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Robinson Remains Garfield's Guiding Spirit

September 05, 1993|CHARLES SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In sports, high expectations can carry or curse a team.

At Garfield High, the question for the 1993 football season is whether the team will be able to surpass its lofty 1992 performance.

The Bulldogs' good fortune is that key starters are returning to a team that last season got as far as the City Section Division 4-A semifinals, albeit a loss to Sylmar. This year, the team and coaching staff is thinking championship.

Its bad fortune is the specter of the death Jan. 19 of Coach Steve Robinson at age 51. The loss of Robinson, who coached at Garfield for 21 years, remains the missing piece in Garfield's championship puzzle.

The key to filling that void will be John Aguirre, the new head coach who was an assistant coach under Robinson for four years. Following Robinson, the patriarch of Garfield's football family, will be one of Aguirre's most difficult tasks.

Robinson "was a father figure to (the team)," senior running back Armando Figueroa said. "He would never scream at us or make us seem lower than him. He was always teaching."

Aguirre's coaching style is similar to Robinson's and he expects that to help make the transition easier.

"Robinson's passing away was devastating to not only the team, staff, school and community," Aguirre said. "He was so honored in the community and by his team for his dedication and support."

But, Aguirre added, "Robinson and I both stress education to the kids above all else and we challenge the kids to find themselves. I think one of the factors behind the administration hiring me was that I had been around the kids and knew them."

Although Aguirre is like Robinson in practice, he differs from Robinson in offensive theory.

Under Robinson, Garfield stressed a straight-ahead, ball-control offense. Of the average 60 plays Garfield called during a game, 50 to 55 were on the ground. That offensive philosophy propelled Garfield to an 8-5 season last year, but its limitations became blatantly evident in the 27-7 playoff loss to Sylmar.

As a result, Aguirre will employ a different strategy in the 1993 offensive scheme.

"It was obvious in that game that we needed a passing attack," Aguirre said. "We scored on our first possession but didn't get one rushing first down thereafter.

"Most people will expect us to run, but we look to put the ball in the air a lot more," Aguirre said.

The Bulldogs have worked on an offensive set that, at times, will feature four wide receivers and Figueroa alone in the backfield.

One of Aguirre's Eastern League coaching rivals believes Garfield is experimenting with football's version of the fast-break offense.

"I heard Aguirre is going to use the run-and-shoot offense this season," Locke Coach E. C. Robinson said.

Aguirre would not say whether that will be the Bulldogs' main plan of attack, but he does believe his team has the talent to score fast and frequently. "We have receivers that can really catch the ball in Jesse Villalobos, Raul Gutierrez and Braulio De La Torre," Aguirre said. "We are definitely looking to mix it up more on offense."

That is a relief to Figueroa, who accounted for nearly 75% of the offense last season.

"It will be a big load off of me since we are passing the ball more," said Figueroa, the area's leading rusher last season with 1,613 yards and 10 touchdowns.

If the offense is to work, Aguirre must get more production from quarterback David Villalobos, who threw for 835 yards last season with more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (four).

David Villalobos, who is Jesse's brother, feels that he will be up to the task of controlling the offense.

"We have the personnel to run the pass plays and I'm learning to read and audible," he said. "It's starting to come around and I feel I will be up to handling the added responsibility."

Perhaps more important, Villalobos' receivers are confident with the new system.

"It's going to be an exciting year because we are going to mix it up," Jesse Villalobos said. "The receivers have worked very hard in the off-season."

Added Gutierrez, "I am excited about going into the game, having the ball thrown to me. Last year, the receivers didn't get many opportunities on offense, but this year, we know we will."

If Garfield's defense can repeat its performance of last season, Aguirre will have time to fine-tune the offense.

"I thought we had one of the best defenses in the city," senior linebacker Manuel Rodriguez said. "We were focused, worked really hard and intend to play the same game this year."

Rodriguez, a three-year starter, anchored a Garfield defense that gave up a mere 11 points a game last year.

Aguirre, who was defensive coordinator last season, supplied the mind set that allowed his defense to excel. "You have to have the mentality that you will run people over," he said. "That is how you gain respect."

Robinson had the respect of those around him, and his team will honor his memory by wearing a patch on their jersey that reads: C (Coach) Robinson 1972-1993.

"I could never replace Robinson because we are different people" Aguirre said.

"I would like to mimic his success and continue the family spirit. I wouldn't say we are dedicating this season to Robinson because that's such a small amount of time. But he is on the forefront of our minds."

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