ABOVE: Raul Lira (No. 11) watches a play from the sideline.
There have been heroes and unsung heroes along the way.
Raul Lira has quietly clocked in and out for Rosemead High School.
The senior has become a fixture in coach Matt Koffler’s lineup at wide receiver. Don’t forget returning punts and kickoffs, too.
He’s returned six of them for touchdowns and averages nearly 31 yards per catch this season.
And whoever said ftbol and football don’t mix couldn’t have been more wrong.
Lira is on the Panthers soccer team.
But more impressively, this is his first season playing varsity football.
His near-30 yards per catch could be an added weapon for Rosemead when it travels to Palmdale to play Paraclete on Saturday night at 7 at Knight High School in the CIF-Southern Section Mid-Valley Division championship game.
Lira initially tried out for the football team his sophomore season but decided it wasn’t for him, yet.
When he came to tryouts this spring Koffler didn’t think he’d make an impact, at least not initially.
“He came in this season and stuck it out,” Koffler said. “First year guys don’t usually do good their first year because of the physicality of the way we do things but Lira responded very well. He’s helped us big time.”
Lira has spent time with the track and field team and it was in soccer where he not only built his stamina from running the entire game but also learned to play physical, something he quickly adjusted to while playing for the Panthers.
“When he first came we just had to mold his mind and become a competitor on the field,” Koffler said. “Obviously, being that he was on the varsity soccer team he already knew how to compete.”
Most soccer players who join football teams usually become kickers for obvious reasons.
Lira was the exception to the rule.
“His speed and aestheticism is a huge asset,” Koffler said. “It’s that burst of speed he has that makes it hard to defend and keep up with; his change of direction is good, his feet are real good.
“He’s just a blessing to see out there so fast with the ball. Obviously, we like that.”
Much was said about the frigid temperatures waiting for Rosemead come game time Saturday night in Palmdale.
A low of 27 degrees is expected Saturday night, though winds could make it more difficult.
Koffler on Monday lobbied for the Panthers to receive winter gear and he got exactly that the next day.
The combined efforts of the athletic department and Rosemead High School helped provide winter jackets, gloves and thermals for the Panthers.
“We’re in the process of ordering some stuff,” an ecstatic Koffler said.
FORMER USC TROJAN
It’s probably not widely known, but Koffler played backup quarterback for USC behind Rob Johnson.
Though he went 0-4 against crosstown rival UCLA, one of Koffler’s major accomplishments as a Trojan was passing for the longest touchdown in USC football history, a 97-yard bomb to R. Jay Soward against Illinois in 1996.
So it was especially meaningful to Koffler that USC coach Pete Carroll was the keynote speaker at Monday’s CIF-Southern Section football press conference and luncheon.
“It’s always good to see coach Carroll,” he said. “His motivation, the way he talks and his always high energy is pehnominal.”
When teams like Rosemead reach the finals for the first time in more than a decade, former players who were there tend to return and try to lend some help.
Take Temple City for example. When the Rams were in the semifinals of the Mid-Valley Division playoffs, among the fans was former Temple City star and USC running back Desmond Reed attended the game to support the Rams.
Such was the case this week when Koffler received a letter from Derek Bland. He was on the Panthers team that won the 1982 CIF championship.
“We’re getting former players coming in and we’ll try to have them talk to the kids later in the week,” Koffler said. “Anybody that has played high school football knows what position we are in.
“Although it’s in Palmdale we feel we’re going to have a good showing Saturday.”