Column: Aldo Infante tries football, stars at quarterback in true Hollywood story
Aldo Infante looks up from the Hollywood High football field and sees history: The Roosevelt Hotel, the El Capitan Theatre, the Hollywood sign, the school‘s auditorium.
“I know this is where everyone wants to come,” he said. “People come for opportunities. A lot of superstars, actors, comedians, came here and accomplished their dreams.”
Infante has lived in Hollywood most of his life and is starring in a sports fable that’s even more far-fetched than Eli Manning’s portrayal of the mythical Chad Powers.
Somehow, some way, in his senior year of high school, with no previous experience playing any team sport, Infante, at quarterback, led Hollywood to a 5-4 record. Last season, the Sheiks went 0-8.
How someone 6 feet 2 and 205 pounds went unnoticed walking around campus and wasn’t recruited to play any sport until he showed up for football tryouts at a park last summer is simply not believable. But it happened.
He attended Fairfax as a freshman, and said he asked to play football after the season began but was told it was too late to join. COVID-19 hit his sophomore year, so no sports. As a junior, he transferred to Hollywood. He wanted to try football but said an attempt to get a physical didn’t happen. The doctor was too busy. Infante would show up to watch home games as Hollywood went winless.
San Pedro earned the No. 1 seed for the City Section Open Division football playoffs while Venice, which the Pirates beat in September, is seeded No. 2.
Enter first-year head coach Alistair Jones, who hadn’t coached since he was an assistant at Lynwood Firebaugh in 2015. He held tryouts last summer. A player told Infante to join a Zoom call for people interested in playing. He showed up for tryouts at a park. There were three quarterbacks.
“I was, ‘Oh my,’” Jones said. “Out of the three, he was the best one with his height and arm.”
Infante had no problem picking up plays. He had a hitch in his throwing motion that was corrected. Then it came time to see how he’d do playing tackle football.
“Our first time tackling I remember was difficult for me,” he said. “I didn’t know how to tackle. I was, ‘I have a big body. I have to put it to use.’ Then everyone started hitting me and people smaller than me were beating me up. I was, ‘OK, this is way harder.’ In my first game, when I got hit by a person, I didn’t feel it but I was, ‘Whoa, that happened really fast.’”
Infante’s football career almost ended after two games. Against Van Nuys, during a 7-0 loss, he wanted to enter the game late to play defensive end in a bid to help the team. He started arguing with Jones loudly on the sideline, with fans able to hear.
“Put me in, I’m better than all of them,” Infante said.
Jones responded, “I’m the coach, you’re the player. If you want my job, you should apply.”
Infante was sent to the locker room not knowing if his football career was over.
It was a moment that might have changed his life. He didn’t know how to express himself when frustrated. He didn’t have a father and had never played a team sport. The baseball coach, Charles Dickerson, talked to him. So did the athletic director. Three days later, Jones talked to him.
“It was a teachable moment,” Jones said. “That’s why I coach football. Some of these kids don’t have fathers. I don’t try to be the father. I try to be the role model. Sometimes you have to be the bad person.”
Kim Bly, LaQuica Hawkins, Crystal Nichols, Zina Jones and Connie Wells became the first all-female officiating crew for a City Section football game on Friday.
Infante said being removed from the game, then let back on the team, was a life lesson he’ll never forget.
“Ever since that day, I’ve been listening more and taking in his advice,” Infante said. “Everything made an impact — all the sequences.”
Unfortunately, Hollywood’s season is over. The Sheiks were not selected for the City Section playoffs.
Whether Infante continues to play football remains uncertain, but what he learned this season is something he’ll take with him for his next job, next relationship, next awkward moment.
“I think me being fatherless has been tough because I’ve never really had that person to mentor me,” he said. “Coach has kind of been my father figure, teaching me stuff.”
As the quarterback for the school with the most famous stadium backdrop in Los Angeles, Infante was a real-life Chad Powers at the school known for producing stars out of nowhere. After playing zero sports for three years of high school, he intends to play soccer and baseball, too.
What a Hollywood story.
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