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GARDEN GROVE LEAGUE : Full Speed Ahead for Los Amigos' Tuato : Football: Senior quarterback and safety, who has been slowed by rib injury, is eager to test his skills tonight against Rancho Alamitos.


FOUNTAIN VALLEY — Los Amigos quarterback Ape Tuato isn't hard to miss, unless you're a defender.

Tuato is a 6-foot 205-pound senior with a physique that belies his youth, but he is also fast and elusive. He can run or pass with equal effectiveness and he earned All-Southern Section Division VII honors at safety last season.

This season, Ape (pronounced Ah-pay) Tuato is a big reason the Lobos (5-0, 1-0 in league), ranked fifth in Orange County, are off to a fast start.

In tonight's showdown against Rancho Alamitos, with the Garden Grove League championship potentially at stake, Tuato will receive a lot of attention from the Vaqueros (3-2, 2-0).

"He's an outstanding quarterback," Rancho Alamitos Coach Doug Case said. "When you put the ball in his hands, you know he can either get it to someone or take care of business himself. Obviously, we're going to keep an eye on him."

But college recruiters haven't followed Tuato as closely. And that has Tuato's coach baffled.

"I'm surprised there hasn't been greater interest," Los Amigos Coach Roger Takahashi said. "I've seen Ape mature, physically and mentally, over the past three years. He is very strong and athletic, and he's a strong-safety type who can play Division I."

But the lack of collegiate attention doesn't bother Tuato. In fact, it is one of the furthest things from his mind.

"It's great if you get all of the attention," Tuato said. "But right now, our goal is to win league and then do well in the playoffs."

Tuato has performed well in limited action this season despite an injured rib cage. He has completed 33 of 63 passes (52%) for 647 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions and averages six yards per rush (19 carries, 114 yards).

Takahashi has been able to nurse Tuato's injury because the Lobos have beaten opponents by an average of 26 points.

"The Rancho game will be the first time Ape will be able to go full bore both ways," Takahashi said.

And Tuato has been waiting for a big game since last fall. Although the Lobos finished 9-2 last season, Tuato was left with a bad taste.

"We lost the two big games last season, and one loss cost us the league title," Tuato said. "But hopefully, we've learned from those mistakes."

The Lobos lost to league-champion Kennedy, 13-9, in Week 5, then were ousted in the first round of the Southern Section Division VII playoffs by Arroyo Grande, 21-13.

"It was a bittersweet season," said Takahashi, who was an assistant at Los Amigos last season. "The kids know we can build on it.

"I've been proud of the team because they've been really focused all season. Now, the big game is finally here, so let's decide it. Let's play. The school's spirit is definitely up for this one."

Takahashi knows a lot about big games and top talent in this league. He was head coach at La Quinta when the Aztecs reached the Division VI final in 1989 and he watched Bolsa Grande march to the Central Conference championship in 1986.

That season, Takahashi had one of his finest quarterbacks, Derek Debbs, a second-team all-county selection by the Times. Debbs, 6-1, 180, passed for more than 2,000 yards and was the fifth-highest rated quarterback in the county after the regular season.

Although two of the quarterbacks rated higher than Debbs--El Toro's Bret Johnson (UCLA, Michigan State) and Todd Marinovich (USC)--earned scholarships to major universities, Debbs continued his playing career at Pacific University. Pacific, an NAIA school in Forest Grove, Ore., discontinued football in 1990.

Although Debbs didn't make it to the Division I level, Takahashi says Tuato can make it because of his defensive skills. Tuato's ability to play both sides of the ball makes the Lobos that much stronger.

"Our team this year is comparable to the La Quinta team in '89," Takahashi said. "We have some good size up front and a good running back who is a breakaway threat in Greg Fausto. We just need to develop our offensive balance a little better to get to that next level."

As for Tuato reaching the next level, that may fall into place in time.

Said Case: "Ape is a great athlete. He's got the size, the speed, and he will lay the hit on you. I don't know what else universities are looking for other than that. But it's still early and I'm sure someone will be looking at him."


Featured Game

When: 7:30 tonight.

Where: Bolsa Grande High.

Records: Los Amigos 5-0, 1-0 in the Garden Grove League; Rancho Alamitos 3-2, 2-0.

Rankings: Los Amigos is No. 2 in Southern Section Division VII poll. Rancho Alamitos is No. 9.

Noteworthy: The league's top teams meet with the winner taking a big step toward the championship.

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