When Omar Gutierrez missed school at Estancia High last week, Coach Mike Bargas understood why he was out. It was not the first time the senior was absent this school year.
Earlier this month, Gutierrez said he did not attend school because it hurt too much to sit down in a chair. He injured his lower back in a football game on Sept. 30. The setback sidelined him for a few days in the classroom and one game on the field.
The pain was so excruciating that Gutierrez found it hard to do something he does before each game.
"I didn't even suit up because I couldn't put on my pants," Gutierrez said.
The back was not the only part of his body that bothered Gutierrez the night before the Eagles played Godinez last week.
He was getting chills during practice. He was not nervous about playing a then-undefeated Orange Coast League team in the Grizzlies.
Gutierrez said he felt like he was burning up.
"I got a fever," said Gutierrez, believing the best remedy was rest. "I wake up [in the morning] and my throat [was sore]. I [think I] had [a strep throat] infection. I just stayed home and just slept, tried to sleep off the fever. I was hoping I would play.
"I told myself, 'Even though I'm sick, like I'm not injured. They can't stop me from playing.' "
Gutierrez arrived on campus when school was almost out. Bargas took one look at Gutierrez and determined he was out of sorts.
Bargas said he did not know Gutierrez's temperature before the game. He just saw someone fired up to contribute.
Unable to play at his usual high level on defense because of his back and symptoms, Gutierrez still sparked the Eagles. Playing tight end, he scored the team's first points after hauling in a 30-yard touchdown pass, the first of his two touchdown receptions that helped Estancia remain undefeated in league play after a 42-14 road victory.
When the adrenaline wore off, Gutierrez said he felt like he never felt after a game.
"I was gassed," Gutierrez said.
Two balls are all Gutierrez caught that night from quarterback John Diego. He made each one count for Estancia (3-4, 2-0 in league).
The first touchdown, coming late in the second quarter, almost ended in an end zone celebration gone wrong.
"After I scored, I felt like I was going to throw up," Gutierrez said. "But I hadn't eaten anything, so nothing came out."
Gutierrez can thank Estancia's trainer for not giving him a piece of bread before he found the end zone.
The bread fueled the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Gutierrez and a hooded sweatshirt allowed him to survive through 48 minutes of football. Playing hurt and sick is no easy task.
Gutierrez said he is closer to being 100%. The fever is gone. The throat is better.
The back still aches, though.
Gutierrez made a name for himself the past two years rushing the quarterback. He earned Newport-Mesa Dream Team and first-team All-Orange Coast League honors as a defensive end, turning in back-to-back 10-sack seasons.
Harassing the quarterback is tough nowadays for Gutierrez. Getting into a defensive end stance gives Gutierrez problems because of the deep bruise in his lower back.
"I get like a pinch in my back every time I try to give force," Gutierrez said. "I thought it was going to just go away after the first week [after injuring my back against Northwood], but it didn't."
Gutierrez said he has taken painkillers to alleviate the pain. He now uses armbands to stretch out his back.
He hopes to play more on defense tonight, when Estancia plays host to Saddleback (1-6, 0-2) in a league contest at 7. The Roadrunners do not throw much, usually relying on running back Luis Soto to move the chains.
"He looks like a consistent runner," Gutierrez said of Soto, who carried the ball 43 times for a career-best 281 yards last week in a 28-15 loss to Costa Mesa.
"He doesn't look like he gets tired."
Gutierrez wishes he could say the same thing about himself right now.