HS 24 Franco Rifici kicks an extra point during the first half. Saturday December 8 2012 Holy Spirit / Immaculata Non-Public Group II Football Championship at The College of New Jersey. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Ben Fogletto

The Holy Spirit High School football standouts are mostly easy to spot.

Defensive tackle Ray Ellis stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 285 pounds. Quarterback T.J. Anderson is 6-1 and weighs 220.

But 5-6, 170-pound Franco Rifici slips by unnoticed except when he's on the field.

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The senior seems to always make the big play that Spirit needs.

He plays running back, linebacker and is also the Spartans' kicker and punter.

"I hear trash talk that people say I'm too small," Rifici said. "I just show up and play my game. I play with heart. I don't let anybody get in my head."

Spirit has won three straight state titles. The Spartans open the season at 7 p.m. today at home against Hammonton.

Rifici grew up playing soccer. In preseason telephone interviews, the Galloway Township resident talked about how he became a football player and what he loves about the game.

On how he started playing football: I grew up playing soccer my whole life. I switched over to football in the seventh grade. I had trouble playing soccer. I got a couple of yellow cards, so I tried football. I don't get in trouble for hitting kids in football.

On playing football at 5-foot-6, 170 pounds: I'm the smallest, so I have to beat kids with my brains instead of my body. But I still go 100 percent, and I have a little leverage.

On his favorite part of football: It's a great game, and it teaches life lessons. But my favorite part is hitting people. It's ironic (considering his size).

On tonight's home opener against Hammonton: Our guys are excited. We're sick of hitting each other. We want to hit somebody new.

On winning four straight state titles: It's one of the biggest goals of the season. Our senior class is like a family. We've been together since freshman year and we've won every year. We're going to try our best for this one. The last one is the most important one.

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