The whispers began almost before the tennis season three years ago at Buena High.
There was a new kid on the court--a freshman, no less--who was supposedly primed and ready not only to make Buena's boys' varsity team, but also to take over as the No. 1 singles player.
"When I first started at Buena," Kenny Pedroza said, "I definitely felt like I had to prove myself.
"The older players, they had heard about me, that I was a pretty good player. But all they heard is stories, and they wanted to see it."
It wasn't long before they did.
Pedroza, then a 14-year-old with barely a year of tennis experience, had taken over as the Bulldogs' top player by the time Channel League play began.
"The other players, they took it really well," Pedroza said. "Once I had proved myself, and I took over the No. 1 spot, I was accepted right away and it was really good."
Of course, the others didn't have much choice. Pedroza was, after all, the best player on the squad.
And he still is.
"He's just a really strong player, all around," said Lucas Turse, Pedroza's teammate.
Ask Turse, the No. 2 player, what the difference is between himself and Pedroza, and he says, only half-jokingly, "Oh, my backhand, my forehand, my serve . . . everything."
Now, as a 17-year-old junior, Pedroza wants to be the best in the Southern Section.
He will take his first step toward that goal when he plays in the round of 16 of the Southern Section individual championships this weekend at the Fountain Valley Racquet Club. The sectionals round of 16 and the quarterfinals will take place Friday, with the semifinal and final matches to be played Saturday.
Buena Coach Gerry Carrauthers knows the sectional competition is likely to be tough, but he likes Pedroza's chances.
"He'd have to be at the top of his game to win the championship," he said. "But if Kenny puts two good days of tennis together, then I don't see any reason why he couldn't.
"He's a good student of the game. He knows more about tennis than I ever dreamed of knowing."
Even so, Pedroza would like his understanding and execution to reach an even higher level so that, next year, he can earn a college scholarship. For now, though, Pedroza will do his best to continue his success on the high school level.
In three seasons at Buena, Pedroza has a career record of 171-18.
"I really think he's going to be exceptional next year," Carrauthers said. "I don't how I'm going to fill the void after that when he leaves here."
For now, Carrauthers will enjoy Pedroza while he has him.
"He's very coachable; he's always willing to to listen to people and learn something," Carrauthers said. "He's always striving, and he's not afraid to play people who are better than he is."
There haven't been too many of those players this season.
Pedroza is 60-3 this year, an improvement on his 59-7 record as a sophomore. And that was better than his 52-8 freshman season.
"It's just that, overall lately, it seems like nothing's letting me down," Pedroza said.
His success in tennis is still something of a novelty to Pedroza. He didn't begin playing until age 13; and the game was hardly his first choice.
"I liked soccer and basketball," he said.
But when Pedroza suffered a broken arm when he fell off his bike in the seventh grade, "soccer kind of went on the back burner."
And, at 5 feet, 7 inches, as Pedroza said, "I don't really compare to Kareem."
It was soon after the broken arm had healed that his father introduced Pedroza to tennis. The son and the sport became fast friends.
"It was just something I kind of picked up. With every match, I'm still learning a lot," he says.
The right-hander apparently learned enough to win the Channel League singles title this year, although he admittedly did it in the most unsatisfying way possible.
Dos Pueblos High's Dayne Gingrich was to be Pedroza's opponent in the league final two weeks ago, but on the day of the match, Gingrich, sick with a fever, was unable to play.
Pedroza, who had split two matches with Gingrich earlier in the year, won the title by forfeit.
"I wish the Channel League championship didn't happen the way it did," Pedroza said. "I would have liked to have played and beat him, but it wasn't my fault."
And both Carrauthers and Art Santilli, who is Pedroza's personal coach, believe their player could have won the league title over Gingrich in any case.
"He's having a superb year," Carrauthers said. "He's a very confident player, almost to the point of cockiness."
But Pedroza brings other resources besides self-confidence to the court.
"I coach about 50 juniors each week," Santilli said, "and right now, he's probably the best player I've got.
"It's his quickness, and he's got that huge serve. You've just got to be on the other end of that thing."
Pedroza also has good ground strokes. They were the primary weapons in the baseline game he employed last weekend in the Southern Section qualifying competition at Thousand Oaks High.