Your first thought upon meeting Joaquin Garcia, Anaheim High School's 5-foot 9-inch, 145-pound running back, is how was this pipsqueak in pads able to gain 1,106 yards and score nine touchdowns this season.
To Colonist Coach Roger Stahlhut, it's Garcia's quick feet, good moves, good instincts and his ability to set up his blocks and find the right holes to run through.
"You just don't get a clean shot on him," Stahlhut said.
And Garcia, like most successful running backs, can't seem to heap enough praise on his offensive line for paving his way to No. 9 on the Orange County rushing list.
But he admits that there is another factor involved in his success, one that can't be defined in tangible terms.
Ever wonder how Garcia, a junior, is able to sidestep defensive linemen who would love to stuff their helmets into his jersey? Or how he slips past linebackers who would like nothing more than to bury him in the turf?
"It's mostly because I don't want to get hit," Garcia said. "I try to get away from as many people as I can, because I'm pretty small."
Confessions of a high school running back. Maybe all that stuff about quick feet and good moves is a bit overrated. Fear may be Garcia's best motivator, although he'll never let that show on the field.
Before each game, Garcia has made it a point to walk by the opposing team during warmups so the other players can see how small he is. He hopes they'll become overconfident and think they'll have an easy time stopping him.
"I want them to get a little edgy," Garcia said. "They look at me and say, 'That can't be No. 14, he's too short!' Some teams look at me and they don't think I can do what I can do. I just show them on the field."
Garcia hopes to make believers out of the La Mirada players tonight when the Colonists open the Central Conference playoffs against the Matadores at La Mirada High School.
Anaheim will need another big game from its little running back if the Colonists are to defeat the Matadores and advance to the second round.
Garcia has had his share of big games this season, rushing for 100 or more yards five times to lead Anaheim to a 6-4 record and second place in the Orange League. His best game was a 254-yard, 4-touchdown performance against Buena Park.
All this from a player who was supposed to be Anaheim's quarterback this year.
Stahlhut's problem going into the season was that he had a returning starting quarterback, Ernest Johnston, who was actually a better fullback. His plan was to groom Garcia into a quarterback so he could move Johnston to fullback.
Garcia, who was a running back on the Colonists' junior varsity team last year, spent the summer working with the coaches, often in between two-a-day practices, in an effort to improve his passing skills.
But after two games--losses to Fullerton (14-7) and Loara (24-0)--with Garcia at quarterback, Stahlhut decided to move Johnston back to quarterback and Garcia to running back.
"What really went wrong is I faced some pretty good teams," Garcia said. "It's kind of hard to get experience against good teams like Fullerton and Loara. There was a lot of pressure to play quarterback, and I don't feel that kind of pressure at running back.
"I thought I did a good job, but they knew Ernest could do a better job. If he wasn't our quarterback, I don't think we would be as good as we are now. I like the switch they made."
Johnston is a senior, meaning that the quarterback position will be open again next year. But Garcia plans to stay put.
"I don't want to play quarterback next year," he said. "I'm having too much fun at running back."