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GARDEN GROVE LEAGUE : Los Amigos’ Major Foes: Injuries, Attrition

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is three o’clock in the afternoon on Tuesday, practice time for the Los Amigos football team. Except for a cozy group of players and a handful of coaches, the football field is nearly deserted.

Not that the Lobos’ varsity football field was ever overcrowded. Los Amigos Coach Steve Bolton says nearly a third of the 32 players who began the season on the varsity should probably be playing junior varsity.

Tuesday, five of those 32 were absent from practice.

The timing could not be worse for Bolton, who is preparing his undefeated Lobos for their biggest game of the season, the Garden Grove League opener against Rancho Alamitos at 7:30 tonight at Garden Grove High.

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The Lobos might have as much talent as they’ve ever had--as evidenced by their 3-0 start--but depth is not one of their strengths. Many players go both ways, so losing one starter can often mean losing two positions.

A list of the missing:

-- Starting linebacker Keuni Faamausili, Los Amigos’ defensive player of the year in 1992, and starting defensive tackle Matt Auau were suspended from the team indefinitely before last week’s game against Costa Mesa and are not expected back this season.

-- Carlos Sianez, who starts at tight end and defensive end, broke his leg in last week’s victory against Costa Mesa. While the team practices a hundred yards away, Sianez lifts weights and tries not to think about how frustrating it will be to watch tonight’s game from the sideline.

-- Running back and strong safety Noah Tagatauli, the team’s offensive player of the year and first team all-league running back in 1992, has a torn ligament and Bolton said Tagatauli won’t play unless a specially fitted brace arrives in time for the game.

-- Quarterback Ape Tuato, who threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns against Costa Mesa, had been spitting up blood for a week and was seeing a specialist. Fortunately, Tuato only had the flu. Bolton said Tuato will be at 100% tonight.

Bolton’s status? He’s healthy, but even Bolton was late to practice Tuesday. He was on the phone trying to get Tagatauli in to see a different specialist.

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Starting fullback and middle linebacker Junior Leofa said he feels as if he’s being deserted. Leofa said he took Faamausili’s and Auau’s suspensions in stride, but Sianez’s injury got to him.

“It’s pretty sad,” Leofa said. “At first, when I heard Carlos was hurt, I said, ‘Oh my God, that hurts.’ It was like somebody taking your eyeball out.

“It’s like your brother is leaving you. You want to say, ‘Come back.’ ”

But Sianez, who caught five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown and had two sacks against Costa Mesa, won’t be back soon. Bolton said doctors told him Sianez will be out for three to five weeks.

Sianez said he expects to return in three weeks, but he realizes he won’t be able to help tonight.

“If it was sprained or something I’d be out there,” he said.

Sianez figures he probably played last Friday’s fourth quarter with a broken leg.

“I was hoping it was cramps since the first quarter, but then it started hurting a little bit more,” Sianez said. “I felt something pop, but I didn’t really know how bad it was. Some teachers were on the sideline, saying, ‘Don’t go back in.’ ” But I went back in anyway.”

Even though Sianez was a big factor in Los Amigos’ 28-24 victory over Costa Mesa, Leofa now wishes that Sianez had listened to the teachers.

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“I’d rather give away our Costa Mesa win to win this and beat the league champs,” Leofa said.

Leofa said he isn’t expecting Rancho Alamitos to sit down a couple starters so everything will be equal.

“They’re going to come hunting for us,” Leofa said. “We’re like their worst enemy.

“It’s going to be dirty out there. We’ll knock some heads. There will probably be lots of injuries.”

Los Amigos can’t handle many more, but somehow the Lobos have been able to replace Faamausili and Auau, who missed the Costa Mesa game.

With Sianez out and Tagatauli doubtful for tonight’s game, Bolton will move Hernan Payan from guard to Sianez’s tight end spot. Jose Medina, who has missed most of the first three games with a back injury, will play tackle, and James Nguyen will move from tackle to guard.

If Tagatauli can’t play, sophomore Greg Fausto will get his first start at running back. Leofa said Fausto has had a dazed look in practice.

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“I could see it in his eyes,” Leofa said. “He’s like sweating. Saying, ‘Oh boy, this is a big one.’ ”

On defense, Bolton said he will likely move Matt Sepulona from tackle to Sianez’s end spot and insert Aipopo Faamausili at tackle. Junior Nui Satele has been elevated from the junior varsity and will also see some time at defensive end, Bolton said. Juan Mercado will play strong safety for Tagatauli.

Although he’s shorthanded, Bolton isn’t conceding anything to Rancho Alamitos.

“We’re not making any excuses,” he said. “We’re going to line up and play ball.

“The kids believe they’re going to win. If they lose, they feel it’s only because they ran out of time. They’re great kids. You have to give them the credit because they have all the heart and desire.”

Leofa said heart is the key element.

“We’ve never played with all our starters healthy anyway,” he said. “But our team has a lot of heart. It comes from here. (Tonight’s game) is going to be based on how bad we want it.”

Or, how many players Los Amigos has left by the game’s end.

RANCHO ALAMITOS VS. LOS AMIGOS

Featured Game

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Garden Grove High School

Records: Rancho Alamitos (1-1-1); Los Amigos (3-0)

Rankings: Neither team is ranked.

Noteworthy: These teams figure to be contenders in the Garden Grove League.

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