Aptos High senior Dante Aranda competed on the Mariners’ football, wrestling and boys’ lacrosse teams at an extremely high level, which earned him The Pajaronian’s Boys Athlete of the Year for the 2022-23 school season. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

It wasn’t too difficult to spot Aptos High senior Dante Aranda anytime he made his way onto the football field or a wrestling mat. 

So much so, during his junior year he slowly started earning the moniker “The Bus” whenever he took off with the football for a bone-crushing dive into the end zone for a touchdown.

The wheels continued to turn for the 5-foot-10, 234-pound standout athlete as he went on one last ride donning the Mariners’ midnight blue and white uniform.   

Aranda helped the football team capture a share of the Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division title, followed by a Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League wrestling championship and finally a stellar season on the lacrosse team that continues to grow in numbers.   

“Dante represents everything good about youth and multi-sport athletics,” said Aptos Athletic Director Travis Fox. “He was a member of this school community for the last four years and was engaged fully, he was all in 100%. The only days he’s missed in the last four years were Sundays when we forced them to take off.”

Not only did Aranda excel in all three sports he competed in, he was also named team captain in each one of the programs.

“It was not a title that I’m striving for,” he said. “I was just going there knowing that I need to pull my own weight. I don’t want to be the weakest link and said, ‘I’m gonna give it my all.’ If I get recognized for it, I get recognized for it.”

Aranda built a pathway for success and his athletic accomplishments without a doubt turned some heads within the section, which is why he was named The Pajaronian’s Boys Athlete of the Year for the 2022-23 school year. 

“I couldn’t have done this without the amazing coaches and the teammates that I had that were there pushing me, helping me, challenging me in all sorts of ways to improve so that then I can accomplish these goals,” he said.

According to the Monterey Bay Preps website, Aranda finished with 877 yards rushing on 114 carries and nine touchdowns in 2022, earning him all-league first team honors. He was also a stalwart on defense during the second half of the season when Aptos needed him the most.

One of his biggest highlights was their win against Salinas High. He said they lightly joked about how close the game would turn out, which in fact it did.

The Mariners edged the Cowboys, 44-41, for the first time since 2016 and in PCAL Gabilan Division play.

“We didn’t realize how prepared we were for the game because come game day, it was a whole different energy in the locker room as we’re just walking together,” Aranda said. “There was nothing we were worried about because we knew we could give our all and come into whatever it was that we were going to do. I think it really paid off in the end.”

Aranda said he was banged up midway during the game against Salinas. Yet, it was at that very moment he realized who he was in the sense of becoming a football player. 

“I’m not gonna let my teammates down because I wasn’t injured,” he said. “It kind of helped me push in and show how much further you can really accomplish if you just really, really want it.”

In wrestling, his SCCAL record was 2-0 with three forfeits in his favor and his overall record was 18-7 including a first place finish at the 58th Overfelt Classic. Aranda went on to win the 220-pound weight class at the league championships in February.

Aranda was no less productive in the spring sports season. He recorded 10 ground ball saves and five assists as the defensive team captain for the Mariners boys’ lacrosse team, which finished with a 7-6 overall record and went 4-4 in PCAL play. 

The only setback for Aranda this school year was joining a program past the season opener because the sport he was competing in was either in the postseason or a tournament. 

“I joined late but I didn’t let that stop me,” he said. “The coaches and the teammates there that knew what they’re doing didn’t hesitate to take me under their wing and kind of show me the ropes. I just ran with it.”

Fox said Aranda was obviously a physically imposing athlete whether it was in football, lacrosse or wrestling, which all demand a high level of intensity. 

But it was the way Aranda presented himself in the hallway with a friendly gesture and greeting that left an impression on everybody on campus. 

“You wouldn’t think that that’s the beast behind the helmet,” Fox said. “You know, he’s a yes sir, yes, ma’am kind of kid. Always smiling, always happy to see you and just a campus favorite by all staff and students.”

However, juggling three sports and having a life outside of school wasn’t always easy for him.

During the week, Aranda made it a point to finish work in class or at home before heading off to practice. If not, he’d pull some late nighters to make sure everything was done in the time allotted. 

“I did sacrifice some sleep for it but in the end I think it paid off,” he said.

Aranda said his drive to succeed naturally came from within and was always striving to make his family proud. He finished high school with a 3.8 GPA and he’ll continue his career in football at San Jose City College, which he hopes will help get him into a four-year college.

“From that alone, just trying to make my family proud and take stress off of them is kind of what pushed me,” he said. “Just having the support of everybody around me, helped push me over the edge just to keep going.”

Honorable Mention

  • Jojo Keldsen (Sr.), Monte Vista Christian 
  • Jesus Basulto (Sr.), Pajaro Valley 
  • Diego Ramirez (Sr.), St. Francis
  • Brody Legions (Jr.), Watsonville
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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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