NORTHRIDGE — Kennedy High senior Keith West held a Cal State Northridge soccer scholarship in his hands in the spring of 1991. He was ready to sign.
Hold that pen, said his parents, Carl and Pat. What about football?
"My parents got into a really big fight about it," he said. "They thought (soccer) was my excuse for wanting to run away from football--that I was scared to give it another chance."
As a matter of fact, West \o7 was \f7 scared.
An All-City Section player in both sports, West was stung by the rejection he felt when he slipped through the Division I football cracks--major college recruiters passed over the 6-foot, 175-pound wide receiver because he lacked speed--and was hesitant to play junior college football. "I didn't want to get shot down again," he said.
But his parents persuaded him to shrug on shoulder pads again and try to shrug off doubts. Soccer at Northridge would be shelved--though only temporarily as it turned out--because West's recent football history repeated itself.
After West played two seasons at Glendale College, Division I coaches offered West only walk-on opportunities. He made an aborted walk-on attempt at Fresno State in February and returned home, dejected.
That night, he received a phone call from Northridge soccer Coach Marwan Ass'ad, checking on his old club soccer team player.
A light went on in West's head.
"When I heard his voice, I said, 'That's it, I'm gone,' " West said. "I told him, 'I didn't want no money, I don't want nothing from you. I just want to play.' "
That was on a Thursday. The following day he enrolled at Northridge and by Monday he was attending classes. Now, West starts at midfielder for the Matadors and is the team's second-leading scorer with seven goals.
Soccer has regained prominence in West's life and Ass'ad, for one, is glad.
"Keith West will be awesome before he leaves here," Ass'ad said. "He hasn't played soccer full time since he was 15 and his technique has suffered. This year, he's a good player. Next year, he's going to be great."
West, the City Section 4-A Division player of the year in the 1989-90 season, plays catch-up every day at practice, trying to make up for two years of not touching a soccer ball. Actually, that's an exaggeration. He did touch a soccer ball \o7 once.\f7
After a Glendale football practice, he walked by a Vaquero soccer practice.
"I had on my football gear and I said to the coach, Joe Agoston, 'I bet I can start for your team,' " West said. "He gave me a ball and I started messing around, and I didn't look too good. He told me, 'Go back to football.' "
People have always pointed West toward football, and with good reason.
He was a three-year starter at traditional football power Kennedy, playing wide receiver, free safety, and handling all kicking and punting duties.
As a senior, he caught 46 passes (second in school history) for 705 yards and seven touchdowns. He also made 76 tackles and kicked a school-record 53-yard field goal. Twice he was voted All-North Valley League and was an All-City and Times All-Valley selection his senior year.
He played alongside and against talented players--such as teammate Ontiwaun Carter, now a running back at Arizona--and "was able to hold his own and (stand) out on the field," said Bob Francola, Kennedy football coach.
West was primed for a big-time college career.
"All these three years people were telling me, 'Look, you're going to go, Keith,' " West said. " 'Things are going to happen for you.' "
But things never did.
"He's one of my disappointments because he should have been somewhere," Francola said. "Everybody loved so many things about Keith--his ability to catch the ball, his toughness, the fact that he played defense, his kicking. Recruiters just couldn't get past his 4.7 speed (in the 40-yard dash).
"They looked at me and said, 'Can he cover (Washington tailbacks) Beano Bryant or Napolean Kaufman one on one down the sidelines?' "
Clearly, West could not. And that was the bottom line for West, who ran a few tenths of a second too slow to realize his dreams.
"That was the hardest thing to grasp," West said. "It comes right down to it, and here I am--stuck, sitting there. My dreams, my aspirations are just shot down the drain."
He drew attention from many schools--Stanford, Oregon State, Nevada Las Vegas and Cal State Long Beach, among others--but the interest was cursory and no school offered him a scholarship.
Fortunately, he had an abundance of soccer talent. West scored 45 goals and had 36 assists in three seasons and was a two-time All-City selection.
Ass'ad, who coached West on various club teams since 1985, offered him a scholarship to Northridge.
West felt ready to accept and give up football. His parents advised otherwise.
"We figured football was his passport, and that that was where his secret desire was," Carl West said. "I think our encouragement kind of made his choice."