They're football royalty, sons of Heisman Trophy winners playing side by side in the defensive backfield.
Thomas Cappelletti, a senior strong safety, and Ashton White, a junior free safety, contribute more than prestigious bloodlines each time they take the field for Santa Margarita High.
Whether from heredity or watching their fathers play on ESPN Classic, they've taken some of their fathers' best qualities and put them to good use.
Cappelletti, son of 1973 Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti of Penn State, hardly resembles an intimidating defensive player at 5 feet 11, 165 pounds.
But as soon as he darts toward the ball, Cappelletti displays the trademark toughness and determination that made his father a Nittany Lion icon.
White, son of 1979 Heisman winner Charles White of USC, first gained attention in 1997 playing in the Little League World Series for U.S. champion South Mission Viejo.
He has filled out nicely at 5-11 and 190 pounds. He scored 35 touchdowns for the Eagles' freshman team and rushed for 809 yards as a sophomore tailback for the varsity. He makes big plays and is developing the speed and moves of his father, who once carried 44 times against Notre Dame.
No one is having more fun observing this rare convergence of sports genealogy than Eagle Coach Jim Hartigan.
"When you first hear about possibly getting them, you are kind of amazed and maybe in awe of the situation," Hartigan said. "But when you coach them every day, you kind of forget what their dads have accomplished.
"It probably won't sink in for me until I'm retired and think, 'Wow, I had the chance to coach two Heisman Trophy kids' sons.' It is unique."
Los Angeles no longer has an NFL team, but Santa Margarita can thank the Rams for its good fortune.
John Cappelletti grew up in Philadelphia but decided to stay in Orange County after playing for the Rams and retiring in 1983. He is a partner in a firm that supplies products, systems and services to the pharmaceutical industry. He lives in Laguna Niguel with his wife and four sons. Thomas is the third son to play for the Eagles, with 12-year-old Joseph still to come.
White, another ex-Ram, was one of the greatest high school running backs in Los Angeles history, joining Kenney Moore, Kevin Williams and Ray Williams in the record-breaking wishbone backfield that helped San Fernando High win consecutive City Section championships in 1974 and '75. He works for USC in information services. Ashton lives with his mother in Santa Margarita.
Thomas and Ashton first met when their older brothers played for Santa Margarita's freshman team in 1996. They would play touch football games behind the bleachers, not realizing one day they'd be teammates.
There's little conversation about their fathers, but they are asked similar questions from curious classmates and adults.
"It's kind of awkward sometimes getting the same question, 'How's it feel to have your dad be a Heisman Trophy winner?' " Thomas said. "He's my friend. He's my Dad."
Ashton was subjected to scrutiny much earlier than he wanted. He was thrust onto the national scene as a 12-year-old when his Little League team lost, 5-4, in the championship game in Williamsport, Pa. The winning run scored after the ball bounced off his glove. He threw his mitt and cried, all of it captured on national television.
"When I was that young, I kind of just wanted to be a kid and not have to worry about telling people things," he said. "I wanted to hang out with my friends after games and not have to be pulled out and singled out. Now I realize it wasn't that big a deal. Back then, it meant everything."
Thomas and Ashton are part of a returning group of players who could make Santa Margarita the top team in Orange County and a challenger to Long Beach Poly for the Division I championship.
"Thomas is a hard worker, a tough kid with a big heart," Hartigan said. "When Ashton makes up his mind to do something, he does it. You'll see a game where he's absolutely smoking, from special teams to offense to defense."
The two have developed a close working relationship on defense.
"I always know he'll be where he's supposed to be and if I screw up, he'll be there to watch my back," Ashton said. "We know what each other is going to do before we do it."
The fathers come to the games and try to stay in the background, letting their sons succeed or fail on their own.
But they are always available if needed.
"It's quite a treat to watch [Ashton] mature over the years and see how he handles different adversities," Charles said. "I try to give him my experiences, but the bottom line is he has to make choices for himself."
Said John: "This is their life and time. I've taken the position when they were growing up in youth sports, I'd get involved. By the time they were in the 13-year-old range, they would pretty much have to take it from there, dealing with people, coaches and life in general."
When they're channel surfing and suddenly see images of their fathers on television, whether it be Charles rushing for 247 yards against Ohio State in the 1980 Rose Bowl or John dragging a trio of tacklers downfield for Penn State, the boys are impressed but never lose perspective.
"He's just my Dad," Thomas said.
"He's just my Pop," Ashton said.
\o7 Eric Sondheimer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org