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Prep Review : Hospitalized La Quinta QB Zeno Seeks Brighter Side

Last Friday night, La Quinta High School quarterback Eric Zeno had three steel pins inserted in his left leg. This morning, an orthopedic specialist is scheduled to visit his room at Fountain Valley Community Hospital and tell him if and when he could expect to play football again this season.

Zeno, whose family moved into the La Quinta enrollment district so that he could transfer there from Fountain Valley and play for his father, Joe, suffered a broken leg in the Aztecs’ 26-7 win over Foothill 10 days ago. He is expected to be out for at least six weeks, which means he may be available for postseason play.

In a phone interview from his hospital bed Sunday, Zeno searched for bright sides.

“It was a clean break,” he said. “All the ligaments are intact. I’m really lucky it wasn’t worse.”

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That was the least luck could do, considering it was nowhere to be found when Zeno’s left fibula was snapped on the last play of the game two Fridays ago.

Zeno’s injury is about as freak as they come.

“There were about 30 seconds left in the game,” he recalled. “I looked over to my Dad (the Aztecs head coach) and he told me to sit on the ball and let the clock run out. I took a couple of steps back and took a knee. One of my linemen was pushed back and he fell on my leg.”

Zeno said he suspected the leg was broken almost immediately, but shook hands with Foothill players and walked to board the La Quinta bus.

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Said his mother, Barbara: “He has a high tolerance of pain. He said, ‘Mom, I know it’s broken. I heard it snap.’ ”

Zeno’s leg was X-rayed and placed in a cast that night. He was examined further by an orthopedic specialist last Friday. The cast was removed, further X-rays taken, and the decision to put pins in the leg was made.

So Zeno, who came to La Quinta to play quarterback for his father and enhance his chances for an athletic scholarship, will be a spectator for at least six weeks. The injury is a disappointment both to him and his family.

Last fall, Zeno was the starting quarterback at Fountain Valley for seven games until John Peart won the job by leading the Barons to an 11-10, come-from-behind win over arch-rival Edison. Zeno unhappily moved to tight end.

At the end of the summer, the Zeno family packed up and moved. Eric’s twin brother, Lance, remained at Fountain Valley, allowable under a CIF rule governing incoming seniors whose parents have moved, where he is a two-way lineman and one of Orange County’s most heavily recruited players.

Before making the decision to relocate, Joe Zeno reflected on the reasoning for it.

“This is a tremendous crisis in Eric’s life,” he said in an interview with The Times last April. “He’s very adamant that he would like to become a professional quarterback some day. I feel he can be. He’s very gifted. This next year will be very critical for him.”

But, instead of getting an opportunity to prove himself as a quarterback, Eric Zeno got a bad break. So far, he seems to be handling it well.

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“I’ve just got to work hard on rehabilitation and hopefully get back in there,” he said.

Barbara Zeno said the decision to move her family has changed her son for the better.

“I think if this happened to him last year, he would have been devastated,” she said. “His Dad’s given him confidence that no one would give him before.”

Added Eric: “It’s always been a dream of mine to play for my Dad. He spends a lot of time with me. He’s always been my coach. I just feel bad now, because I know this is hard on him.”

Add Zeno: Eric has never had much luck when it comes to the end of a game. As a tight end, he broke his right thumb on the final play of Fountain Valley’s 20-7 loss to Fontana in the second round of the Big Five Conference playoffs last December.

As a quarterback on the Fountain Valley sophomore team two years ago, Zeno broke the same thumb when it collided with an opposing player’s helmet. That, too, came on the last play of the game.

“I’m not too good with the last play,” Zeno said with a laugh.

Turnaround is Fair Play: Edison was the county’s top-ranked team when the preseason poll came out. Fountain Valley got its usual share of attention, while Marina was expected to impress.

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But, three weeks into the season, the biggest success story to come out of the Sunset League is Westminster, which hasn’t reached the Southern Section playoffs since 1976. The Lions, to the surprise of most, are 3-0 in games they were expected to lose. They have victories over Valencia, Pacifica and El Toro, teams with a combined record of 29-8 in 1984. Westminster has allowed a total of 16 points in those games.

As if that weren’t enough, last Friday’s 26-7 win over El Toro came with starting quarterback Steve Gulley on the sideline with a bruised leg and middle linebacker Todd Weaver, one of the Lions’ top defensive players, out with a shoulder injury.

Gulley was injured in the first quarter of the Lions’ 7-6 upset over Valencia. He was taken to Humana Hospital in Westminster for X-rays. The injury was diagnosed as a bruise over the fibula. He left the hospital and returned to the game with three minutes left in the third quarter, in plenty of time to throw the winning touchdown pass.

“We were real happy to see him,” Westminster co-head Coach Jack Bowman said.

Gulley was replaced by junior Mike Austin last Friday against El Toro. That gave the Lions six underclassmen starting on offense and seven on defense. The future looks as bright as the present.

“Everybody’s happier now, obviously,” Bowman said. “The people at Westminster have never been unsupportive of football. It’s just a lot more fun right now.”

Prep Notes Basketball players Bob Erbst (Katella), Kevin Walker (Brea-Olinda), Bryant Walton (Saddleback) and Stuart Thomas (Mater Dei) have been named among the nation’s top 100 seniors by Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports in North Carolina. . . . Ron Inman, Bolsa Grande girls’ basketball coach, is seeking two teams to round out the field for the school’s Christmas tournament, Dec. 19-21. Interested coaches may contact Inman or Sharon Samann, the Bolsa Grande girls’ athletic director at 638-6127.


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