Small in stature, big on talent

It's rare to see Kevin Pizarro get embarrassed on a soccer field. He's that talented as a player.

Yet, embarrassed is how Pizarro said he felt when during a December practice he lined up with the rest of his Estancia High teammates. As the Eagles prepared to wrap things up, Coach Robert Castellano introduced them to a special guest, Gannon Burks.

Burks used to run the program for six seasons, before Castellano succeeded him four seasons ago. When Burks led the Eagles, players held a high opinion of themselves in the first couple of seasons.

"They thought they were superstars," said Castellano, who used to be Burks' top assistant.

Burks came up with an idea to bring the Eagles back down to earth. Castellano remembers how Burks asked each player, 'All right, you think you're a superstar? Show me you're a star."

In front of everyone, Burks made the players perform an exercise, which involved them jumping while yelling, "I'm a star!" The stunt, Castellano said, made players laugh, and it humbled them.

It had been a while since Castellano asked Burks to address his team in this fashion, and Burks reminded him two months ago. Toward the end of that December practice, Burks came out. When he introduced himself to the players and a new drill for them to do, Pizarro couldn't believe it.

"You got to be kidding me?" Pizarro said. "We have to do this?"

The youngest players on the team went first. With Pizarro being a sophomore, his turn came up quickly.

Castellano said Pizarro actually did awfully well during his "I'm-a-star!" leaping act. Maybe that's because Pizarro has played like a star for the Eagles this season.

Estancia is in the CIF Southern Section playoffs for the third straight season because of Pizarro. The forward leads the team with 11 goals and 11 assists.

At 5 feet 7 and 135 pounds, Pizarro is usually the smallest player on the field. Don't let his size fool you. He has experience, and at an early age, Pizarro said he competed against men as old as 40. His two older brothers — Chris Pizarro, who played for Estancia, and Juan Gonzalez, who played for Newport Harbor — were also tough on him.

"They made him grow up very quick," said Castellano, who has Chris Pizarro around to help train the goalkeepers. "Chris is always talking in Kevin's ear. Kevin scored two goals last week in one game, and his brother was like, 'You should've scored more.' "

Since Kevin Pizarro arrived as a freshman, he has made an impact. He got off to a rousing start to his second season, producing eight goals and four assists in the first 10 matches.

Almost halfway through this season, Pizarro surpassed his stats (seven goals and two assists) from his freshman campaign in which he earned first-team All-Orange Coast League and Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team honors. Then he hit a bit of a goal-scoring slump once the New Year rang in. Pizarro only recorded three goals the rest of the way, but he found other ways to contribute by creating scoring chances for others.

The Eagles placed third in the Orange Coast League for the second time with Pizarro. He helped the team clinch one of the league's three automatic berths into the Division 5 playoffs with his play last week.

Pizarro produced two goals in the Eagles' 3-0 win against Costa Mesa at Jim Scott Stadium, ensuring they claimed the Battle for the Bell rivalry for the second time in three seasons. In the next match, at home against Saddleback, Pizarro didn't find the back of the net, but he assisted on the goals by Abarham Cortez and Chris Moya in a 2-0 victory against the defending CIF Southern Section Division 5 champion.

The triumph turned out to be the Eagles' first against Saddleback in three seasons and it put them in position to contend for a league title. The Eagles needed to win the final two league matches of the season this week to claim league for the first time since the 2009-10 season, Castellano's first as the head coach. They fell short, losing on the road to eventual league champion Godinez, 4-0, on Tuesday, and then tying Calvary Chapel, 2-2, at home on Thursday.

The finish in league isn't what Pizarro expected. The season isn't over for Estancia (12-5-5, 5-2-3 in league), with the postseason beginning next week, but Castellano knows there's a good chance this might be Pizarro's final season with the Eagles.

"He might play academy," said Castellano of Pizarro, who last summer traveled with his club team, the Irvine-based Strikers, and played in the Northern Ireland Milk Cup tournament, winning the globe final in the junior division. "I'm not going to try and talk him into [returning], but we're going to try and do really well in CIF. It's his decision. We'd love to have him back."

Kevin Pizarro

Born: Jan. 12, 1998

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Height: 5 feet 7

Weight: 135 pounds

Sport: Soccer

Year: Sophomore

Coach: Robert Castellano

Favorite food: Carne asada tacos

Favorite movie: "Ride Along"

Favorite athletic moment: Traveling with his club team, the Irvine-based Strikers, and playing in the Northern Ireland Milk Cup tournament last summer.

Week in review: Pizarro scored two goals and assisted on two goals, helping Estancia beat Costa Mesa, 3-0, and Saddleback, 2-0, to clinch one of the Orange Coast League's three guaranteed berths into the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs.

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