Enrico Bozman's reputation did not precede him.
The senior transfer from Bellflower was supposed to be pretty good, a Southern Section Division VIII selection as defensive back, and an all-league running back as well. But Bozman didn't even appear in the Los Alamitos preseason football preview.
"To tell you the truth, I never heard of him," Los Alamitos Coach John Barnes said. "I didn't want to embarrass him in the papers. He moved in, and he wanted to play. It didn't take me long to get to know his name, though, I'll tell you that."
Not long at all. Maybe it was the way he hit the hole in the line, like a piston. Or the way he refused to fall down, like a Weeble. Or the way he outran secondaries, like a greyhound--the dog, not the bus.
But Barnes isn't the only one who knows Bozman's name now. Every team that plays the top-ranked Griffins (4-0) is aware that Bozman is a threat from any spot on the field. You want proof? His nine touchdown runs in four games are from 16, 86, one, 43, 47, one, 73, 31 and seven yards.
Bozman has rushed 56 times for 580 yards, a county-best 10.4 average per carry. His numbers would be better, but he rarely plays beyond the first half because Los Alamitos always seems to have the game in hand. He has been in the fourth quarter only once in the first four games.
He trails the county's rushing leader, Anaheim's Reuben Droughns, by 42 carries and 210 yards. Draw your own conclusions.
Bozman is one of the primary reasons why Los Alamitos is the Southern Section Division II's No. 1-ranked team. Defenses that concentrate on containing him--he rushed 16 times for 123 yards and no touchdowns against Palmdale last week--still pay the price: Mike Good passed for 355 yards and six touchdowns against Palmdale in a 48-26 victory.
"(Enrico) has a great knack for making the first tackler miss, even on three-yard runs," Barnes said. "He sees what's happening downfield very well and has great football sense for a runner. They say O.J. Simpson had that, and that's what I see. He gets in the open area. He catches the ball well. He blocks well. And he's a real tough guy--he takes a great hit and usually keeps his feet."
Those traits were cultivated on Compton playgrounds with older kids, where appearances were half the game.
"On some moves, my body just goes there," Bozman said. "I'll spin or there will be a reaction and it's like, 'Dang, how did I do that?' Where I grew up, everyone was putting moves on people. I got it from there. When I got on the field, it was automatic.
"If you got hit, you couldn't just lay there like a sissy. I would take a good shot and get up, but in the huddle I would be dizzy. Unless I've got a broken leg, I'm not going to lay there on the field. Where I grew up, no one does that."
Incredibly, Bozman nearly didn't play football this year. He was at Bellflower last year but had become an outcast on the football team despite a wealth of popularity among the other students. His teammates didn't take the game seriously enough, he said; captains wouldn't show up for practice, and there was too much goofing off.
And, after the birth eight months ago of his daughter, Monica Nicole, he had little in common with the other players anyway.
Andrea Bowker, the child's mother, is daughter of the principal at Light and Life Christian School in Long Beach. George Bowker suggested to Bozman that he move in--and sleep on the downstairs couch--so that he could better take care of his new child. Bozman did.
Lisa Bozman recalled what she told Enrico when she found out, at 33, that she was going to be a grandmother: " 'You tell me this little girl's pregnant? This is your baby? Now, you take my example. I've taken care of you all your life. A child needs its father; you know how you felt because yours wasn't around. Don't do that to your child. A real man takes care of his responsibility.' "
Enrico changed homes, schools, jobs and environments to be close to his child. Much of the money he earns from working in a nearby sporting goods store goes for diapers and such.
He even took Monica with him when he went to the Southern Section office to request a hardship waiver allowing him to play at Los Alamitos this year. But he originally wasn't going to play football--just baseball. Andrea, who was a junior at Los Alamitos when they met, convinced him otherwise.
"He loves baseball, but I love football," said Andrea, who takes Monica to all of Enrico's games.
Because of her prodding, it now looks as if Bozman will rewrite the school record book. The single-season mark for rushing touchdowns is 18 (Marchant Wright, 1992), but Bozman has half that in four games. The record for yards gained is 1,430 (Marcus Garcia, 1987). That, too, could be obliterated; Bozman has six games remaining, and then he has the playoffs.
His reputation now precedes him. Definitely.