The tragic news stunned Lanier head football coach Don Gatian, sending his mind spinning as he tried to grasp what he had just heard.
Two of his former players, both San Antonio police officers, had been shot by a man they intended to question about a vehicle break-in during a routine patrol near San Antonio College on June 29.
Miguel Moreno, 32, died a day after the shooting. His partner, Julio Cavazos, was wounded but survived. Cavazos, 36, was released from the hospital on July 4 and attended Moreno’s funeral three days later.
“It devastated me,” Coach Gatian said. “When I found out, I told my wife, ‘I need to go. I need to be by myself, just to process things of what has happened and get myself straight about this.’ I had to do some soul searching, talking to myself.
“What went through my mind was what are the odds of them – both Lanier grads, both playing for me, both in the same car – [being] at the same place at the same time?”
Despite getting shot in the chin and chest, Cavazos summoned the strength and courage to drag Moreno out of the line of fire. Cavazos shot back at the fleeing gunman, 34-year-old Andrew Bice, hitting him in the buttocks. Bice shot himself in the head as he fled and died later at University Hospital. His death was ruled a suicide by the county medical examiner.
“It doesn’t surprise me that Julio did what he did,” Coach Gatian said. “Miguel would have done the same for him. Julio was just taking care of his friend and his fellow officer.”
Gatian, 60, has been head football coach at Lanier for 19 seasons and has been on the school’s coaching staff since 1994. Moreno and Cavazos were both offensive linemen when they played for the Voks.
“They were both small for offensive linemen, but they overcame their size, produced, and did a good job,” Gatian said.
A 1999 Lanier graduate, Cavazos was a senior on the 1998 team that made the playoffs and went 8-4 in Gatian’s first season as head coach. The playoff berth that year was Lanier’s first since 1940.
Moreno graduated in 2002 and was a junior in 2000 when the Voks made the playoffs and finished 9-2.
“He was quiet, a very quiet young man,” Gatian said of Moreno. “He led by example, never caused any problems. If there were two things we could count on from Miguel was, one, he was going to be at practice every day, [and] two, he was always going to be eligible because he was great at academics. I think he finished sixth in his graduating class in ’02.”
Coach Gatian recalled that Cavazos was the smallest offensive lineman on the 1998 team.
“He probably worked harder than anybody else because he was smaller,” Coach Gatian recalled. “He didn’t talk back, but he’s always come up with some one-liners that would make you laugh. Both of them were enjoyable to coach.”
Lanier will honor Moreno at its first home game this season – against Holy Cross on Aug. 31 at the SAISD Sports Complex. The Voks’ helmets also will bear a decal of his jersey number 63 throughout the season.
Dozens of Coach Gatian’s former players have gone on to get college degrees, including five who are on his coaching staff now. John Paul Boone (Class of 1999), Johnny Cervantes (2000), Yvan Salazar (2000) and Sal Tellez (2001) are varsity assistants, and Johnny Reyes (2003) is a freshman coach. Salazar is the Voks’ defensive coordinator and Tellez runs the defense.
“This has hit close to home,” Tellez said of the attack on Moreno and Cavazos. “Our mentality at Lanier under Coach Gatian always has been to play for one another. We are all close. I know Julio would have helped anybody, but it’s really something that the person he helped also was from Lanier. I’m sure Miguel would have done the same for him or anybody else.”
Tellez, who has been on Gatian’s staff for the past four years, said that Lanier’s football program is grounded in discipline.
“I was lucky enough to have both parents, but a bunch of our kids didn’t have that,” Tellez said. “Coach Gatian was always big on discipline. It didn’t matter who you were. He’s going to be very straightforward with you, whether you want to hear it or not. He’s just that type of guy. That rubs off on us.
“Obviously, some kids didn’t like that because it was new to them. But the ones who really wanted to be in the program adapted to that and bought into his way because, at the end of the day, that’s what got us through high school and where we’re at right now.”
Though shaken and saddened, the predominantly Hispanic Lanier community has been galvanized by the recent tragedy.
“It’s a close-knit community, and when something happens or something’s going on, everybody’s there for support and help in any way that they can,” Coach Gatian noted.
One of the oldest high schools in San Antonio, Lanier always has been a source of pride for the young and the old in the neighborhoods that surround the campus. Coach Gatian has had opportunities to coach elsewhere, but his loyalty to the Voks runs deep.
“It’s the kids, the community, the environment,” said Gatian when asked why he’s never chosen to seek greener pastures. “These are kids who are told they can’t be anything or do anything. My goal, all the time, was teach them life lessons. We’re not blessed with the great athletes who are going to go Division I year in and year out. We need to prepare them for life, to be successful citizens.
“The times that I have looked to go elsewhere, [parents] will beg me not to leave. They tell me, ‘My son will be there in three years’ or ‘My son will be there in five years. We want you to coach here.’ The people there made me feel wanted.”
Born in Morgantown, West Virginia, Coach Gatian went to high school in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania and played college baseball at Louisville. He played pro baseball in Canada after graduating from Louisville in 1979.
Gatian moved to the San Antonio area in 1984 when he joined Jim Rose’s staff at Somerset. Gatian was an assistant to Rose for six years before succeeding him as head coach in 1990. He coached the Bulldogs until moving to Lanier in 1994.
Gatian says that he enjoys coaching on the high school level because of the opportunity coaches have to develop long-term relationships with their athletes.
“You get to know them more on a personal basis,” Coach Gatian explained. “You get to meet mom and dad. If they don’t have both a mom and dad, you get to know the one parent. It adds a little more of a personal thing when you get to meet the parents.
“In my parent meeting we have at the beginning of the school year, I tell the parents, ‘I’m going to treat your sons the way I treated mine.’ I see them for athletic period first thing in the morning, see them throughout the school day, then we have practice after school. During football season, they spend more time with me than they do their own parents.”
Coach Gatian said that he derives the most satisfaction from his job when former players drop by school and visit.
“It makes it worthwhile knowing that some of the guys you’ve coached are grown men and many of them are successful,” Coach Gatian said. “They have families and have good jobs. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.”
The Lanier community has been drawn even closer by the tragedy that took Moreno’s life and left Cavazos wounded.
“It always feels like it’s family when you lose somebody,” Boone said. “We take that for granted sometimes. Players come and go, but each one of them is connected to the Lanier community.”