College football appeared to be in Vaughn Elbek’s future during his junior year at San Marcos High. He played strong safety for the Royals with a ferocity that belied his quiet demeanor. “There was nothing that intense about him until he got on the field and started blasting people,” said Dare Holdren, the team’s defensive coordinator.
Scouts populated San Marcos games because of senior lineman Alex Mack — who went on to play at Cal and is an All-Pro center with the Atlanta Falcons — and they also noticed that Elbek tackled people with an audible finality. It was as if he had a pent-up desire for hard contact after growing up playing soccer.
Ironically, it was on the soccer pitch following the football season that Elbek suffered a shattering injury. “We were playing Santa Maria, and my foot stuck in the grass, and my body kept going,” he recalled. “You could hear the pop a half mile away.” He snapped both bones, the tibia and fibula, in his lower right leg.
Still, if the bones had healed as expected, Elbek had hopes of returning to the gridiron. But after several months, his leg swelled grotesquely, and the worst had happened: an infection that was killing the bone. In danger of losing the leg, Elbek went to a team of surgeons led by Dr. Michael Patzakis at USC. They performed a dozen surgeries. “Bone grafts, muscle grafts, skin grafts,” Elbek said. “I spent a month in a hospital bed. I was basically on crutches for a year. I did a lot of growing. I’ve become passionate about never sitting down again.”
The first time he walked on his own two feet after more than a year, Elbek said, was up to the stage for his graduation from San Marcos in June of 2005.
He realized his dream of playing college football was over after an off-season tryout at College of the Canyons. “My mind was fine, but the strength wasn’t there,” he said. He found work as an electrician through the local union in Buellton, and he retained a simmering passion for sports. He dabbled in beach volleyball, adult soccer, and kickboxing. He also became a coach in Friday Night Lights, a junior high flag football program.
All that activity led to a milestone this month, when Elbek opened 9Round Fitness, a gym in the Kmart center in Goleta. It is the newest of more than 500 worldwide franchises started by world champion kickboxer Shannon Hudson. In a crowded fitness market, 9Round’s selling point is a complete workout in a half hour, three minutes at nine different stations, with a menu that changes every day. Trainers are on hand to assist the clients, but there are no class times.
“Just show up and get started,” Elbek said. “We don’t teach fighting. It’s a circuit training routine with kickboxing concepts.” By offering a free initial session, he has signed up 90 members in Goleta. Several of them showed up at the end of a work day last week.
“We work full-time and wanted something short and effective,” said Jaime Delfin, who participated with his wife and 13-year-old daughter. “I feel all the stresses leaving me.”
Elbek often puts himself through the routine, but on this day, he was busy welcoming people and, every 30 minutes or so, mopping sweat off the floor, the evidence of his extending fitness from himself to others.
Behind the successes of the great U.S. women’s soccer team that won the 1996 Olympic gold medal and the 1999 World Cup — emblazoning such names as Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm, and Julie Foudy in the national sports memory banks — was Tony DiCicco, a man who coached them with an effective low-key style.
Andrew Butcher, head coach of the Santa Barbara High girls’ basketball team, has an everlasting appreciation of DiCicco from reading the soccer coach’s book, Catch Them Being Good: Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Coach Girls.
“He helped me understand things that drove me crazy,” Butcher said, “like a girl I singled out for having a great game, and she starts crying because she feels embarrassed. It’s their pack mentality. Girls like to share, compromise, cooperate. DiCicco pinpoints those things. You have to teach them that standing out isn’t a bad thing if you’re doing good things for the team.”
Butcher, like any coach, wants his players to be motivated. “When there’s a rebound, you want to get it. You want to get the loose ball. DiCicco was big on winning the 50-50 ball in soccer.”
Winning those balls added up to a pile of victories. DiCicco’s U.S. teams compiled a 103-8-8 record in international matches.
Stricken with cancer, DiCicco died last week at 68. He was the father of four, all boys, but he had lots of girls who fulfilled their dreams with his guidance.
Foresters Player of the Week
Easley’s abbreviated season with the Foresters came to a Hollywood ending last Thursday. Due to report back to the Air Force Academy for summer training, the outfielder known as “The Colonel” singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, capping Santa Barbara’s 4-3 comeback win over the So Cal Catch. In 11 games with the Foresters, Easley had a .375 batting average and a .487 on-base percentage. They’ll miss him when the Neptune Beach Pearl, the league’s winningest team from Alameda, visits Pershing Park this weekend. On the Fourth of July, the Foresters will host a 4:30 p.m. game against the Conejo Oaks.