As 1,400 stunned students watched, a 450-pound Bengal tiger leaped off an auditorium stage during a noisy high school pep rally and mauled a football player.
The tiger, Rakhan, was brought under control Friday by its two trainers from a local animal park but not before Craig Henderson, a 210-pound defensive lineman, received a bite on his right arm that required 78 stitches, officials said.
Henderson, 17, who was sitting with other members of the San Mateo High School football team in the front row of the school auditorium, later returned to classes.
"I was trying to get away from the tiger and I hopped over three rows of seats," he said. "I was trying to get over the fourth row when he got hold of me. It seemed like it took forever, everything was so chaotic. Everybody was scrambling, trying to get away from me. It was really wild."
"He just got caught up in the excitement," said trainer Bill Fleming of Marine World-Africa USA in Vallejo. "He knows he's not supposed to do that sort of thing."
The big cat was described as one of the "nicest, gentlest tigers" by Marine World spokeswoman Mary O'Herron. She said there were "absolutely no plans" to destroy the animal. However, the trainers said pep rallies would henceforth be off-limits.