May 18, 2024

To watch Roberto Salazar of Crenshaw High boom a punt 50 yards is stunning when you consider he’s had zero training other than coach Robert Garrett telling him, “Drop the ball and kick it.”

“I’ve never been taught and never played soccer,” said the 16-year-old junior, who has a 3.8 grade-point average.

So let’s examine the scene a week ago. Crenshaw had fourth and goal at the three-yard line against rival Dorsey while trailing 34-32 with 37 seconds left. Garrett faced a tough decision. Should he go for it and try for a touchdown or send out Salazar for a field goal? The kicker had not made one all season.

Like punting, Salazar learned kicking from Garrett.

“He just told me, ‘Take three steps back, take two steps to the side, run to the ball, keep your head down and kick it through,’” Salazar said.

It was a nerve-racking moment for Salazar, who’s 6 feet 3, 186 pounds and prides himself on being able to do anything. He also starts at receiver and plays safety too.

Roberto Salazar is a three-sport athlete for Crenshaw trying to make catch in football game.

Roberto Salazar is a three-sport athlete for Crenshaw trying to make catch in football game.

(Robert S. Helfman)

“I was nervous,” he said. “It was loud. My teammates told me to take a deep breath and focus.”

Salazar made the 20-yard field goal to put Crenshaw ahead in what would be a 37-34 victory after a last-second safety.

“It was a sigh of relief,” he said. “It was either I make it and everyone loves me or I miss it and all of Crenshaw is mad.”

Welcome to the world of a kicker’s greatest dream and most heartbreaking nightmare.

On Monday morning, Salazar showed up at school and was greeted as a hero.

“Everybody was coming up to me, ‘You did it.’ It was a big deal,” he said.

His sister, Citlali, who played basketball for Crenshaw and is attending Cal State San Bernardino, was at the game to provide support.

Salazar is an example of a teenager who loves being part of a team and contributing any way he can. He comes off the bench for the basketball team and immediately makes an impact with his hustle, rebounding and making threes. He almost hit a home run for the baseball team and tried pitching for the first time. If the golf team needed him, he’d probably try that even though he never has swung a golf club.

“He’s phenomenal at school and on the field,” Garrett said. “He wants to kick. It’s his mission to kick. He has practiced himself to become a great kicker.”

Garrett was asked if he would have let the Salazar of last season try a 20-yard field goal.

“He wasn’t bad but wasn’t good,” Garrett said. “I would not have. He was very inconsistent. I would have taken the odds and gone for it.”

Salazar’s improvement and determination to succeed earned Garrett’s trust, and Crenshaw now finds itself in a three-way tie for first place in the Coliseum League with one week left in the regular season.

The only question is how good Salazar could become as a punter with professional instruction?

His size, athleticism and work ethic scream out that he can get better.

“He plays really hard,” basketball coach Ed Waters said, “and by the time he went into 10th grade last year, his athleticism and length became a factor for us.”

Salazar’s father, Roberto Sr., played basketball at Bell and is a construction worker. His mother, Estelle, works in daycare. He also has a younger sister. He has been taught that education is the way to succeed.

Of course, if anyone wants to have a pickup game, whether basketball, ping-pong, billiards, dodgeball, kickball or handball, Salazar will be the first to volunteer.

“I’ll try anything,” he said.

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