Bob Padecky: High school football always delivers on the promise

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Petaluma cheerleaders cheer during Friday's game against Santa Rosa. (Photo by Christopher Chung, The Press Democrat)

Petaluma cheerleaders cheer during Friday’s game against Santa Rosa. (Photo by Christopher Chung, The Press Democrat)

Once, and it didn’t seem that long ago, high school football was something parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and girlfriends watched. The audience was limited because the sport at the high school level didn’t offer a broad expanse of possibility. After all high school football was high school football, interesting to the very few who, not coincidentally, shared the same blood line.

And then YouTube and ESPN and anybody with a smartphone advanced like a visual army. Wow, look at this kid! Did you see that? How old is he is, exactly? I didn’t know a seventh-grader could do that! But there he was anyway, David Sills, age 13, a seventh-grader, a quarterback, being offered a scholarship by the University of Southern California. Did it matter that Sills couldn’t sign a letter-of-intent for another four years? Did it matter that it was all smoke and mirrors reflecting hype? Nope. Why not see tomorrow’s stars today, even if they aren’t old enough to drive?

High school football, now, is not just for Mommy and Daddy anymore. It is no longer an anonymous provinciality. It is for the curious, those of us who like to see talent, potential and the future. Yes, that means kids grow up faster because expectations arrive sooner in their lives. They aren’t allowed to be children as long and no one can claim that is a healthy thing. But the genie is out of the bottle on this one and is staying out of the bottle. Just ask any parent of a high schooler whose kid is taking a full course load of AP classes and has the bloodshot eyes to prove it.

So you don’t have to go to Casa Grande High School or be a Casa parent to be interested on how JaJuan Lawson will do this season as the Gauchos’ quarterback. If a Friday night opens up for you and you got $7 — and it’s not raining of course — it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world to go see a kid play football who has college offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Boston College and Fresno State, among others. Sports is entertainment and how many sporting events can you be entertained for just seven bucks? For that matter how many movies can an adult see for seven bucks?

Sports, at its most appealing, is a ballet of athletic spontaneity. How can a human body contort, stop, start, dodge, leap, push, pull, grab, run, throw, pummel with such fluidity? How is it possible that someone who is built like you and me move so effortlessly, so quickly? It feels like magic, as if he were a special effect.

Such as the time I saw Ronnie Lott play football in 1976 for Eisenhower High School in Rialto. Working for a Southern California newspaper at the time, I was told to go see this kid in the San Bernardino area. I scoffed. It’s a high school kid, I said. I mean, really? Seriously? I did. Saw him. Talked to him. It was stunning. It was ridiculous, like Ronnie was a cat playing with a mouse. So in control, so above the fray. So fast between Point A and Point B.

Years later, when I got to know Lott when he was with the 49ers, I would tell him after a good game that he was good that day, but he was never the best athlete who came out of Eisenhower. The best defensive back I ever saw would laugh.

This is not to say there’s a Ronnie Lott this year in the Empire. Doesn’t have to be. This is football, good football, with good coaches and good players … good rivalries. Pick a high school, any high school around here, I can guarantee you someone will dislike it with as much fervor as those who root for it. The usual suspects, like Cardinal Newman, gather the most drumbeats but passion is not limited to the few. Passion is spread all through this area.

The noise of the crowd, the antics of coaches, the buzz of success, the drone of failure, the worry over concussions, the dance with danger the kids do out there on the field, the game itself provides its own energy. This is football for criminey sakes, America’s most popular game, and it didn’t get that way being checkers.

Here, the gladiators are teenagers, risking so much. There’s something admirable in that, that someone could be 15 years old and yet be eager to put themselves in harm’s way because they love the game, they love their teammates, they love their school. At Montgomery, the kids will do it because they want to restore the shine to the program. At Newman, they’ll do it to maintain it. At El Molino, they’ll do it to get respect. At Windsor, they’ll do it because they want to show that what happened in 2011 wasn’t a fluke. On and on it goes, to every school, to every coach who wants to find a way to reach inside his players and pull their very best out of them.

And if that means someone steps in front of a JaJuan Lawson pass and intercepts it, that kid won’t be just someone anymore. And that unaffiliated person in the stands who came to be entertained, he just got his seven bucks worth.

Why?

Because the most interesting part is about to happen. How does Lawson handle the interception? Greatness resides in the mind as much as the body.

How does that talented running back handle getting smoked by that defensive tackle? How does that linebacker handle get juked off his feet? How does that touted coach react to getting out-coached?

So the question isn’t why would you spend seven bucks to be see an Empire high school football game?

The question is: Why wouldn’t you?

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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