The last word any Tri-Valley League coach wants to hear this season is ouch.
No coach welcomes injuries, but the situation in the league has grown desperate. The biggest game for each team this season may be the numbers game.
The schools are among the smallest of the Valley area's public schools. Fillmore has the largest enrollment in the league with 820 students in four grades and Bishop Diego is the smallest at 325. Marmonte League schools such as Simi Valley and Royal, for example, have enrollments of more than 2,000 for just three grades.
Santa Ynez boasts a workable 40-man roster, but Moorpark and Bishop Diego will open the season with 25 players each. Even league powerhouse Carpinteria felt the pinch when only 34 players went out for the team this season.
But perhaps the most desperate situation confronts Ron Veres, Oak Park's first-year coach.
Only 28 players showed up for the start of two-a-day workouts at the end of August, and 10 days later, the roster was down to 21. Oak Park, which was 0-9-1 and 0-5-1 in league last season, prepared this week for Friday's season-opening game against L.A. Baptist unable to stage an 11-on-11 scrimmage.
Veres, who has coached at the high school and junior college level for 20 years, has been forced to modify long-standing practice procedures.
"We just can't do some drills because of the numbers," he said. "We can't scrimmage and seven-on-seven is even hard to do. We work only half the line at a time, taking the strong side first and then the weak side. We really have to be organized to get our work in."
One benefit, of course, is a lower player-to-coach ratio that allows for more individual attention. But even that is only a limited advantage.
"There is more time for individual instruction, but we have to use that to teach players more than one position," Veres said.
Veres said another apparent benefit becomes a disadvantage upon closer examination.
"You can guarantee playing time to everybody, which makes motivation easier," he said. "Everybody out there running drills and practicing knows he's going to play.
"But because we have no backups a kid can figure, 'Hey, no matter what I do, I'm gonna play.' Competition usually means a player will get better. With no one pushing on a player, they have to be self-motivated."
Small rosters also limit the amount of contact players can take. Bob Noel, who enters his fourth season at Moorpark, has struggled to keep his players healthy. Last year, he lost most of the struggles as Moorpark (0-9-1, 0-5-1) stumbled through a winless season.
"We condition hard and limit contact to 15 minutes on Tuesday and 20 minutes on Wednesday just to keep the players from getting all beat up," he said. "If you get one or two key kids hurt, you have to start taking other people from their postion. Then you have everybody playing out of position."
Noel believes Moorpark lost the league championship in his first season when fullback Oscar Love was injured after the team opened with three straight league victories. This year's race may hinge on similar circumstances.
Carpinteria (10-3, 6-0) and Santa Ynez (7-5, 5-1), which regularly boast the league's biggest rosters, finished one-two in the league last season and are favored again in 1987.
Said Noel: "In our league, injuries are as important as play calling and everything else."