Something special seems to happen every time cornerback Alex Mascarenas of Mission Viejo is on the football field.
He can change the outcome of a play by using a burst of speed. He can anticipate where a quarterback intends to throw as if reading his mind. He can inject himself into a play by coming out of nowhere to make a tackle.
"Alex is absolutely amazing," Coach Bob Johnson said.
A year ago, Mascarenas was a sophomore starter who opponents often tested because he was 15 years old and supposedly lacking in experience.
All he did was come up with eight interceptions and become the only sophomore selected to the Pac-5 Division all-star team.
This season, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Mascarenas has more speed, more strength and is ready to create more havoc on defense. He had 10 tackles in Mission Viejo's 26-22 season-opening victory over Cincinnati Moeller in Ohio on Saturday.
His athleticism is something to admire. He started at second base for the baseball team and averaged close to 20 points a game when he played freshman basketball. His sister, Toni, was a three-time All-American softball player at Arizona.
He thrives on challenges and isn't afraid of one-on-one matchups.
"If you get beat at cornerback, everyone knows you made the mistake," he said. "I guess it helps me play better."
During the summer, Mascarenas was easy to identify in the seven-on-seven passing games. If opponents dared to throw in his direction, he'd find a way to assert himself. He had five interceptions at the Dana Point Dana Hills tournament in June.
"He's very instinctive," Johnson said. "He's very quick to react."
Mascarenas has been playing football since he was 11. He started as a quarterback.
"I like hitting people better than getting hit," he said.
Saturday morning tells Mascarenas what kind of game he had Friday night.
"Usually after every game, I'm sore," he said. "It means I was in a football game. I don't look forward to it, but I guess it's a good sign when I wake up."
What gets Mascarenas pumped up is the physicality of the sport.
"It's just knowing when you're going to get a good hit on someone, then doing it and seeing the reaction from everyone," he said. "It's fun."
Johnson never has to worry whether Mascarenas is working hard to keep improving. It's part of his makeup.
During the summer, he would work out in the school's weight room or drive to the beach to run barefoot in the sand.
"I just know I have to keep playing hard and working hard because it will pay off in the end," he said. "I'm always trying to do my best because somebody might be watching you at any time."
Many principals are quick to fire their football coaches after 0-10 seasons, but Chino Hills Ayala Principal Mike Vaughn stuck with Tom Inglima, and look what happened last week: Ayala defeated Duarte, 35-7, in its season opener, showing the program could be turning around.
Inglima was an assistant at Santa Margarita during the Carson Palmer days and got hired just weeks before spring practice began last year. The losses last season "were frustrating," he said.
People were complaining, "and I don't blame them," he said.
Now he's got a different problem.
"We're learning how to deal with a win, which is foreign to us," he said.
One big plus for Ayala is that Vaughn approved the hiring of former Ayala players Randy and Robby Reams as teachers and assistant coaches. They've made major contributions. Now Ayala's players have to keep improving and make sure they're not satisfied with their one victory.
USC gets credit for being the first college to have its recruiting letter arrive at Los Angeles Fairfax, intended for 6-10 junior center Renardo Sidney, the transfer from Lakewood Artesia who began classes Wednesday.
Coach Harvey Kitani has dealt with his share of high-profile basketball prospects through the years, including Sean Higgins and Chris Mills, but Sidney could be the No. 1 center prospect for 2009, meaning Kitani had better get his cellphone plan in order.
UCLA-bound quarterback Nick Crissman of Huntington Beach Edison woke up in the middle of the night Monday feeling sick. He underwent an appendectomy and was expected to be released from the hospital Thursday.
He will sit out the 12th-ranked Chargers' next two games, including tonight's against No. 24 San Clemente at Orange Coast College.
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at email@example.com