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Enzo, the high school football team’s diminutive half-Filipino and half-Italian striker, scored two goals last week that won us the NCAA-South title and was also named the tournament’s MVP. Then he went on a sorry binge that had him either arriving late for training or skipping it altogether. Duty… That was the rest of the team’s natural conclusion.

When he arrived late again last Tuesday, I thought it was time to give him a dose. That meant he was totally overlooked when the two sides for scrimmage were formed; and asked to lap around the oval until it was dark.

After scrimmage, as the boys stretched to cool down, I asked Enzo to place both palms under his chin and hold these there. The boys have been with me since they were snotty freshmen; and so Enzo naturally knew from my tone of voice alone that it was best to just follow.

Albeit, there was this quizzical-cum-comical look on his face that told me his brain was still trying to process the rationale behind the instruction; and it did not look like his brain was succeeding. So, I finally relented and explained that his palms were to hold his head up – it had become too big and heavy.

I just chose a graphical way to drive home a point – that in football, as in any other endeavor – there is really no half way to success. If the lad grows a few more inches, he has the skills and the engine to one day play for the Azkals. But his feet have to remain rooted to the ground; that and the fact that he needs to get a Filipino passport.

The latter is the strangest thing. Alright, so he has an Italian father. But his European lineage is belied by the thick Batangueño punto, never mind that his appearance is totally white Caucasian.

Keeping talented players focused is something coaches the world over periodically need to do; in all levels of football at that. In the seventies and eighties, the day after Liverpool’s international players returned from representing their countries, they were given more work on the training grounds than those who were still to win international caps and stayed behind.

That was done, one of the coaches explained, “to keep the bigheads’ feet on the ground.”

Back to the dose Enzo deservedly received the other day, D-Y, the team’s leftback who often doubles as the team clown or the village idiot – and the choice is yours – added insult to injury by saying to Enzo, “Dapat ganito!” And he promptly made a V with his palms upside down under his chin, pretty much like the pose a slut would strike for a Playboy pictorial.

For the record, Enzo was early for training the next day.

This afternoon, meanwhile, I had just changed to my playing gear and was starting to stretch when Luis, one of the seniors of the high school team, suddenly called out to me, “Sir, nosebleed!”

My instinct, naturally, was to look at his face. There was no sign of blood streaming from his nose.

He proceeded to nod his head in the direction of a small boy who he was apparently asked to teach some basics. I naturally took a look at the small boy’s face as well. There was no sign of blood, either.

I realized that Luis was wearing this comical-cum-embarrassed look on his face; so I approached him to find out what he meant. “Kinakausap ko pô; kayâ pala hindî nasagot…” Luis told me by way of an explanation.

Then, Luis’ face broke into a really embarrassed grin. I know the kids use the term “nosebleed” to mean a variety of things these days; and so, it took me a while to realize that Luis was, as a matter of fact, pleading with me to get him out of a sticky situation.

Sabi na kasing h’wag tutulugan ang English classes…

I spontaneously burst out laughing so hard it almost hurt my side! Turning to the small boy, I asked, “Where you from, the States?”

“Canada,” was the boy’s reply.

“Do you speak Tagalog?” He shook his head.

“Are your parents both Filipinos?” Yes daw.

“Where do you live?” I wanted to know. “You mean here?” he asked me, eyebrows arched. Duh… But I was talking to an elementary kid and did not say that.

“Yeah, here! Do you live in Lipa?” He does.

“Don’t your parents speak to you in Tagalog?” No daw. I thought that was strange. Luis and I had a laugh about it again much later and I told him most Filipino kids who grow up in English-speaking countries can at least understand Tagalog, even if they are hesitant to try speaking the language.

“My nephews in the States are that way,” I said to Luis. He nodded his head and said his cousins in the States are like that, too.

I was already on my way home but still could not stop laughing to myself about the incident. Finally, I sent Luis this text message, “Nosebleed… Ahahaha!”

One day I will give up working with adolescent boys; and more than anything, it is their ability to find humor in just about anything – and infect me with it in the process – that I will miss the most.