Offended by a third weekend of mercenary football?
Bitter about the 23-day players strike?
Long for a return to real, honest-to-goodness football?
Step this way. Innocence awaits.
Thursday evening at Fred Kelly Stadium . . .
Rod Hust stands near midfield, arms folded, staring ahead as his Canyon High School team readies itself for the night's game against the much-favored Santa Ana Saints. He has the look of every sergeant you have ever seen in a World War II B movie: intense, broad-shouldered, a hint of stubble. You keep waiting for him to yell, "All right, you good-for-nothing mama's boys, Lieutenant says we're moving out. So move it!!"
But he doesn't. Instead, he stands in the thick, damp grass and wonders whether his newly installed offense, the one designed to confuse Santa Ana with numerous formation shifts and quick-hitting plays, will work. Or whether Canyon's defensive front, altered to stop Santa Ana's running game, will succeed.
"It's going to be an uphill struggle," Hust says. "We're a little bit undermanned."
Bands play in the background. Cheerleaders, their saddle shoes freshly shined, prepare for two hours of smiling. Both teams begin calisthenics.
Hust is most concerned about two Santa Ana players, George Tuioti and Robert Lee. Tuioti, who is 6-feet 3-inches tall and weighs 210 pounds, is the Saint man-child quarterback/linebacker who wears an earring and multicolored Lycra spandex sweats and probably began shaving when he was 6. He is as thick as a beer keg, but much, much faster. Soon he will wear a major-college football uniform.
Lee is best remembered for his frequent trips up and down the field during last year's game against Canyon. Lee, it seems, isn't fond of being tackled. No reason to think his mood has changed.
Santa Ana finishes its pregame routine first. The Saints jog to their locker room, followed by their coaches, who wear snazzy personalized windbreakers. Several minutes later, Hust motions for his team to head for the cramped concrete box that is Canyon's locker room.
There on the locker room blackboard is a message:
Up Tempo Football
Nobody Bails Tonight.
"Shut your eyes and think about that for a second," says Steve (Blade) Sabins, an assistant coach.
The Canyon players, about 60 of them, immediately close their eyes. Hust paces and lectures.
"We don't get to play teams like this very often," he says. "They're CIF finalists. We will not have many opportunities to put the ball in the end zone. We have to take advantage of those opportunities."
As Hust talks, Vince Scheerer, a lineman, bangs his head against the blackboard. Quarterback Joe Furukawa adjusts his Taco Bell headband. The letter A on defensive tackle Will Ruvalcaba's jersey, held on by a piece of masking tape, begins to slip off.
"Listen," says Hust, his voice rising, "you've got to let the whole league know that Canyon High School is not going to let what happened last week (a 33-6 loss to Orange) ever happen again. You get to face one of the best teams tonight. I don't want to leave this field tonight, regardless of the score, and think that we did this all for nothing. If the score's 110-0, I don't care, just as long as we did our best out there."
Players cheer. After a brief team prayer, they sprint onto the field. Meanwhile, for the first time in four years, Hust decides he will direct his team from atop the stadium press box. "Just to try something different," he says.
Santa Ana is driving--again. Hust, wearing headphones and holding a clipboard, bangs his pencil against a restraining rail as the Saints' Lee breaks two tackles and falls forward for a first down.
"Blade, get (defensive back Danny) Hooker in right now and get (Kevin) Emerson out and talk to him," says Hust to Sabins, who is down on the field. "In fact, I need to talk to Emerson. (A pause as Emerson takes his helmet off and puts on the headphones.) Kevin Emerson, we cannot win this football game if you have your head in the clouds."
Emerson nods emphatically and soon returns to the game. Doesn't matter. Santa Ana scores on a short run with 8:08 remaining in the period. The Santa Ana band plays, "When the Saints Come Marching In."
"We had the right call," Hust says. "That should have never happened."
On Canyon's first offensive play, Furukawa drops back for a pass. "It's open! It's open!" yells Hust into the microphone.
But then Furukawa rolls out of the pocket and his pass is intercepted. Hust is furious. "Ask him why he went out of the pocket," he says.
The Canyon cheerleaders regroup. "OK, we're back on defense . . ."
Several plays later, Tuioti scores on a bootleg. Santa Ana 14, Canyon 0.
"This is the longest first quarter I've seen," Hust says.
Canyon's motion offense is showing signs of life. A first down here, a first down there. "If we can just keep calm, we'll be all right," Hust says. "(Santa Ana) is definitely confused."
Canyon drives close enough to miss a 34-yard field goal.