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A Difficult Season

As the sun sets on a field with no lights at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside, the Cubs field goal unit practices kicks. On the front line, flanking the player at center, are four seniors who, just a year earlier, were part of the Cubs team that won the league championship. This year would be a stark contrast. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Coach Keith Adams rallies his players before a game against Twin Pines High, a juvenile detention center south of Banning. The Cubs would play well and win, their only victory in a painful season. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Coach Kaveh Angoorani signs a play during practice. The Cubs had only about 20 players this season, while some opposing teams had twice that many. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Cubs watch a coach sign a pregame prayer as they get ready to play Hamilton High School of Anza, which is between Temecula and Palm Springs. Hamilton would crush the Cubs, 50-0. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
The Cubs whoop it up with sign language and screams as they get ready to play Maranatha High School in Pasadena. Shawn discovered upon arriving at the School for the Deaf that students, frustrated by the limits of their hand movements, highlighted their feelings by contorting their faces and making exaggerated, mime-like motions with their bodies. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Senior lineman Andrew Haupert, one of the captains, leads his team to the field at Hamilton High, whose stands were packed with about 400 people. On the other side of the field only one fan showed up to root for the Cubs. Shawn’s family got lost as they drove to the game, two hours from their home. They arrived just as the game ended. Cubs who board at the school may have parents who live quite a distance away. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Injuries and defections depleted a team that didn’t have many players to begin with. The Cubs were down to just 19 players when they played Twin Pines High. By the end of the season they would play a game with 17 players. Most of them, like Shawn, played offense and defense and never took a break. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Before the most important game of the season, against the California School for the Deaf in the Bay Area city of Fremont, the Cubs are escorted onto the field by rumbling motorcycles that few on hand can hear. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Hyped for the big showdown against the Fremont school, which is the Cubs’ chief rival, senior Giovanni Vazquez pumps up his teammates. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Worried about her brother, Shawn’s sister, Gabi, cries during the Fremont game. Shawn had sustained what doctors would later tell his family was a concussion. Never one to give up, though, he would reenter the game. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
The concussion forced Shawn to the sidelines for a game. So he took up other duties as he tried to help his team, even volunteering to be waterboy. The Cubs lost again, this time to Bloomington Christian School, 48-6. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Cubs linemen Andrew Haupert and Pedro Reyes force Brethren Christian Senior High School’s quarterback into a bad pass. There were few plays like this one. The Cubs lost 33-0. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Many of the Cubs, inexperienced, sometimes frightened, and unable to hear other players coming from behind, often collided on the field. In this play, running back Anthony Thompson is stopped from a potential long gain when he hits teammate Giovanni Vazquez. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
All of the Cubs’ opponents had bigger, stronger players and the Cubs paid the price. Two Cubs, sophomore Miguel Pliego, left, and senior Ryan Lane, are injured in this play against Maranatha High. Pliego hurt his knee so badly he was out all season long. The temperature, higher than 100 degrees during the game, didn’t make things any easier. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
His team down 50-0 with one minute left in the Maranatha game, Cubs Coach Keith Adams sends in a play to Galvin Drake, a freshman quarterback. Drake became sick to his stomach when he first set eyes on the tall, strong players from Maranatha. He was too nervous to perform well and lost his starting job. But pushed by Shawn and the others, Drake -- by the end of the season – had become a bright spot, one of the team’s most improved players. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
At halftime of the season’s second game Shawn briefly takes some time alone. It took a while for him to figure out that the Cubs would not be nearly as good as they had been when he was a junior and sophomore. Realizing this was crushing. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Shawn, center, walks to class with his girlfriend, AnaRosa Ramirez, and teammate Taylor Doty. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Cubs player Wallace Soriano moves into his dorm room on the Riverside campus the night before a game. Some of the Cubs, like Shawn, lived in the sparse dorms full time, going home only on weekends. Others stayed with their parents. But the team often slept in the dorms before games to try to build unity. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
The sun casts long shadows as students mingle outside the cafeteria at dinnertime. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
A flirtatious Taylor Doty shows off his strength to classmates before an August practice. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
A big night, the homecoming dance. Cubs senior and homecoming king Giovanni Vazquez dances with queen Kristina Nesel. At the dance, the music blared full blast and with the heaviest beat possible, so the students could better feel it vibrate through the wooden floors and the balloons that hung in the hall. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Shawn and AnaRosa share a laugh at Shawn’s home in Hesperia. He only went home on the weekends. Sometimes she visited him. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Using sign language and expressive gestures Shawn prods the younger players as the team travels to its first game. Often he would sign a simple exhortation: “Come on, come on, come on, you can do it!” (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Two Cubs rest on the bus as it makes its way to the first game. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Cubs players and coaches watch a football game before they take the field for their second game. Already, many of them are nervous and unsure, particularly when they see how good the other teams are. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Shawn never gave up hope and always thought his team could win. Here, he and a teammate rejoice after beating Twin Pines High on the last play of the game. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Cubs sophomore Chris Montes, a boy so thin it looks as if he has more tendon than muscle, gets crushed by two defenders from Twin Pines High. Despite his whippet frame, Montes had some of the best runs of the season. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
The Cubs have just won their first game of the season, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at Coach Keith Adams, upset because they had nearly given up a 21-point lead. They didn’t win again. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)
A pregame ritual. Led by their coaches, the team prays before going up against Twin Pines High. Instead of asking for wins, the coaches often focused their prayers on making sure nobody on their undermanned and undersized team got hurt. (Robert Gauthier / LAT)