Gene Harlin has been in debt all season. Saturday at Antelope Valley College in the Southern California Bowl, Harlin and the Glendale College football team could make the final installment.
Harlin, a sophomore running back, is not burdened financially but spiritually.
In early April of this year teammate Dave Dixon accidentally drowned off the Southern California coast. Dixon, who was 19 at the time, was a reserve linebacker and close friend of Harlin. During summer practices the team decided to dedicate this season to his memory.
His uniform number, 60, was placed on the back of each helmet and several players wear wrist bands with his number on them. But Glendale, which went 0-4 at the season's start, did not mention Dixon in the pregame meeting until the fifth game.
"One of the coaches put the number 60 on the board and send 'remember,' " Harlin said. "It brought back a lot of memories. I feel like I owe the victories to him."
The result was a 24-14 victory over Hancock College.
Glendale (5-4) hasn't lost since.
The Vaqueros went on to defeat Ventura (28-25) and Santa Barbara (58-27). Glendale also had upset victories over Moorpark (16-7) and Bakersfield (30-20). The last being the sweetest. Glendale's victory gave them a share of the Western State Conference title with Bakersfield. After the game, the Vaqueros presented Dixon's mother, Marie, with the game ball.
It was the first Glendale game she had attended this season.
"It is still too difficult (to watch them play)," Marie Dixon said. "It's too brand new in my mind. There are too many memories of my son.
"The team has been wonderful. I couldn't have gotten through as much as I have without them. The team and the coach have been lovely. Dave would have said that he had a lovely team to work with."
Vaquero Coach Jim Sartoris said that the team's dedication this season has been exceptional. Dixon provided extra motivation.
"He would have been a very big part of our team this season," Sartoris said. "It's been a very unifying factor. He had some tough times at the beginning of the year. But we've really pulled through as a team. Because when we were going through the adversity, we always knew that he was with us in spirit."
The Vaqueros are hoping to finish their tribute with a victory over Antelope Valley on Saturday at 7:30. It will be a fitting but difficult task.
The Marauders (8-2) won the Southern California Conference championship and have the No. 2 defense in the state. Mark Meade has been a key for the Marauders this season. The all-conference sophomore plays defensive back, punts and returns punts. Kasey James, a 6-0, 190-pound defensive lineman, and linebacker Jeff Patterson were also all-conference selections.
"We've been a defensive team all year," Coach Brent Carder said. "But our offense has steadily improved."
Quarterback Keith Gainey has completed 52% of his passes for 997 yards and 11 touchdowns. But Antelope Valley's strength is in its running game. Fullback Kelly King rushed for 680 yards and 10 touchdowns. The 6-1 freshman was also the team's leading receiver. Tailbacks Karl Wooten and Glenn Vereen have each rushed for more than 400 yards and All-State running back Sylvester Brumfield, who missed the last six games of the season because of a torn calf muscle, will be ready for Saturday's game. Brumfield rushed for 500 yards in four games.
Glendale's strength is in its balanced attack. Running backs Donnel Pumphrey and Harlin have spearheaded the running game. Pumphrey has gained 614 yards in 96 carries and has scored 4 touchdowns. He also has six kickoff returns for 171 yards and a touchdown. Harlin has 713 yards in 129 carries and 5 touchdowns. He has caught five passes for 75 yards.
"They're going to give us the short gains," Harlin said. "But we've got a wide-open offense."
Quarterback Chris Smith has steadily improved this season and has several talented wide receivers to whom he can throw. Tuffy Reynolds, All-State returner Rocky Palamara and Brian Kaloustian all have good speed and solid hands, Sartoris said.
"What impresses us is that they don't have any obvious weaknesses," Carder said. "They have balance in passing and running. You have to go about the business of dealing with both of them because they can hurt you both ways."
However, Glendale did little harm in a 28-10 loss to Riverside in the Pony Bowl last season. It was the Vaqueros' fifth bowl appearance and third loss. Glendale won the Mission Bowl in 1978 and the Potato Bowl in 1985, its last bowl appearance.
Antelope Valley's most recent postseason appearance was in the Inland Empire Bowl in 1983, when it lost to Citrus, 17-7. The Marauders tied for the conference championship the next season but were not invited to a bowl. Antelope Valley has won the conference title seven times and won the state championship in 1974 and 1975.
But those victories are in the past and all that remains is Saturday's final confrontation. Glendale will not lack motivation.
Smith believes that even the players that didn't know Dixon well have been affected.
"When someone has been a part of the Glendale football program everyone feels something," Smith said.