Padecky: St. Helena football has chance to leave legacy

St. Helena running back Sebastian Segura evades the defense during practice on Monday. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat)

St. Helena running back Sebastian Segura evades the defense during practice on Monday.
(CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat)

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

ST. HELENA — The journey of a thousand miles begins with a sleepover. Yep, that’s how it plays out here, a high school football team in a small town, where just about everyone knows everyone. Brandon Farrell, the head coach, wanted to make sure that happened on his football team.

“I saw how it worked in Illinois,” Farrell said of his native land. “I thought I’d try it here.”

On the first day of practice this season, the Saints players and coaches gather on the field. It’s midnight, actually. The lights are on and everybody is home. Farrell has his kids do some running, something light, something airy. It’s not really a workout. It’s not intended to be.

Sometime around 2 a.m. or 3 a. m. or 4 a.m., whenever they run out of adolescent testosterone, the kids unfurl their sleeping bags. The lights are turned off. They crawl into their bags and go to sleep on the football field. Eventually. Thus begins a most unique sleepover.

“We (coaches) don’t get a lot of sleep,” Farrell said.

This past August was the fourth year of the sleepover.

This is the fourth consecutive season the Saints have made the North Coast Section playoffs. They’ll face Saint Mary’s of Berkeley this Friday.

Coincidence? Maybe, but don’t ever underestimate the power of familiarity, especially in a small town that would like to think familiarity is a condition of residence. And success, with the football team now in the second round of the NCS playoffs, feels like oxygen to the people who live and breathe and work here. Inhale that rare air, together they do.

“It feels really special,” running back Sebastian Segura said, “to walk around town and see all the fleur-de-lis (stickers) on the storefront windows.”

What is happening, to those who live here, is more than this 9-2 record, is more than the Saints scoring at least 40 points in six games this season. It has everything to do with stability, the most cherished of all goals any coach seeks.

“We’re climbing the ladder,” senior left guard Litto Damonte said. “My freshman year we made the playoffs but lost the first game. My sophomore year we won a game then lost. My junior year we won two games then lost.”

Point of community pride: Two years ago, when the Saints beat Arcata in the first round, it was St. Helena’s first playoff victory since 1977.

Point of emphasis: “When our coach tells us we have a chance to leave a mark,” Segura said, “that gets us fired up.”

It’s a legacy Farrell speaks of, a place in time never to be forgotten or diminished. In that, this 2013 team already had laid one cornerstone. It’s Segura. Last Friday night against Kelseyville in the Division 4 playoff opener, Segura set three school records: rushing yards in a single game (270), season (1,623) and career (2,634).

Football is never a one-man sport, especially for someone who needs a blocker or two in front of him.

But when a running back scores 18 touchdowns and averages 8.5 yards a carry, he becomes Public Enemy No. 1 to opposing defenses.

“Sebastian is relentless and shifty,” Farrell, a math teacher at the high school, said. “He runs low to the ground. His hips are always square to the line. It is very difficult to get a clear shot on him.”

At 5-foot-9, Segura doesn’t give a tackler a big target, and at 180 well-muscled pounds, he doesn’t give a tackler a welcome reception, either. He was a lineman until the eighth grade when he became enamored of running backs. He watched anyone who carried the ball, pro, college or high school. In particular, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings caught his eye.

“He doesn’t want to go down,” Segura said. “He’s hungry.”

Traits Segura willingly adopted.

“I hate being stopped behind the line of scrimmage,” he said.

As accomplished as he is as a runner, Segura is as or even more valuable to Farrell as the example of the kind of football player the coach wants at St. Helena.

“I don’t know,” Segura said when asked the numbers of his three school records. He doesn’t know how many touchdowns he’s scored. His yards per carry? Don’t even go there.

“I don’t play for stats,” he said. “I play for the ‘W.’ I tell my boys just to do their job and I’ll do mine. And I leave it at that.”

His “boys” are his offensive linemen, ones like Damonte. Like any smart running back, Segura spent more time Tuesday talking about the boys who make the holes for him to run through. In truth, they have more in common than the common goal of giving Segura running room. At first glance they are not behemoths.

“I like the fact that people underestimate us because we’re small,” said Damonte, 180 pounds.

As has been said more than once in football, it’s not the size of the man but the size of the fight in the man. The willingness to sacrifice, the desire to compete to every whistle, the very need to play as one, Segura sees all that in his offensive linemen.

One day Segura will repay his boys.

“I have an idea,” he said.

After the Kelseyville victory, Farrell came up to Segura and gave him a suggestion on how to thank his blockers.

“It’s a good idea, I like it,” Segura said.

What is it? He’s not saying.

“It’s going to be a surprise,” he said.

Segura is waiting until the end-of-season team party. Then Segura will tell his boys.

“Sebastian, come on,” I said, “you’re teenagers. I’m thinking it has something to do with food, big, nasty burgers and big piles of French fries and chocolate shakes big enough to swim in. Whaddya think?”

Segura gave a small smile and shook his head, the kind of head movement that had “Really?” attached to it.

Segura doesn’t give it up on the field (only four fumbles this season) and he doesn’t give it up off of it, either.

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

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