Jeff Bertani rarely forgets the faces and names of his players.
So when he saw a photo of Rudy Eugene --the man now known as the "face eating" naked man shot dead by Miami police over the weekend on the MacArthur Causeway -- the hairs on the back of Bertani's neck stood up.
The veteran high school football coach at North Miami Beach Senior High recognized Eugene almost instantly.
"He didn't play for me very long -- one season -- but I'm pretty good with faces," Bertani said. "No doubt he played for us. It's still pretty shocking to know that guy played for us."
Bertani, entering his 16th season as the head coach of the Chargers, said Eugene spent three years at North Miami Beach High, but only played for him as a junior in 1998.
The Herald has reported that Eugene graduated from North Miami High in 2000. The Pioneers football coach then, Gil Lora, has been unreachable for comment.
"He was about 6-foot, 185-pounds, kind of a quiet, normal kid," Bertani said. "He was an average player, nothing special, played defensive end for us.
"I don't remember having any problems with him except at the end, when he said he was going to transfer to North Miami. Today, I kind of wish someone might have done more to help him."
Bertani said a few former players who knew Eugene after graduation stopped by his office today to talk about the shocking development over the weekend.
"Those guys had heard he had some problems, got involved with drugs and things like that, but none of them saw this coming," Bertani said. "We've had some kids get in scrapes with the law before. I had one convicted of murder.
"But nothing like this. This was shocking."
-- MANNY NAVARRO