'I'm pumped up for this game. Inside I want it. . . . I want a sack. I want this, I want that. I want a scholarship.'
Mauricio Gutierrez, Shrine All-Star gridder
For most of the 56 high school players competing in Saturday's 34th Shrine All-Star Football Classic at East Los Angeles College, it is the last hurrah before reporting to college training camp. With a college scholarship in hand, these players can relax and enjoy their last high school football game.
But for a few who have not secured a scholarship, like Gardena High's Mauricio Gutierrez, the Shrine Classic represents more than a game--it's their last chance to impress a college recruiter.
Gutierrez will be fighting for more than just a victory when he suits up for the South squad Saturday. The Gardena linebacker will be vying for an elusive scholarship.
Gutierrez knows that the odds and his size are against him. Most colleges have met their scholarship quotas for next year. And most colleges believe that Gutierrez, at 6-1 and 190 pounds, doesn't have the size to play major college football.
Recruiters and Hope
He knows, however, that there will be a few recruiters in the stands watching the distinguished all-star game, which highlights some of the most talented graduating seniors in Southern California, and the recruiters will have a few free rides in their back pockets.
That's all he needs to know. Those are the people he hopes to impress.
What he lacks in size, Gutierrez said he makes up with speed and desire. The scrapper was selected to the All-Pacific League team twice.
"I just go out there and play football," said the fleet Gutierrez, who runs 40 yards in 4.7 seconds. "I do what I'm supposed to do. I'm always doing my job. It's just a pleasure to play football. It's better than going to a party.
"It doesn't matter what school I play for, whether it be a junior college or a university. I'm going to give it 100% both in the classroom and on the field."
Gutierrez knows what he has to do to earn that scholarship. It's as if he has played this game a thousand times in his mind.
Goal: Tackle Hard
"I'm going to have to do a lot of hard hitting . . . do my assignments. I've got to make a lot of tackles. I want to get a least two interceptions or two sacks. I'm pumped up for this game. Inside, I want it. . . . I want a sack. I want this, I want that. I want a scholarship."
Gutierrez, 18, had a scholarship. At least, he thought he did.
After he achieved consecutive league honors and was named team most valuable player after playing linebacker and offensive guard, people began telling Gutierrez he was going to get a scholarship. The more times players, coaches and relatives told him about his scholarship chances, the more Gutierrez believed them, he said.
Gutierrez thought the people were right when he was approached in February by a San Diego State recruiter, who he said promised him a scholarship.
But Gutierrez found out the hard way that promises are made to be broken.
Five minutes before a scheduled meeting to discuss the scholarship with Gutierrez and his parents, Gutierrez said, the recruiter called to tell him the scholarship was off. Gardena teammate Lyndon Earley, who will also play in the Shrine Game, received a San Diego State scholarship.
He Was Crushed
Gutierrez was crushed, he said.
"About a quarter of the way into the second semester, not getting a scholarship set in. Friends, relatives . . . everybody told me I was going to get a scholarship and I started thinking I was going to get it, too. That's what brought me down."
Feeling betrayed and disillusioned, Gutierrez began to skip classes. At one point, he said he missed about two weeks of school. His grades began to fall because of poor attendance, he said.
"I was down and I didn't care about nothing," Gutierrez said. "I wouldn't go to class. I would go to the liquor store or the beach. I wanted to avoid everything. School and me were just separated."
School was not the only thing that Gutierrez separated himself from. Football also took a back seat to his depression. He said he no longer looked forward to playing in the Shrine Game, which he now considers the highest honor he has received.
Friend to the Rescue
Finally, with the school year about over, Gutierrez awoke from his depression with the help of a friend--Dale Hirayama, a Gardena assistant football coach. Hirayama knew something was wrong when Gutierrez began to miss school.
"I had to go look for him," said Hirayama, who will be Gardena's defensive coordinator next season. "I had to get the word out to his buddies that I was looking for him. I got hold of him and sat him down and told him that not getting a scholarship was not the end of the world . . . football was not everything."
Said Gutierrez, "I wanted to avoid him (Hirayama). He told me I had to get my things together. He told me I could if I set my mind to it. A lot of people consider football players dumb, but he never did. He said I was smart, and treated football players like people."