NORWALK — Practice is not a pleasing prospect on this irritably hot afternoon. Sweat comes, invited or not. Soccer players, their bodies glistening, run the steps of Cerritos College stadium. Below, on the grass field, they see a teammate kicking a football . For the moment he is no longer a part of them and they chide him good-naturedly about how easy he has it.
The kicker, a slender figure in a blue mesh jersey that reveals his shoulder pads, shrugs and smiles and keeps kicking--boomers from 50 yards, spinning high and mostly straight toward goal posts.
He is Claudio Balboa, a member of the Cerritos College football team and the soccer team.
But because he is a kicker, he does not seem to be part of the football team, either.
The rest of the football players are on an adjacent field doing what kickers never do. "Running, hitting and falling," Balboa said.
The football kickers, about half a dozen, have the stadium field to themselves but have to tread lightly with their cleats so as not to chew up the grass and thus be called Clydesdales by their coach.
Football coach Frank Mazzotta, a well-built man wearing shorts, knows that games often are won by these estranged fellows, and so he is not too harsh on them.
He is delighted to have Balboa and does not mind his playing soccer, as long as he does not play too much soccer, which he did recently. When he showed up for football practice after playing six collegiate soccer games in a week, his football kicking was so ragged that Mazzotta told him to skip soccer the next day so he could regain his form.
"He's just a tremendous kicker," Mazzotta said.
In three games for the Falcons, Balboa has kicked five of six field goals and eight of nine extra points.
What also impresses Mazzotta is that the 19-year-old Balboa is a kicker of foreign descent who actually knows something about football and is aware of the situation during a game.
"A lot of them don't know a football from a grape," Mazzotta said, checking the turf for divots.
After kicking for a half-hour, Balboa changes into shorts and rejoins the soccer team. He has become dedicated to football but his roots are in soccer.
"I like playing both," he said. Since football games are on Saturdays and soccer matches are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, there is no conflict.
Father Played Professionally
His father, Luis, played professional soccer in Argentina, and when he brought his family from Chicago to Cerritos 12 years ago, he spent many hours with Claudio and Claudio's brother, Marcello, kicking soccer balls at neighborhood fields.
Marcello, 18, also plays both sports at Cerritos College, punting for the football team. But it is soccer where Marcello shines; he is a candidate for the U.S. Junior National Soccer Team.
Claudio played on his first soccer team when he was 7 and wherever he played Luis was always there, even if it meant taking time off from work.
Claudio is the second-leading scorer on the Cerritos soccer team with nine goals in 10 games. His strong leg enables him to shoot from 25 and 30 yards out, distances that surprise goalkeepers.
Dependable and Calm
"He's not real flashy," soccer Coach Bob Flores says, "but he's real dependable. He keeps things under control. He's one of the calmest guys I've ever known."
That disposition has helped Claudio on the football field where the defensive players try to distract him by jumping and yelling and screaming as he gets ready to kick.
"You have to block that out," Claudio said. "I can't think if I miss no one will ever talk to me again. I just concentrate and follow through."
Claudio did not play football until he was a junior at Cerritos High School. "The coaches and players wanted me to go out," he said. They knew of his strong leg.
His father was a little apprehensive.
Feared for His Son's Safety
"I was afraid he might get hurt," said Luis, who had little knowledge of football and did not understand that kickers are the least likely players to be injured.
Claudio had anticipated that he would be successful in his new sport. "I had seen other kickers and said, 'I can do that,' " Claudio said, "so I went out and did it."
At Cerritos High he made The Times' All-Southeast team as a senior. He kicked a 50-yard field goal in a game and a 63-yarder in practice.
After playing soccer last season at Cal Poly Pomona, Claudio transferred to Cerritos College. There was considerable competition (seven kickers) on the football team.
Won Starting Job
His consistency won him the starting job and the last uniform--jersey No. 98--the team had left. That makes him somewhat of an oddity since most kickers have one-digit numbers, but it does not bother Claudio, who "just wanted a shirt."
Kickers tend to have a roller coaster existence--heroes when their kicks are good, bums when they miss.