The blue No. 21 soccer jersey and the crisp warm-ups sit unused in the O’Connell boys’ soccer team’s locker room, not to be worn this season.
On the field, the Boilermakers wear black armbands tied around one sleeve, another tribute to a former teammate and one of the Academic Athletic Association’s best players in recent memory. Jose Antonio “Tony” Santillan, the AAA’s Most Valuable Player as a senior in 2005, was killed in a stabbing in North Beach this summer at the age of 19. O’Connell has dedicated its season to his memory.
“The captains got together on the first day of practice and told me this is what they wanted,” Boilermakers coach Bob Gamino said. “Tony was a very charismatic, fun-loving kid with a great sense of humor. He was well-liked by both players and coaches.”
Santillan scored 20 goals in his senior year at O’Connell, leading the Boilermakers to the playoffs and drawing interest from top-tier programs such as USF and Santa Clara. He never graduated from high school and was therefore unable to continue his career in college, but Gamino said it wasn’t from lack of effort.
“He wasn’t the best student but he was a hard worker who definitely did try,” Gamino said. “And on the field he could just devastate the other team. Not only could he score, but he had this amazing ability to draw the defense to him and then pass the ball off to an open teammate. It was like bees to honey.”
Thus far this season O’Connell played well in an opening 3-2 loss to rival Mission and has since won two straight. Its next game will be Friday at 3:45 p.m. against International Studies Academy at Franklin Field. The Boilermakers are one game behind the Bears in the AAA’s X Division, while Y Division co-leaders Lowell and Galileo (both 2-0) face off at 3:45 p.m. today at Lowell.
AAA KICKOFF COMING: The AAA football season also gets under way this week when defending Turkey Bowl champion Lincoln hosts Mission at 3 p.m. Also on Friday, there is a doubleheader at Kezar Stadium, with Burton playing Galileo at 3:30 p.m. and Washington facing Lowell at 7 p.m. Balboa plays a nonconference game Friday night at 7 at Oakland before beginning league play next week.
AAA teams compiled a 6-11 record in nonleague games this year, with Mission (2-0) Lowell (1-0) and Washington (2-1) having the most success.
LOWELL LEADS THE WAY: AAA play begins this week in girls’ tennis and girls’ volleyball, and Lowell is looking to protect long winning streaks in both. The Cardinals have claimed the San Francisco Section tennis championship nine consecutive times and have taken the volleyball crown 11 years in a row. For schedules and standings go to the league Web site at www.cifsf.org.