the jokes than tell them.
But while Tyler Stockton and Anthony LaLota took different football paths, the Hun School (Princeton, N.J.) senior defensive linemen have ended up in the same place as the top two football recruits in New Jersey. And both are bound for BCS powerhouses, with Stockton committing to Notre Dame and LaLota pledging to Michigan.
Stockton is the one with football in his blood, playing for Hun since his freshman year. As a sophomore, he became a two-way starter for the Raiders at nose tackle and offensive guard and impressed the coaching staff with his tenacity during one-on-one drills in practice, especially against offensive lineman Greg Tomczyk.
Tomczyk, who's now a left tackle at Louisville, was taking a post-grad year at Hun during Stockton's sophomore season and was three years older. Yet Stockton never backed down, even though he often came out on the losing end of those matchups.
"He'd keep going until we had to step in and say enough," says Hun head coach Dave Dudeck, who's in his 10th year at the helm. "He had no fear from Day 1. That's what kind of football player he is. He's relentless."
"I told Tyler that one day he's going to be the big dog in the backyard, and he's been the big dog since his junior year," adds Hun defensive coordinator and line coach John Law, who's in his 17th season with the Raiders.
Law isn't kidding -- Stockton is an absolute nightmare to block in the trenches. As a junior, he spent most of his time blowing up plays in opposing backfields en route to being named the Mid-Atlantic Prep League Defensive Player of the Year. He finished the season with 73 tackles (including a whopping 26 for loss), 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries to help lead the Raiders to a 9-0 record and the MAPL title. The 6-foot-1, 290-pound game-changer is rated New Jersey's top player and the No. 32 overall recruit in the ESPNU 150.
|Stockton had 11 sacks as a junior and is committed to Notre Dame.|
Stockton's rise to stardom isn't by accident. During his freshman year, he saw how much time then-senior Myron Rolle put into becoming the nation's top recruit. Now a standout safety at Florida State, Rolle is a potential first-round pick in April's NFL Draft.
By working out with Rolle, Stockton learned to bring the same intensity to his own offseason program and transformed himself into a physical specimen. He can now bench press 375 pounds, squat 500, deadlift 500 and power clean 275.
Dealing with Stockton's strength is one thing, but he's also tremendously quick for his size and has an excellent football IQ. Put it all together and you can bet Notre Dame can't wait to plug this defensive dynamo onto its line next season.
"I'm nasty and my motor never stops," Stockton says. "This is the sport I love to play. I told my parents in the sixth grade they weren't going to have to pay for college."
Stockton made good on his promise by busting his tail to fulfill a dream that's been years in the making. LaLota, meanwhile, thought he'd be playing his college ball on the basketball court instead of the gridiron until last year.
LaLota knew some of the players on the Hun football team and saw how much fun they were having playing the sport. So he decided to give it a shot, transferring from Lawrenceville Prep to suit up for the Raiders.
Though raw when it came to football skills, LaLota still managed to shine last year at defensive end by tallying 28 tackles -- 10 for loss -- and six sacks. He also played left tackle and, along with Stockton, paved the way for a Hun rushing attack that gained 2,068 yards and scored 21 touchdowns.
This season, LaLota lined up at defensive end and tight end for the Raiders. A year after picking up the sport, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound LaLota is rated the nation's No. 13 defensive end in the ESPNU 150. He plans on playing on the defensive side of the ball for coach Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines. And he's since given up basketball.
|LaLota had 40 tackles in his first season and is committed to Michigan.|
"Everything happened so quickly that I never let it sink in," says LaLota. "I'm really happy that it's happened, but I have to credit the coaches."
"His upside is just absolutely out of sight," adds Law, who played at Rutgers. "Right now he's still learning, but he's learning fast. He has all the natural skills to be a big-time player in college."
Stockton and LaLota's personalities are as different as their rise to stardom. Stockton is a player who wears his heart on his sleeve and is never at a loss for words. LaLota, meanwhile, is more reserved.
Stockton also isn't lacking in confidence. When some of the Michigan coaches came to watch LaLota in a game this year, Stockton told Dudeck he was going to have the visitors from Ann Arbor "watch how it's done at Notre Dame."
So it isn't surprising Stockton busted LaLota after Notre Dame beat Michigan this year. That they'll be playing on opposing sides of one of college football's greatest rivalries adds yet another twist to their story.
Although Stockton and LaLota have taken divergent paths to football success, the two close friends do have many things in common -- they possess incredible work ethics, are good students and are the two best players in the Garden State.
"They're both great kids that give you everything they have," Dudeck says. "I wouldn't trade them for anyone in the world."
Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.