The beat goes on at De La Salle and the Spartans look so good it’s scary
As Shakespeare once wrote in Hamlet Act I. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
With respect to the football program at state top-ranked Concord De La Salle, that’s part of the gospel. Anyone that doubts the reasons for the continuity and successes of the program, just doesn’t understand that the method for achieving what the Spartans have attained over the past 30-plus years is not something you tinker with.
The Cal-Hi Sports Caravan stopped by Sparta on Thursday to see how far things had progressed since we saw De La Salle at the summer camp at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg. However, before meeting with first-year head coach Justin Alumbaugh, and then watching practice, a stroll around school was in order.
There were students wearing costumes, others in a variety of athletic jerseys, and even a strolling Mariachi band performing in the courtyard just outside the school’s theater where legendary De La Salle head coach Bob Ladouceur announced his retirement earlier this year.
However, on the afternoon of Halloween 2013 the most unnerving thing we saw for any potential opponent was what the Spartans have on the field in their quest for a fifth straight CIF Open Division state championship.
The bottom line is it’s downright scary.
There are literally more players in Alumbaugh’s arsenal to write up than a blog will do justice. So, we’ll take a shot at describing this year’s version of the greatest long-term high school football program ever and anywhere, by profiling the players and coaches we talked to.
There are college coaches that would drool to have the players De La Salle has on its line. And it’s a line that has gelled a lot quicker this season than in year’s past. Here are two linemen we talked to.
When we saw Kahlil McKenzie over the summer he wasn’t in what the coaches called “De La Salle shape.” Now, he’s 6-4, 316 pounds and solid as a rock, and he’s only a junior. McKenzie, the son of Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie, already has five D1 offers, but look for that to heat up even more.
Sumner Houston, a 6-3, 260-pound Oregon State-bound block of granite, although not looking too far ahead, doesn’t mince words about another match-up with Folsom. “It’s inevitable, the ultimate. We definitely want them again.”
The running game
With the kind of line the Spartans sport, running behind them is pretty sweet. Arizona State-committed Das Tautalatasi is back playing defense after an injury, but not running back. His anticipated back-up, senior John Velasco, all 5-7 and 197- ounds of muscle and quickness, is not the same person we saw just three months ago. The scenario has me thinking of a human wrecking ball that’s rolling behind a row of steamrollers.
“Its amazing. I feel safe,” replied Velasco when asked what it’s like to run behind Sparta’s line. “They’ve got my back and I’ve got theirs. Just knowing I have that kind of line in front of me means I can do a lot of things.”
“He reminds me of Lucas Dunne,” said line coach Steve Jacoby of Velasco as Coach Lad nodded in agreement. The 5-8, 185-pound Dunne was the star of the 14-0 team that mauled Anaheim Servite in the 2010 Open Division title game in which the Spartan running back rushed for 241 yards and four TDs in a 48-8 victory.
The underclass players
Part of the reason for the excursion to De La Salle was to look at underclass players like McKenzie, in my other job as a recruiting analyst for XOS Digital ThunderCloud Recruit. Several impressed me but no two more than sophomores Devin Asiasi and Antoine Custer.
The 6-4, 217-pound Asiasi, a basketball standout as a freshman, uses his skills to go get the ball at tight end, plus he’s quick, can block, a prerequisite at De La Salle, and he sees a little duty at linebacker.
The lightning-quick and elusive Custer has seen about as much time at running back as any Spartans’ sophomore in a long time, and he has 563 yards rushing with seven TDs going into Friday night’s game with Danville Monte Vista.
When the players took the field, surprisingly there were no coaches present, yet all were engaged in stretching and exercising drills, and some even began further warm-ups and drills, on their own.
Even when the coaches arrived they said nothing and watched for five minutes. Alumbaugh was throwing a football around with other assistants. Then top assistant Terry Eidson, the same right hand man Coach Lad had with him all through the years, blew his whistle and the show began.
Alumbaugh, for his part, has slipped into the role of his mentor Ladouceur about as easily as anyone could have imagined. Lad is still around but he’s taken a complementary role. There’s still the same camaraderie in the small football coaches’ office, and while all the assistants are still intact, there’s a new leader of the Spartan march, and he’s not afraid to get vocal on the practice field.
“You can’t let that guy shoot inside. You knife down on everything,” he shouted at an offensive lineman.
In his office watching film with me, Alumbaugh was more serene, and surprisingly quite humble for someone who was chosen to succeed the greatest high school football coach ever.
“We’re working with what we have and are moving forward,” was his response with a very small grin when I mentioned that it looked like the team was playing well.
“The Alumbaugh/Eidson dynasty is off to a good start,” mused Eidson on the practice field.
To upcoming opponents, the way De La Salle is playing and the way it looked on the field is scarier than any Halloween horror movie that played last night.
The boys from Folsom and any potential Southern California opponent better not see the 2013 version of De La Salle as weakened by the transfer of coaches. In fact, the way I see it, this may be the best De La Salle team in awhile.