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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Memories of a legend Aunese's impressive impact still felt by current Panthers



Now and then, Roger Price will pull out the 1985 game films from his undefeated senior football season at Vista High.

Price, a former running back, isn't watching himself carrying the football, despite the fact that he was the Panthers' leading rusher that season.

He loves to watch Sal Aunese.

Aunese, the smooth quarterback who was a star for Colorado when he died of stomach cancer in 1989, dazzled defenders when he was on the run.

"He was magic with a football in his hands," Price said. "The day he walked onto campus, I was thrilled, because I knew how good he was. I played against him in Little League and I thought he was special then, and he was only 12.

"I'd rather play football with him than any guy I ever had as a teammate. He was special person on a very special team."

Such feelings were the norm at Vista when Aunese paced the Panthers to the CIF San Diego Section 3A title in '85, trouncing Helix 35-7 in the finals. Aunese rushed 14 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns against the Highlanders, giving him 1,174 yards on 121 carries with 16 TDs for the season.

And it was that way at Colorado, where Aunese was the Big Eight newcomer of the year after his sophomore year in 1987.

When Aunese died Sept. 23, 1989, the reaction in Boulder, Colo., was the same as it was in Vista. So shocked were the Buffaloes, they encased Aunese's locker in glass for the remainder of the '89 season.

"I thought Sal would beat it," said Price, now 39. "Knowing him, I'm still shocked it beat him. The last time I saw him alive, he looked fine. Six months later, he was dead."

But Aunese's mark on both teams lives on even today.

His contribution to a team went way beyond just the statistics. No matter what position he played -- he was a safety as a sophomore at Vista -- Aunese was the acknowledged team leader. It was everyone's job to follow Sal.

"I heard about him after I graduated, so I went to see a few games his senior year, and he was the best quarterback I ever saw running an offense," said current Vista coach Dan Williams. "If you let Sal turn the corner, it was over. You had to get him to pitch the ball and hope someone could tackle the other guy. He was a God-given talent, a once-in-a-lifetime player. You can't teach that vision and athleticism."

Aunese's number remains the only one retired by Vista.

"Every kid who ever puts on a football jersey at this school knows all about Sal," Williams said. "They know why No. 8 is the only retired number."

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