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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | Eric Sondheimer

The Lugos Take Pride in Being True to Their School

September 06, 2000|Eric Sondheimer

If Martians have green blood, then the FBI could be swooping in to investigate the Lugos of Canoga Park.

This family bleeds Hunter green. Thirty-six years worth of Canoga Park High jerseys, yearbooks, trophies, hats, sweatshirts and helmets can be found lying around their house.

"My mom went here, my dad went here, my sister went here, my uncles went here, all my dad's friends went here," said wide receiver Christopher Lugo, sitting in the Canoga Park physical education office.

Football Coach Rudy Lugo, Christopher's father, has been a fixture on campus since the early 1960s as a student, player, teacher and coach. Two of his current players, Josh Geiger and Matt Crawford, are the sons of parents who were Lugo's students.

"You realize how fast the years pass," Rudy said. "I'm thinking the '70s, '80s and '90s. It doesn't seem like 30-plus years have passed. It's gone by too fast."

This is the year the Lugos have been anticipating since the days Rudy used to carry Christopher in a backpack while directing wrestling and football practices.

When Christopher was 7 and standing on the sideline, Rudy became so frustrated with Canoga Park's poor play he asked his young son for advice.

"I tossed him the cards, 'You call a play,' " Rudy said. "By golly, it went for a touchdown. I asked, 'Was that luck?' He said, 'I don't know Dad. It looked good and I called it.' "

There was never any doubt that Christopher would enroll at Canoga Park and play for his father. He was an all-league receiver last season and has reached his senior year, a moment both realize is very special.

"I know he's waited for this year to coach me and I know I've waited for it," Christopher said. "It means a lot. My Dad has only been coaching to coach his son. He loves the sport, but he's always wanted to coach me. This year is kind of more like a goodbye thing."

Fathers sometimes take a risk by coaching their children in high school. Their relationship can deteriorate rapidly in the face of unrealistic expectations or undue pressure, with the dividing line between father and coach blurred.

But Rudy has recognized the sensitive nature of his two roles. He has been adamant about letting his daughter, Melissa, a former cheerleader and water girl, and Christopher enjoy their high school experience just like he and his wife, Nancy, did during their days at Canoga Park.

"High school football is a very special experience," he said. "Friday nights are memories that you never forget. To be able to share them with one of your own family members, to have those memories and have those pictures and have those videos of us together is a dream come true."

Not that awkward moments don't happen. How many football players get to call their coach Dad? How many players walk around campus and suddenly run into their father?

"I don't really want to see my Dad at school," Christopher said. "It's weird. When he comes up to talk to me, it's like, 'Yes?' It's embarrassing, but I've gotten used to it."

Christopher already has one edge on his father. He has grown to 5 feet 11, making him one-half inch taller than Dad. He never lets him forget it.

"He makes fun of me," Rudy said. "I was getting ready to take a shower and he goes, 'You want a towel, shorty?' "

Christopher and his Canoga Park teammates have been unable to influence their coach's music interests.

"They don't touch my radio," Rudy said. "I'm still listening to oldies--The Platters, Temptations, Four Tops, Beach Boys, Jan and Dean. Most kids don't know who they are."

Rudy, 52, graduated from Canoga Park in 1965, returned as an assistant in 1969, became a student teacher in 1970, then spent five months in the National Guard in 1971.

"When I was in the Army, I went to chapel and I asked God if I could have a job at Canoga," he said. "It was a gift from God."

He has never left. He became football coach in 1986 and his impact can be seen in the number of former players and students who drop by school or say hello around town. It's the reason he keeps coming back year after year.

"I do love the kids," he said. "We have a saying, 'Once you're a member of the Canoga family, you're always a member.' They're an extension of my family and I feel a part of their lives."

Rudy has tried to teach his players about commitment, responsibility, honor and nobility.

"You are the way you live," he said.

Rudy has seen players change. There was the short hair in part of the '60s, the long hair of the '70s, the earrings and jewelry of the '80s, the profane language of the '90s.

"I had to make some personal adjustments," he said.

But one thing has never changed--his loyalty to Canoga Park.

"It's frustrating to see a lot of kids who live around here go to El Camino [Real]," Christopher said. "But that's their choice. What makes my Dad a good coach is he works hard and he's dedicated. He teaches me about respect and honor, to be independent and depend on yourself. It makes me set my goals and go for it."

The Lugos are ready for another season of football at Canoga Park. Now, if only they can make sure Mulder and Scully don't come looking for green-blooded aliens.

*

Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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