José Luis Villegas jvillegas@sacbee.com Guillermo Salazar said he appreciates his teammates' support but feels bad that his coaches lost their jobs. Salazar was prepared to turn in his football pads.

High school football: Rio Americano player says he respects fired coaches' stand

Published: Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6C
Last Modified: Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012 - 12:39 pm

Guillermo Salazar feels bad that Christian Mahaffey and two assistants lost their jobs as Rio Americano High School football coaches.

Yet it was the starting wide receiver-defensive end's request to miss an Oct. 13 home game against Whitney to attend a high school baseball showcase in Arizona that ultimately led to the coaches' firing Tuesday by Rio Americano principal Brian Ginter.

The coaches opposed Ginter's decision to reinstate 11 players who had left the team in support of Salazar.

Mahaffey's firing left Salazar conflicted. On one hand, he appreciated that most of his fellow senior teammates were willing to put the rest of their high school football careers on the line to support him.

On the other hand, he respected Mahaffey and his assistants for their resolute stand.

Mahaffey was aware that Salazar's top priority was baseball. It's his favorite sport – he also plays basketball for the Raiders – and one in which he thinks he can earn a scholarship.

"(Mahaffey) knew I was a baseball guy first, and if there was any conflict between football and baseball, I'd choose baseball," Salazar said.

Mahaffey was agreeable, allowing Salazar to miss three weeks of summer practices and one practice after the fall season started, to play travel baseball.

"When I grew up, you played two or three sports, and that's the way it should be," Mahaffey said before his release. "But now there's all the extra stuff – fall baseball, fall basketball, combines, camps. Once we hit fall, and our kids start playing, the focus has to be football."

Salazar agreed to Mahaffey's request that he participate in the Raiders' football camp at the end of June in Madera, passing on a key Stockton baseball showcase that draws nearly 50 college recruiters.

Coming off a junior season in which he was an All-Capital Athletic League selection, Salazar, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound pitcher-corner infielder, was playing well and had the attention of nearly a dozen colleges, according to Dan Sozzi, his club travel coach.

"Before the camp, he was hitting the ball as well as any kid who has ever played for me," said Sozzi, who has been putting together elite travel teams since 2001.

But at the football camp, Salazar injured his back. It plagued him throughout the rest of the summer, affecting his swing in baseball.

When school started and the football season got under way, Salazar still had no college baseball scholarship offers.

But there was still the Fall Showcase Classic on Oct. 11-14 in Peoria, Ariz. The event is held at the multi-field complex shared by the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.

It's one of the biggest and most prestigious showcase events in the nation, last year drawing more than 400 college coaches and 30 major-league scouts.

This year's event is even more important because it's one of Salazar's last chances to land a college scholarship by the national letter-of-intent signing day in February. He also has been invited to try out for the Fall Classic's prestigious All-Academic Game on Oct. 11 for players with grade-point averages of 3.5 or better. Salazar maintains a 3.8 GPA.

But while Salazar's parents long ago had paid for their son to attend the event, Salazar realized he had neglected to tell Mahaffey.

When he finally did, Mahaffey gave him the choice – either play in the Oct. 13 football game or quit the team.

"I thought he reacted the way any head coach would," Salazar said. "I'd hoped to just miss the game and be able to continue to play (football). But he made his decision, and I respected it. I was going to turn in my pads the next day."

That's when 11 of his senior teammates stepped in and gave Mahaffey the "either he plays, or we walk" ultimatum that led to his coaching dismissal.

"I'm happy I'm still playing (football), but I'm not happy that the coaches lost their jobs," said Salazar, who called Mahaffey after his dismissal.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Bill Paterson



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