The players knew it was coming like an all-out blitz. Yet the news hit them like a blind-side tackle.
Said Chris Lobos: "You hear about it, but you never really think it's going to happen."
Added Chris Allen: "We all were expecting it. But when it happened we were totally shocked."
Shocked is the word several players on the Alemany High football team used to describe the firing Thursday of Coach Enrique Lopez.
Yet it was hardly unexpected. Alemany was 3-5-2 last season and finished last in the Del Rey League. In 1986, the Indians finished fourth in the 5-A league.
The Indians had perhaps the most difficult schedule of any Valley-area team the past two seasons, however.
In addition to a tough league schedule that includes Crespi, St. John Bosco and Loyola, Alemany played nonleague games last season against Canyon, Granada Hills and Kennedy. The year before, Hart and Harvard were included.
Last season's highlight was a 17-14 win over Granada Hills, the eventual City Section 4-A Division champion and No. 1 team in the Valley.
The Indians, however, ended the season by losing to St. Francis, 14-6, and Notre Dame, 42-26, teams Alemany expected to beat.
Lopez, 34, was not surprised when Father Michael Nocita, the school's first-year principal, dismissed him. He accepted the decision without quarrel.
"I'm a Christian and that's how I'm going to take it," said Lopez, who will continue to teach at the school. "I've had great experiences here and I feel very loyal to Alemany. Other teams in the league were winning.
"He wanted to make a change and bring in his own people. I respect that."
Nocita said the competitiveness of the league warranted a change.
"It's based on a desire to have more success," he said. "I'm looking at the future."
And so is Lopez, who compiled a 17-22-2 record in four years at Alemany.
"My goal in my career is coaching and I'm going to have to look for another coaching job," Lopez said. "I'm working on it. I'm going to miss just about everything--the faculty, the staff, the administration. But mostly the players."
Allen and Lobos are seniors and will not be around to play for the new coach, who is expected to be named within six weeks.
But sophomore quarterback Joey Rosselli, who passed for 1,247 yards and 6 touchdowns last season while sharing duty with senior Roy Talavera, will return. Like his teammates, Rosselli was saddened by the firing.
"He was like another friend," Rosselli said. "Especially last season with it being my first. He helped me feel like I was part of the seniors. He asked me about my grades and made sure I was keeping them up.
"And he was always there to talk to. I feel like we're losing another player."
Said Lopez: "The players really came through for me. One of the teachers told me that one of them prayed for me in class and I really appreciated that. It makes me feel a whole lot better."
Road to recovery: While his teammates were fighting to stay in contention for a Marmonte League playoff berth, Royal guard Chris Myers was combatting something much more serious.
The 6-1 senior was released from a hospital Saturday after being bedridden for 10 days with bacterial meningitis.
"It was really scary," Myers said. "It started with a really violent headache. I was just screaming out in pain like I've never felt before."
Myers' pain began two weeks ago with an ear infection that spread to his spinal column and caused swelling.
The virus caused Myers to lose 25 pounds.
"I've gained about 10 pounds back," he said. "I weigh about 140 now."
Royal is 3-5 and in fifth place entering Monday night's game against league-leading Simi Valley. But Coach Joe Malkinson does not expect Myers, who is averaging seven points a game, to return.
"It'll probably be another six weeks until he's fully recovered," Malkinson said. "He's weak. The important thing is that he recovers."
Said Myers: "I didn't think I would try and come back, but the doctor told me to get back to normal activity as soon as possible. I'm going to go to practice today and shoot around."
A line at the line: Things ran afoul in the fourth quarter of Friday night's Northwest Valley League game between San Fernando and Monroe. The referees whistled away for 45 minutes as both teams combined for 28 foul shots.
"It kind of felt like it would never end," said San Fernando forward Duane Heller, whose team won, 85-65. "We wanted to hurry and get the game over with, but it seemed the refs would stop the game every two minutes."
Heller would know. Every time the 6-2 senior turned around, it seemed he was being charged with an infraction. He fouled out for the first time in his career and picked up all five fouls in the final period.
"Ticky-tack, that's what it was," Heller said. "One time I was fronting my man and I had my arm around his body and they called holding."