By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
The admirable qualities of Baldwin Park quarterback Manny Salcedo and wide receiver Christian Lazaro would make the Baldwin Park old-timers proud. The seniors know about the Braves’ tradition and what it would mean if they could knock off San Dimas on Friday.
San Dimas (8-1, 4-0) is the No. 2-ranked team in the Mid-Valley Division, just ahead of No. 4 Baldwin Park (8-1, 4-0), who will host Friday’s Valle Vista League game for the championship.
“It would be hell on Earth around here,” Salcedo said if the Braves pulled it off. “The fans in Baldwin Park have been waiting a long time. The school has been waiting. That’s why we work our butt off, for games like this.”
For Salcedo, who tore his quadriceps in practice after just four games in his junior season, it’s even more personal.
The Braves were 3-1 when he was sidelined last year and won just one game the rest of the way.
“It was hard to watch, hard to stomach,” Salcedo said. “I kept thinking about what coach (James) Heggins said, that any play can be your last, that you never know what’s going to happen. Ever since then I have worked harder than I ever have to get back and help this team.
“During the summer I was always here – my mom mad at me because I was never home. My girlfriend mad at me because I’m not in her arms. It was all for football.”
And so far, it has paid off.
The Braves are off to their best start since winning the Sierra League title in 1992, which also is the last time a Braves team advanced past the second round of the playoffs.
There was a time when Baldwin Park was one of the perennial powers in the Valley and won 11 league titles in 12 years from 1977-89. The Braves won a CIF championship in 1980, and again in 1991 behind legendary coach Tony Zane.
“We know we have a chance to bring this city together,” Lazaro said. “We have taken little steps the last few years, but we want those big steps. This is it for the seniors. We want to leave a mark. That’s why we work so hard during practice, after practice, because we’re hungry.”
Lazaro, a 6-foot-2, 180-pounder, is a defensive back’s nightmare. He’s quick, fast and elusive with great hands and has a chemistry with Salcedo they have been honing since they were 8 years old.
More than half of Salcedo’s 56 completions have gone to Lazaro, who has 32 receptions for 582 yards and eight touchdowns.
Lazaro’s stock has risen so quickly he has received interest from Oregon, Oregon State, UNLV and Idaho.
“We know each other like the back of our hands,” Salcedo said. “No matter what he’s (Lazaro) always in my sight, always in my vision. Even when I throw a bad pass, he finds a way to come down with it. He’s made me who I am.”
The respect is mutual.
“I don’t do this alone, our team has a lot of heart and that kid (Salcedo) is phenomenal,” Lazaro said. “He’s a double threat because he can run and has so much heart. He’s smart, he leads us and is great under pressure.
“I’ll take him over anyone in the Valley.”
It’s not that uncommon for a quarterback and receiver to have such a close bond. But Heggins said their will to win is so empowering it rubs off on the rest of the team.
“Any team that aspires to be a champion needs those type of guys to lead them,” Heggins said. “They hang back after practice and they work at routes, sometimes come up with their own routes.
“When you get that from your leaders, it’s not hard getting everyone else on board.”
Come Friday, Salcedo knows what to expect. He noted San Dimas is the best team they face all season up to this point.
“They’re legit, we know that, it’s a great challenge,” Salcedo said. “But don’t under-estimate our heart. We’re overlooked too much.
“It’s understandable after going 4-6 last year, but we learned a lesson from it. We’re not that same team. We want this for ourselves, the school and everyone that played here.”
Want more perspective, ask Lazaro.
“San Dimas sweats like us and puts their clothes on just like we do,” he said. “We respect who they are and what they have done, but we feel like this is our time and our home field.
“We don’t want to let this chance slip away.”
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