Sons also rise for Heisman winners

It hasn't happened before, and it might never happen again.

But here they are, these two young boys with their famous names playing football on the same team, at the same time, at the same school.

Call it Heisman High.

Ashton White, son of Charles, the 1979 Heisman Trophy winner for USC, and Thomas Cappelletti, son of John, the 1973 Heisman recipient at Penn State, are two of the more promising athletes on Santa Margarita High's Top 10-rated team.

"There's some name recognition, obviously," said Jim Hartigan, the team's coach, "but these are two really good kids who know how to handle it. When people first hear about it, they automatically think both have got to be great running backs."

They aren't. At least not yet.

White, a sleek sophomore who shares time at tailback and also plays defensive back, has the style, the natural ability and, obviously, the genes to become a star running back.

But Cappelletti, a spindly 160-pound junior, is a wide receiver and safety who prefers playing defense to offense.

"I like getting to hit instead of being hit," Thomas said.

If Cappelletti wants to carve out his own identity, White admits he wouldn't mind mirroring his father's.

"I remember going to Heritage Hall (at USC) with my dad," Ashton said. "They had a TV set up there, and I got to see one of his runs. It was a pretty crazy run. After that, I've always wanted to be a running back."

Whatever they turn out to be, they won't look the same as their Heisman-winning fathers.

John Cappelletti was a large, bruising runner who played at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds in his prime at Penn State, before joining the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams and San Diego Chargers. Thomas will have to grow to reach 6 feet, and it looks as though he'll be lucky to make it to 185 or 190 pounds.

Ashton, on the other hand, is already a couple of inches taller than Charles, who played at 5-9. And at 187 pounds heading toward 200 or 205, he has already passed his dad, who weighed no more than 185, even when he was leading the NFL in rushing with the Rams.

The senior Cappelletti, who had two other sons play at Santa Margarita, knows Thomas will not be a running back. And he's fine with that.

"In the world of football types, he's built much more like a free safety or a wide receiver," John said. "If he can grow a little, he might be able to play at the next level. He's a junior, but he's young. He's still 15, and he's not even driving yet."

Ashton, who pitched South Mission Viejo into the Little League World Series three years ago, still likes baseball. But he is already adamant that football is his future.

"That's OK; he's come a long way," Charles said. "But he still has a long way to go. You tend to forget he's still a sophomore, and he's already up there playing with the varsity. That's pretty darn good."

College football scouts have taken notice. White's famous name will be prominent on all the major Division I recruiting lists in the next two years.

"He's going to be better than his dad," Charles said. "He's got those big, wide shoulders. He's going to be a big kid. And he's always had natural ability. I noticed that much when he was still very young."

Ashton, sharing tailback duties with senior Tyler Thompson, has rushed for 213 yards on 40 carries this season.

Another ex-running back, who has seen all three Santa Margarita games, has been impressed.

"I think Ashton is a big-time prospect, absolutely," John Cappelletti said.

So what exactly is it like to grow up the son of a Heisman Trophy winner? Do you feel the pressure? Do you hear the whispers?

"Nah, it wasn't bad," Ashton said. "I first realized what my dad had done when I was about 5 or 6. I think he showed me the tape of his last Rose Bowl."

Thomas Cappelletti said he never felt any pressure.

"I was too young to ever see my dad play in person," he said. "But I saw some of his games on film. And when I got older, he'd take me to some Penn State games. I remember going to the Rose Bowl when they played in it a couple of years ago."

Neither of these celebrity sons seems to mind talking about his father.

"I was always proud of him," Ashton said. "I remember hanging around with him at Rams training camp and stuff. It was always a lot of fun."

"Dad always used to get all these letters and things people wanted him to sign," Thomas said. "I guess that's when I knew he was a celebrity."

Both fathers seem equally protective of their sons.

"I don't know if I'm afraid of putting undue pressure on him, but in the case of both kids, this is their life," John said.

"Charlie and I have had our time. This is their time."

By Steve Bisheff
Sunday, October 15, 2000
The Orange County Register