Bobby Guerrero spent many afternoons hiding in bushes and on balconies his freshman year at St. Francis High. His motive was not to avoid trouble, but to stay out of view of soccer Coach Cherif Zein.
He was not very successful.
"When he was a freshman I used to see him playing hide and seek," Zein said. "I used to see him and yell, 'What are you doing?' "
He was watching soccer practice. Guerrero, now a junior and an integral part of the St. Francis team, had played seven years of club soccer by the time he arrived at the La Canada campus. Zein offered him a position on the team his freshman year, but Guerrero declined. He said he needed time away from the sport.
But that didn't last long. By spring, Guerrero was again playing club soccer. He joined the school team in the fall.
Guerrero plays right wing during the club season, a position that affords him many scoring opportunities. But at St. Francis he is a midfielder, concentrating mostly on defense and passing. He scored only five goals last season.
"I tried to do my best, but in high school I have to try a little more because it's a different style. It's a little slower," Guerrero said. "I like to run a lot and I'm used to the fast pace. Sometimes the players didn't expect the ball to be coming. It took me a while to learn how to play with the team."
Zein said that player roles are not strictly defined in his offensive scheme. Wings play defense and midfielders can score. And this season Guerrero has scored in prolific fashion.
The 5-9 junior has scored 14 goals--nine in just three games. Guerrero scored the first triple hat trick in St. Francis history, scoring three goals a game in victories over Del Rey League rivals St. John Bosco, Notre Dame and Bosco Tech last week. Guerrero, who also has four assists, was this month selected to the All-West Region team by the National Soccer Coaches Assn.
"He is a very good dribbler, he can cut back and forth and he is a very good finisher," Zein said. "He doesn't look like a soccer player at all. But he has unbelieveable vision and a very good shot."
If Guerrero keeps pace, he will break the school's single-season scoring record. David Havassy, a first-team All-American at Fresno State, scored 17 goals in 1986.
"I feel he's had the talent all along," said Roberto Guerrero, Bobby's father. "He's just getting smarter. He knows how to defense and when the opportunity arises he takes the shot."
Roberto Guerrero has been heavily involved in Bobby's soccer career. Roberto was a high school goalie in his native Mexico. When Bobby was 7, Roberto enrolled him in a local youth soccer program. Roberto has coached several of his son's teams. But when Bobby tired of soccer, the elder Guerrero was careful not to push him even further away from the sport.
"I think he was really burned out," Roberto Guerrero said. "I know there was a lot of pressure in beginning high school. I didn't want to pressure him about soccer."
This season, the onus has been on the opposition, which has had little success in stopping Guerrero.
"We hadn't worked on anything specific to stop him," Notre Dame Coach Tom Carter said. "Maybe we should have. He's a very dominating player. A dominating player always finds a way to score regardless of where they are."
St. Francis (10-2-2) has only one loss and one tie in seven league games entering play this week. Its lone loss was a 2-1 decision to Alemany.
The success is surprising considering St. Francis' fourth-place finish last season that excluded the team from the playoffs. The Knights have made the playoffs only two of the past six seasons.
Zein said he stresses the team concept but credits much of the team's success to Guerrero. "I don't like to rely on one player and we've had that problem at St. Francis," Zein said. "But other people are going to emulate him and learn from him."
Indeed, Guerrero's ability has not gone unnoticed by his teammates. Once a mere shadow in the bushes, Guerrero has developed into the type of player that people find hard to ignore.
"Since I'm scoring a lot more they're starting to look for me now," Guerrero said. "I try to open up and see if I can score. When we have a lead by two, then I go back to defense."
But never again into hiding.