The exacting procedure of fitting helmet to skull, pad to shoulder, protection to appendage took a little longer for Joel Gaxiola one afternoon in late May.
Gaxiola, the Channel League's offensive co-player of the year as quarterback of an upstart Hueneme High team last season, was being measured, cinched and wrapped in preparation for a Ventura County All-Star football practice.
In the solitude of the Hueneme equipment room, Gaxiola and Coach George Machado took turns flashing satisfied smiles, laughing heartily and remembering.
Remembering the 13-12 victory over cross-town rival Channel Islands, the wretched 29-24 loss to Ventura, the five-game winning streak to finish the regular season and the first-round 21-14 playoff loss to South Torrance.
"We reminisced about some of the better games as we were fitting him out," Machado said.
For a change, the better games were plentiful. Machado, Gaxiola & Co. helped catapult Hueneme to respectability in football circles by slapping an 8-3 record on a program unaccustomed to such success. Gaxiola completed 63.2% (117 of 185) of his passes for 1,412 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Gaxiola's recollection of that late-May fitting is not as clear as that offered by Machado.
"I really don't remember it that well," Gaxiola said of the episode. "It's not too vivid."
Perhaps that is just as well.
For Saturday's game, a game from which most participants will matriculate to two- and four-year college programs, will be Gaxiola's last. It is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Oxnard High.
Gaxiola intends to leave football in favor of baseball, which he will likely play at Ventura College.
He batted .317 as the Viking catcher this season. In three Southern Section 4-A Division playoff games, Gaxiola was 6 for 11 with 4 doubles and 4 runs batted in.
As a catcher, his favorite targets will be second basemen and shortstops covering second base, not receivers and tight ends running post patterns.
"Joel is an excellent defensive catcher," Hueneme baseball Coach Reg Welker said. "He's got a strong arm and he hits the ball with some power."
Not only does Gaxiola have the fundamental skills to be a catcher, he also has the quickness--which is not to be confused with speed.
Catchers have earned the reputation of being only slightly faster than the average glacier, which had something to do with Gaxiola's decision to leave football.
"I consider myself extremely slow," he said.
Although he likened Gaxiola's speed to "toothpaste out of a tube," Machado prefered to embrace Gaxiola's ability as a quarterback--his arm, field sense and leadership.
"If we hadn't had Joel this year, I don't see us winning the Channel League championship at all," he said. "His accuracy is absolutely unbelievable. His strength is his right arm."
And no one is more thrilled than Channel Islands' Joel Gershon, who will coach the West team in the All-Star game.
No one, perhaps, but West receivers Victor Caro and Brian Courtney of Channel Islands, David Eggert of Ventura and Al Sanderson of Buena.
Gershon was succinct in his analysis of Gaxiola's departure from football.
"He's a heckuva player," Gershon said. "He should keep on playing."
He will--for 48 more minutes.
"Since it's my last football game, I'm going to give it all I have," Gaxiola said. "I'm going to try to show people I can play with the best.
"But baseball is my sport."