Palomino Has Made Big Strides

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mario Palomino is partially true to his last name.

He is a horse of a kid, all right, but not the type his surname suggests. This guy is more of a Clydesdale.

At 6 feet 5 and 280 pounds, the offensive tackle from Birmingham High is the largest human mass on the West team that meets its East counterpart in the Valley Youth Conference-sponsored All-Star game today at 5 at Birmingham.

And Palomino, who is bound for Cal State Sacramento, is not done bulking up.

"[Sacramento coaches] want me to get up to 320," Palomino said.

That shouldn't be a problem for Palomino, a hearty eater with a few more weeks left to put away some healthy rations of home cooking before reporting to Sacramento.

The son of a Cuban father and Salvadoran mother, Palomino doesn't discriminate at the dinner table. He can polish off a Cuban-style chicken fricassee or a Salvadoran papusa with equal gusto.

Palomino, who helped Birmingham post a 10-2 record and reach the City Championship quarterfinals last season, is a veritable giant at home. His father is 5-6, his mother is 5-5 and his sister, a junior at Birmingham, is 5-4.

But Palomino is not a complete family oddity. His paternal grandfather, a farmer in Cuba, was 7-3.

Palomino never met his grandfather, who died several years ago, but he got to see his roots.

"When my grandma came to visit a few years ago, we made a promise to step on Cuban soil," Palomino said. "My mom, my sister and I went there about four years ago. It's a beautiful country. You just have to stay away from the politics."

It wasn't exactly politics that got Palomino selected to the West team. He improved steadily in three seasons with the Patriots and Coach Ed Croson of Birmingham, who is running the West team, believes the best is yet to come.

"A lot of big schools didn't get in on him early enough because there wasn't much [game] film on him [before last season]," Croson said. "Sac State got a real find."

Palomino played mostly basketball in junior high, but he kept outgrowing the sport.

"I was always tall and big," Palomino said. "I would gain a lot of weight during the off-season. When I got to high school, I went out for football."

Palomino was a two-way starter until last season, when he played strictly on offense. It was part of the plan to prepare him for the future.

"The coaches told me to concentrate on being a tackle, because I'm going to go on the offensive side in college," Palomino said.

His debut with the Hornets will have to wait. Palomino fell 20 points short of meeting the SAT qualifying score, so he will redshirt at Sacramento next season.

"I'll work on the weights and get quicker and get used to the program up there," Palomino said.

While taking a water break at a workout with the West team, Palomino tried to deal with the difficulty of returning to the field cold turkey after such a long layoff since the season ended.

"Practicing in the heat with pads on is completely different than lifting weights and working out on your own," Palomino said. "But I can't wait for the game. I've seen a lot of my friends play in the game. Now it's my turn."

He won't be hard to spot.

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HIGH SCHOOL STARS

What: All-Star football game

sponsored by Valley Youth Conference

When: Today at 5 p.m.

Where: Birmingham High

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