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Camarillo's Valencia a Hit in 2 Sports

May 05, 1988|MIKE HISERMAN | Times Staff Writer

As Gil Valencia ponders the question, a pained expression comes over his face. It's the kind of look a person might make as he tries to hoist the front end of a Buick.

The burden, albeit self-imposed, is almost as heavy.

"Uuu-hhh," he says, drawing out the syllable as long as is humanly possible, "that's a tough one."

The query is simply this: Which does he prefer to play, football or baseball?

And the answer, not so simply, is this: Either. Or both.

The problem is, the Camarillo High senior is a bona fide high school phenom in both sports.

Last fall, he caught 41 passes for 705 yards and 10 touchdowns to finish the season as Ventura County's all-time leading receiver. But he made The Times' All-County team on defense. Those numbers: 7 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries and 77 tackles.

This spring, statistics again tell the story. He leads his team with a .336 batting average, leads the county with 36 runs batted in and is among the leaders in runs scored (27), doubles (6), home runs (7) and stolen bases (7).

Valencia, 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, already has signed an unofficial document expressing his intent to play football and baseball at Moorpark College during the next school year. Ventura College also wanted him, but it made a grave error. The Pirates asked him to choose one sport over the other.

"They were tugging at me," Valencia said. "They wanted me just to play football."

The truth be told, Valencia's passions change with the season. In the fall, football is king. In the spring, his attention is pulled to the sport he grew up with.

"It's a toss," he said. "I'm doing well in baseball . . . if I keep my average up . . . Geez, it's a tough thing. I don't know what I'll do if I have to choose."

That decision may have to come sooner than Valencia would prefer.

Camarillo Coach Ken Wagner said that the left-handed hitting first baseman may be taken in the June professional baseball draft.

"He runs exceptionally well, he hits, he hits with power and he has a good arm," Wagner said. "Those are the things you have to do to play this game at a higher level."

Valencia has compiled impressive batting statistics despite being pitched around. "He is our offense," Wagner said. "We haven't hit the ball real well as a team. Except for him, our best clutch hit is a ground ball into two where we get a run on it."

If he has a weakness, Valencia says, it's that he tends to lunge at outside pitches. If so, Coach Jim Hansen of Thousand Oaks hasn't noticed.

"You pitch him away and he drives the ball down your throat," Hansen said. "I've never seen the kid take a bad swing--even with the count against him. He battles you. You get him 3-and-2 and he'll foul off four pitches and then bash one."

As a football player, Moorpark Coach Jim Bittner compares Valencia to Erik Affholter, the former Oak Park High standout who is a starting wide receiver at USC.

"He's a lean young man, so he'll get bigger and stronger," Bittner said, "but he already has great athletic ability."

That ability was developed entirely at Camarillo.

"I never caught a pass until my freshman year here," Valencia said. "I grew up in San Diego and I was the fastest one all the time. They always made me the running back. Actually, I've never thought of myself as a great receiver. I always thought I was kind of average."

Not so, says Bittner.

"He has excellent hands, runs disciplined patterns and is a good blocker," Bittner said. "He's not a burner, but he has enough to beat you deep if you try and sit on him."

Such attributes might have elicited football scholarship offers from major colleges if it had not been for one stumbling block: grades.

Valencia found out too late that cornerbacks are easier to juke than a biology exam.

"I've always been pretty good in athletics, but when it came to schoolwork I've always struggled," Valencia said. "I just put it off. At the start of my junior year the coaches told me I might have a chance at a scholarship. I started buckling down, but it was too late.

"My studies skills are still not the greatest, which is why a junior college might be good for me. I think if I went right from here to a university I would have a lot of trouble."

A scholarship offer in football would have only complicated matters anyway. At least that's what Valencia keeps telling himself.

"It hurt," he said of being passed over. "But it's out of my control now. What happens in the future is up to me."

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