The players knew it was coming like an all-out blitz. Yet the news hit them like a blind-side tackle.
Said Chris Lobos: "You hear about it, but you never really think it's going to happen."
Added Chris Allen: "We all were expecting it. But when it happened we were totally shocked."
Shocked is the word several players on the Alemany High football team used to describe the firing Thursday of Coach Enrique Lopez.
Yet it was hardly unexpected. Alemany was 3-5-2 last season and finished last in the Del Rey League. In 1986, the Indians finished fourth in the 5-A league.
The Indians had perhaps the most difficult schedule of any Valley-area team the past two seasons, however.
In addition to a tough league schedule that includes Crespi, St. John Bosco and Loyola, Alemany played nonleague games last season against Canyon, Granada Hills and Kennedy. The year before, Hart and Harvard were included.
Last season's highlight was a 17-14 win over Granada Hills, the eventual City Section 4-A Division champion and No. 1 team in the Valley.
The Indians, however, ended the season by losing to St. Francis, 14-6, and Notre Dame, 42-26, teams Alemany expected to beat.
Lopez, 34, was not surprised when Father Michael Nocita, the school's first-year principal, dismissed him. He accepted the decision without quarrel.
"I'm a Christian and that's how I'm going to take it," said Lopez, who will continue to teach at the school. "I've had great experiences here and I feel very loyal to Alemany. Other teams in the league were winning.
"He wanted to make a change and bring in his own people. I respect that."
Nocita said the competitiveness of the league warranted a change.
"It's based on a desire to have more success," he said. "I'm looking at the future."
And so is Lopez, who compiled a 17-22-2 record in four years at Alemany.
"My goal in my career is coaching and I'm going to have to look for another coaching job," Lopez said. "I'm working on it. I'm going to miss just about everything--the faculty, the staff, the administration. But mostly the players."
Allen and Lobos are seniors and will not be around to play for the new coach, who is expected to be named within six weeks.
But sophomore quarterback Joey Rosselli, who passed for 1,247 yards and 6 touchdowns last season while sharing duty with senior Roy Talavera, will return. Like his teammates, Rosselli was saddened by the firing.
"He was like another friend," Rosselli said. "Especially last season with it being my first. He helped me feel like I was part of the seniors. He asked me about my grades and made sure I was keeping them up.
"And he was always there to talk to. I feel like we're losing another player."
Said Lopez: "The players really came through for me. One of the teachers told me that one of them prayed for me in class and I really appreciated that. It makes me feel a whole lot better."
Road to recovery: While his teammates were fighting to stay in contention for a Marmonte League playoff berth, Royal guard Chris Myers was combatting something much more serious.
The 6-1 senior was released from a hospital Saturday after being bedridden for 10 days with bacterial meningitis.
"It was really scary," Myers said. "It started with a really violent headache. I was just screaming out in pain like I've never felt before."
Myers' pain began two weeks ago with an ear infection that spread to his spinal column and caused swelling.
The virus caused Myers to lose 25 pounds.
"I've gained about 10 pounds back," he said. "I weigh about 140 now."
Royal is 3-5 and in fifth place entering Monday night's game against league-leading Simi Valley. But Coach Joe Malkinson does not expect Myers, who is averaging seven points a game, to return.
"It'll probably be another six weeks until he's fully recovered," Malkinson said. "He's weak. The important thing is that he recovers."
Said Myers: "I didn't think I would try and come back, but the doctor told me to get back to normal activity as soon as possible. I'm going to go to practice today and shoot around."
A line at the line: Things ran afoul in the fourth quarter of Friday night's Northwest Valley League game between San Fernando and Monroe. The referees whistled away for 45 minutes as both teams combined for 28 foul shots.
"It kind of felt like it would never end," said San Fernando forward Duane Heller, whose team won, 85-65. "We wanted to hurry and get the game over with, but it seemed the refs would stop the game every two minutes."
Heller would know. Every time the 6-2 senior turned around, it seemed he was being charged with an infraction. He fouled out for the first time in his career and picked up all five fouls in the final period.
"Ticky-tack, that's what it was," Heller said. "One time I was fronting my man and I had my arm around his body and they called holding."
Add San Fernando: Joe Mauldin, a quarterback who passed for 1,633 yards last season and led San Fernando to a 7-2-1 record and a second-place finish in the Valley 4-A League, has made a verbal commitment to play football next season at Cal State Fullerton.
"I think, most likely, that's where I'll be going," Mauldin said.
Mauldin is also a point guard on the Tiger basketball team, averaging 19 points a game.
Soccer overseas: Cam Rast is not at a loss for adjectives to describe his recent soccer sojourn to the Soviet Union.
"It was awesome," the 18-year-old Royal senior said. "Moscow is a nice, clean city. It's awesome. It was great, that level of play. It was the ultimate."
Sound like he enjoyed himself? You bet your borscht, he did.
Rast got a kick out of the experience even though the U. S. Junior National team managed only one victory during its two-week stay, a 1-0 win over West Germany.
"Play is really smooth at the national level," said the 6-2 sweeper, who returned home two weeks ago and rejoined the Highlanders, who are 14-2-2 and ranked third in the Southern Section 3-A Division poll.
"It's a step above what I've seen. I've never been as impressed by the ability of players our age to move the ball around. It's the first time I've ever seen it coming at me."
Rast, who has drawn the attention of UCLA and Santa Clara, played in every minute of every match.
The U. S., however, came up on the short end in matches against China (1-0), France (4-1), and two teams from the Soviet Union (both 2-1).
In April, Rast will try out for the U. S. team that will compete for the Junior World Cup later this year in Guatemala.
Competing in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, is another goal of Rast's.
"Playing for the United States of America is pretty awesome," Rast said. "When you put on that uniform and it says 'USA,' you're playing for your country."
Problems, problems: It has been a disappointing season for St. Genevieve Coach Dave Hoffman, who expected his team to contend for the Santa Fe League title in his first year.
"It's going to be harder than I expected to turn this program around," Hoffman said after Tuesday's 68-51 loss to Cathedral that dropped the Valiants to 7-9 overall and 3-5 in league play. "There are a lot of negative attitudes left over from the previous 10 years.
"They've never had a winning program here and it's taking the kids longer than I expected to adjust to my style of thinking."
Hoffman emphasizes hard-nosed defense and a creative offense but he has seen little of either.
"We don't play defense worth a lick," Hoffman said in his West Virginia drawl. "The kids just haven't been effective.
"We've got to be the worst defensive team in the San Fernando Valley."
Hoffman had no kinder words for the offense.
"Sometimes the kids don't shoot enough," he said. "They're so concerned with running set plays that they don't take advantage of opportunities when they arise."
Fatigue could be responsible for that lack of creativity, although the coach refuses to use it as an excuse.
St. Genevieve's roster dropped to six players after Chris Fregeau was kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons earlier this month and Marc Colon quit before the Cathedral game.
Despite the casualties, Hoffman has not promoted players from the junior varsity.
"I have some kids who are tearing up, who could help us," Hoffman said. "But I think it's best if they stay at that level and continue to play well and develop their confidence for next year.
"If we have to lose this year to win next year, I'll do it."
Staff writer John Ortega contributed to this notebook.