The bright spot in Pius X High School's most recent loss, other than that a touchdown finally was scored to end a bleak succession of five shutouts, was a 125-pound running back.
With one game left on its schedule, Pius X has an 0-8 record, due mainly to lack of talent. The Warriors, winless last year, have scored four touchdowns this season and given up an average of 44 points a game.
But the team's hard times have induced in the Downey school a hopefulness that a breakthrough lies just ahead. Spirit is high.
"It's tough for me, but heck, I've got to be positive," said Mike Gallegos, the new head coach. "I think the future here is good. Sophomores come up to me and say, 'Coach, when we're seniors we're going to win the league championship.' "
Pius X's sophomore/freshman team has not lost a Camino Real League game.
The varsity, though, has been so vulnerable that there had been speculation undefeated Serra might score 100 points against it. Serra settled for a 52-8 victory two weeks ago.
"I'm not angry at the kids," said Gallegos, 26, who was a nose guard on the 1982 Pius X team that was undefeated until the playoffs. "They play tough, they just don't have the ability."
Other coaches are empathic.
"I don't envy them at all," said Steve Carroll, whose Bishop Montgomery team beat the Warriors, 20-0. "Talent-wise it was evident they're struggling. It happens sometimes in cycles at schools, when there just won't be enough talent to go around."
Principal Kenneth Johnson, in an early season game program, wrote that "this year's Warriors are building on a rich tradition of athletic excellence." The program listed the 14 former Pius X players who made all-CIF, beginning with linebacker Jim Grissom and quarterback Larry Diel in the mid-1960s and including, in 1976, running back Darrin Nelson, now with the San Diego Chargers.
No one from this season's team likely will join that list. "We don't have an athlete you can base an offense or defense around," Gallegos said. "We just have grunts."
The Warriors have one returning starter from last season. Their two quarterbacks had never played quarterback. Only four players weigh more than 200 pounds. Devon English, who weighs 125, has become the team's star after gaining 140 yards against Serra.
Ten players who were freshmen three years ago are no longer at Pius X. Three all-league candidates left before this season: quarterback Thomas Lyons, who transferred to Dominguez; tight end Robert Moss, who left for Lynwood, and running back Jabbar Thomas, whose family moved to Riverside.
Gallegos, who returned to his alma mater after a season as an assistant at California High in Whittier, thus inherited an inexperienced team that has been mistake-prone. But everyone tries.
"I was hired to bring in some enthusiasm and set some roots here," said Gallegos, who at only 5 feet 5 himself is easily patted on the shoulders by admiring students. "I've got the enthusiasm. What we've got to get is more kids."
Enrollment, which had been declining, held this year at 750 students. Johnson, who is recruiting eighth-graders in area parishes, said he expects it to increase.
The majority of Pius X students, 86% of whom are Catholic, come from South Gate. The school lies on the Downey-South Gate border and competes for students with St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower.
English, the junior running back, lives in Compton. "My pop wanted me to go to a Catholic school," he said. "Plus, I wanted to get away from all the gang violence around my home."
The athletic director is Mike Murphy, who is also the basketball coach. Standing in a wide, unlittered corridor outside the religion class he teaches, he said, "Our school spirit is outstanding, the best I've seen it in years. This is a great place, an exciting place to be."
It is a quiet, college-preparatory coed school. The voices of teachers drift from classroom windows to a grassy area of hanging plants, trimmed trees and a statue of Saint Pius X. Inside, a bulletin board hanging on a pale yellow wall contains notices about essay contests and a calendar listing impending visits of academic recruiters from Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth and Georgetown.
The academic emphasis was noticeable even at football practice last week in the Warriors' attractive little stadium. Players discussed chemistry and anatomy as they waited to join a kick-return drill. Four players, Gallegos said, have perfect 4.0 grade-point averages.
A misfortune far greater than a losing football team befell the school in September, 1988. A $2-million fire destroyed the library. Now rebuilt, the library, with its computers and 14,000 new volumes, is a source of pride.
The recovery from the fire, Johnson believes, has been a factor in the spirit students have displayed toward the football team.
As for the spirit of the players, junior lineman Marcello Retamosa said: "We're not really down. The juniors have a lot of confidence and hope for next season."
"We feel bad, but not humiliated," added center Ruben Salas. "We're out here to have fun. We always tell each other it's not going to happen again, but. . . . "
The last chance for victory for Salas and the other seniors will be Friday night when the Warriors play host to St. Bernard, whose record is 4-5. Optimism is in the air.
"We feel we have a shot against those guys," Gallegos said.
PIUS X RECORD
12 Santa Fe 52 6 Warren 60 0 Downey 37 0 Bishop Mont. 20 0 St. Paul 48 0 St. Anthony 50 0 Verbum Dei 36 8 Serra 52