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Kicking Up a Storm

Football: Converted soccer goalie Aguayo becomes a star at San Jacinto with his booming field goals and kickoffs.

September 09, 2002|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sergio Aguayo knew as little about kicking a football as he did about the sport itself. Yet he took a few strides and booted the ball so far through the uprights that the 37-yard field goal would have been good from about 60 yards.

The pleased sophomore then scurried toward the sideline after his first high school kick, yelling, "Hey, coach, can I kick it from that spot every time?"

The coach could only smile and shake his head at his kicker's naivete--and his own good fortune.

"He was so oblivious to football," San Jacinto High Coach Bill Powell recalled nearly two years later. "But right then and there you knew he had the makeup to be a great kicker."

How great? Former UCLA All-American Chris Sailer ranks Aguayo in the top three of the more than 100 high school kickers he has evaluated over the last year or so.

The converted soccer goalie was selected an all-state small schools kicker last year after a junior season in which he made a 50-yard field goal that cleared the top of the goalposts in a playoff victory over Bishop Union.

That kick has become the signature one for the throng of college recruiters pursuing Aguayo heading into his senior year.

Powell thinks his star kicker, already perhaps the biggest draw in the tiny desert community, could command $2 a head just to let people watch him warm up before Tiger games.

"The fans see him come out on the field and start screaming his name," Powell said. "He's doing his kickoffs and he'll boom a couple of 65-yarders warming up. It gets our crowd ready for our games."

There wasn't much talk about the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Aguayo, whom Sailer likes to call "Gumby," before his sophomore year. He was a dedicated soccer player who had never kicked a football, even while messing around.

Then his soccer coach told Powell about the boy's mind-boggling leg strength. Powell watched him kick a football once and was sold; Aguayo was put on the varsity team as a sophomore.

Gordon Houston, San Jacinto's kicking coach, immediately begin teaching Aguayo the mechanics of kicking a football as opposed to a soccer ball, though he continued to play soccer.

"Coach Houston taught me right and wrong," Aguayo said. "From there I moved up and just made the transition."

Aguayo steadily improved to the point where, last season, he converted 11 of 16 field-goal attempts, including a 51-yarder, with the majority of his misses coming from beyond 50 yards. More impressive was the fact that 94% of his kickoffs went for touchbacks.

"Every team starts at the 20 and has to go 80 yards against us," Powell said. "That's where he becomes a big weapon for us."

Aguayo honed his skills even further after last season by attending two of Sailer's kicking camps at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High and another camp at the University of Colorado. He also awoke early on many occasions to practice on his own at the San Jacinto field, a short walk from his house.

Powell anticipates that Aguayo, who kicks left-footed, will be even more of a weapon this season for an offense that returns only one starter.

"I'm going to put him out there in a lot of situations a lot of kickers won't be in," Powell said. "Anything from 60 [yards] and in, we're going to put him out there this year."

But does Aguayo's success come at a price? Powell, who has guided San Jacinto to the playoffs in each of his four seasons, worries sometimes that the expectations may pose too great of a burden for a 17-year-old.

"Our fans see Sergio warming up and kicking them from 60 yards, and they think every time he goes out there and tries a 55-, 60-yarder, he should make it," Powell said. "NFL guys don't do that.

"He understands that I don't expect that from him."

For his part, Aguayo said he relishes the chance to make his mark.

"I like it because my friends can get more exposure also," he said. "I just like to see everybody happy."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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