Max Valles always knew he would hit.
He just thought he would hit doubles, not quarterbacks.
"I was always a big baseball player," Valles said. "My freshman year, I wasn't even that into football."
Valles has come a long way in three years. He went from a skinny, semi-motivated football player without a position to a pass-rushing, run-stuffing leader of a defense that allowed just 17 points this season.
A rangy defensive end who also plays wide receiver, punts, and kicks off for St. Joseph, Valles is The Inquirer's Defensive Player of the Year in South Jersey.
"Impossible to run at him, and catches you when you run away," Holy Spirit coach Chalie Roman said of Valles, who has committed to attend the University of Virginia.
Valles was part of a St. Joseph defense that put together one of the most imposing seasons in recent South Jersey history. The Wildcats went 10-0, won the Non-Public 1 state title, and finished No. 1 in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings.
St. Joseph allowed one rushing touchdown, one passing touchdown, and one field goal. The Wildcats outscored opponents, 474-19.
"We got better every year," Valles said. "We were 5-5 my freshman year, then 8-3, then 10-1, and then to go 10-0 this year, it was the best way to go out."
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Valles, who lives in Winslow Township, said he attended St. Joseph because many of his friends were going to the school. He knew about the football program, and planned to play the sport, but his main focus was baseball.
"Center field and pitcher," Valles said of his top positions in baseball. "I always thought I would play baseball in college."
Valles was a safety as a sophomore for the football team.
"He was out of position," St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco said. "He was bored back there. I said, 'Let's put him at defensive end,' and he just took off.
"Batting down balls. Sacks. Chasing down runners from behind. He did it all for us."
Success on the football field brought interest from recruiters, which furthered Valles' interest in football. He said he realized in his junior season that he could play college football.
"It happened gradually," Valles said. "It was more a case of just hanging out with the guys in football, working in the weight room, the time we put in together. That was the thing that made me start to like football even more than baseball."
Valles teamed with senior linebacker Kaiwan Lewis, who has committed to South Carolina, to form one of the most dynamic defensive duos in the state this season.
Here's how dominating the Wildcats were on defense: They scored five times as many touchdowns (10) as they allowed (two). Valles scored two touchdowns on defense, returning an interception and a fumble for scores.
"It was a great way to go out," Valles said. "We worked so hard, and we wanted to finish strong. To finish with a perfect record, it's something I'll never forget."