SPRINGVILLE — One of the toughest things for a high school football coach to accept is walking past the school's best athlete in the halls, knowing that kid has elected not to wear your helmet and pads.

Springville coach Scott Mitchell had to swallow that tough pill all of last season when Red Devils' basketball star Raul Delgado decided to save his talents for his specialty sport. Delgado, a native of Mexico who transferred to Springville after his sophomore year at American Leadership Academy, is the Red Devils' top returning scorer — having averaged about 10 points per game on the hardwood last season as a junior.

"I would have loved to have had him play football last season," Mitchell said. "Seriously, who knows how good of player he could have been."

Fortunately for the Red Devils, however, Delgado — with a little encouragement from his family, friends and schoolmates — finally decided this fall to try to become a two-sport star. And everyone in the Red Devils' camp, including Delgado himself and Springville's basketball coaches, are glad he did.

"It was a good decision," Delgado said. "I'm having a lot of fun. I like playing football, and I like being around my teammates. And I really like being able to deliver some hits."

The reason Delgado was hesitant to put on the football gear was two fold. For one, as is typical nowadays in high school sports, he wanted to focus on becoming a better basketball player and did not want to risk injury. Second, he had never played football in his entire life and was worried he wouldn't be able to pick up the game or fit in.

"When I showed up to coach Mitchell a week before the first game and told him I wanted to play, it was a new experience for me and I didn't understand the game yet," Delgado said.

Mitchell was surprised but happy when Delgado showed up at practice, but also concerned at how to bring Delgado along considering his lack of experience and the fact that he had missed all of summer conditioning and all of fall camp.

"There was no question we could use him, it was just a matter of when and how," Mitchell said.

Because of the complexity of Springville's offense, Mitchell decided against Delgado's football initiation coming on the offensive side of the ball. Delgado, because of his athleticism, was a natural to play in the defensive backfield where his instincts could take over.

Initially, however, Delgado only played in junior varsity games. But in his very first JV game Delgado picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown.

"He looked like a man among boys, and I knew right then that somewhere there's a place for him," Mitchell said.

That place quickly became as Springville's starting varsity safety. And he's been the anchor of the Red Devils' defensive backfield ever since.

"He just started making more and more plays, and that's the kind of guy you want playing that position," Springville defensive coordinator Doug Bills said.

Delgado really made his presence felt when the Red Devils beat Spanish Fork in the battle for the Region 8 title. Trailing by two TDs at the intermission, Delgado returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown and then picked off a pass late in the fourth quarter to set up Springville's game-winning touchdown.

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"That was an incredible game. That was an incredible experience," Delgado said.

Even though Delgado — and teammates Matt Sumsion, Thomas Day, Jordan Sumsion and Brandon Boyer — will join the Red Devils basketball team a couple weeks late, they're all elated for the reason they have — three postseason wins and a meeting Friday with Timpview in the 4A state championship game.

"I think playing football is going to help me. I think I'm going to be in better condition, be more athletic and have more experience competing harder. I think I'm really going to be a lot more ready mentally for basketball because of playing football," Delgado said.

e-mail: jimr@desnews.com