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Life's a Kick for Three Sons : The Velascos Maintain Family Tradition by Negotiating the Straight and Narrow

December 25, 1987|GARY KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

Ladies and gentlemen, your attention, please. Welcome to the Burbank Family Circus, home of the incredible kicking Velasco brothers.

Placekickers all, these three daring young men send balls flying through the air--and usually through the uprights--with the greatest of ease.

In Ring No. 1, big brother Alfredo, 20, a redshirt sophomore at UCLA who has made 18 of 22 field-goal attempts this season, including all 17 from inside 44 yards.

In Ring No. 2, middle brother, Sal, 19, a second-team JC All-American at Glendale College who was 10 of 13 on field-goal attempts and converted all 26 extra points he attempted this season.

And in the center ring, baby brother Abo, 18. As a freshman at Cal State Northridge, he converted 5 of 11 field-goal attempts and 28 of 31 extra points.

The Velascos. They are brothers in arms, each walking football's version of the tightrope with a robust right leg.

"Kicking is definitely a pressure position," said Alfredo, who will play for the Bruins against Florida in the Aloha Bowl on Friday. "You're expected to make every one, but inevitably you're going to miss. You have to be strong. Being part of this family helps."

The Velascos believe there is strength in numbers. Thus, kicking as a family affair extends beyond the three boys.

Jeanette, 16, a junior at Burbank High, often holds for all three brothers during four-hour practice sessions in the summer.

"The first time I did it, I was scared because I thought they were going to hit me," she said. "But now, it's no problem.

"You should see them. They're always practicing their leg swings in the living room. I've seen them practice so much, I can tell when they slice the ball during a game."

Alfredo Sr., their father, occasionally shags balls during practice and offers constructive criticism after games.

"He's kind of like our coach these days," Sal said. "We come home and he says, 'You did this wrong, let's analyze it. My mom says, 'You're all great.' "

Olivia Velasco knows her sons' kicking techniques better than just about anyone. She's been studying it from the time they were in the womb.

"They were all active, but Alfredo was something really hard to take," said Olivia, who gave birth to all three boys in Mexico before the family moved to the United States in 1970. "I've seen and talked to a lot of women who have been pregnant, but this was something that took a lot of work."

With three children playing a position where the margin for error is so slim, Olivia Velasco continues to labor.

"Sometimes, I don't know if it's harder for them or me," she said. "On Friday nights, it's hard for me to sleep because I'm waiting for Saturday and I'm praying and wondering how they feel."

Sal and Abo, who live with their parents, and Alfredo, who lives in an apartment in Westwood, all agree that dividing time among schoolwork, football and a social life is easy compared to the time-sharing practiced by their mother.

If UCLA is playing at home, the family attends the game at the Rose Bowl in the afternoon, waits for Alfredo to shower and then goes to North Campus Stadium to see Abo or to wherever Sal and Glendale are playing.

And when Mom can't be there in person to see her boys boot, in steps electronic gadgetry to save the day--and their performances. Olivia Velasco juggles VCRs and tape recorders like she was the mother of the Brothers Karamazov.

Take, for example, last Oct. 31.

Olivia, Alfredo Sr. and Jeanette piled into the car, rambled out to Moorpark College and watched Sal kick a game-winning field goal for Glendale in the pouring rain with less than a minute to play. As the family strolled back to its car through the mud, the tape rolled in the VCR and captured Alfredo's 32-yard field goal for the Bruins in a nationally televised win at Arizona State. That evening, Cal State Northridge beat Santa Clara, 7-6, at North Campus Stadium, Abo kicking the decisive extra point, and Olivia taped the game from the radio.

"After Saturdays are over, we all come together and say what we've done right and what we've done wrong," Alfredo said. "It's like a family reunion every week."

Kicking as a tradition runs deep for the Velascos. This is a family with a big-time case of athlete's foot.

Alfredo Sr. was a talented soccer player in Mexico before a knee injury ended his career at the semipro level. Efren Velasco, his younger brother, was a kicker at East L. A. College and the University of Utah.

"When my uncle got a scholarship to Utah it made a big impact on my family," Alfredo said. "It showed us that football could provide a lot of opportunities."

Dave Carson, the football coach at Burbank High, was the person who gave the brothers their initial opportunities. The Velasco connection began, Carson said, when a player on his team remarked, "Coach, I have a friend who can kick."

The friend turned out to be Alfredo, who showed cool under pressure as a junior with a last-second 21-yard field goal that gave Burbank a 24-21 win over cross-town rival Burroughs in 1983.

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