NFL Preview 2000/Scouting Reports/AFC East:
The 100-Best high school football players in Sacramento-area history
By Joe Davidson Bee Staff Writer (Published
Sept. 5, 2000)
Tedy Bruschi perfected the role of wild man during a rampaging football career for Roseville High School in 1989 and '90. He was a thinking man's brute, swift, forceful and clever. Never the biggest player on the field, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound defensive end refused to be bullied or blocked, and his incredible knack for turning a game or a season without even touching the ball secured a standing legacy -- the greatest high school football player in Sacramento history.
With a thick, black mane flowing out of his battered helmet, his eyes fixed and bulging, his fists constantly clenched or beating against his thigh pads, Bruschi seemingly had a running start before every snap. His ferocity was unlike that of any player to hit the Sacramento Valley, and he heads an imposing list of the top 100 preps ever, a subjective lot chosen by prep coaches, former players and Bee prep editors. Cordova's Kevin Willhite, the nation's top tailback prospect in 1981, was a close second.
As the 2000 prep football season begins, the top 100 list reflects Sacramento's remarkably deep talent pool. Many local athletes who enjoyed productive college or NFL careers didn't earn a place on the list because they got better after graduation. The list is based on prep performances only, with more emphasis put on overall impact than gaudy statistics.
But the list is full of record holders, such as Del Oro's Randy Fasani, who in 1996 could throw 50-yard strikes against the grain. Or Grant game-breaker Aaron Garcia, who in 1987 set area passing records that were broken nine years later by a Pacer he mentored, Chad Elliott.
And the Grant duo of Onterrio Smith and Donte' Stallworth terrorized teams with skill and determination, making them easy picks for the list.
Cordova had its share of Lancers legends, including tailback Reggie Young, quarterback Troy Taylor and all-purpose Jerry Manuel. The list was so rich that recent phenoms such as Albert Hollis of Christian Brothers, a virtual Willhite clone from last season, didn't make it.
Bruschi ascended to the top because he owned the line of scrimmage, ground zero of any football game. The only time he had his mitts on the ball was when he batted away kicks, for which he was a master. Former El Camino coach Jim Dimino recalled stopping a game to chew on players who kept allowing this undersized fellow to wreak havoc.
"Every play, he was in our backfield," Dimino said. "I'd go crazy, "Can't you block him, for Christ sake? Is he that damn good?'
"Well, yeah, he was, looking back. No doubt in my mind he's the greatest prep ever. He caused major breakdowns, and that's greatness."
And Bruschi knew he had it.
"A basketball guy in high school once asked me what's so hard about running up and down a field," said Bruschi, now a starting linebacker for the New England Patriots. "Well, for one, he's gotta deal with me."
After blocking two extra-point attempts and the potential game-winning field goal with 21 seconds to go that secured a 20-18 win over top-ranked Cordova in a 1990 playoff game, Bruschi couldn't resist rubbing it in a bit. The image of him hollering, "They can't block me! They can't block me!" still echoes through the Cordova locker room.
Bruschi collapsed an empire that Saturday afternoon. The Lancers, kings of the prep football world in the 1970s and '80s, haven't been to the playoffs since. Max Miller, the Cordova coach then and now, calls it his most devastating loss.
"I'm too old for memories like that," Miller cracked. "Bruschi was awesome. No one could handle him." Miller gave his vote to Bruschi as the best defensive wonder to play in the region. His nod for the offensive player went to Willhite, with good argument.
Willhite's enduring image is bolting through a mass of toppled linemen and scooting 70 yards at warp speed for a touchdown. He was the fastest big back to ever hit a Sacramento end zone, and he was named national player of the year by five publications or associations -- a record haul for this area, regardless of sport or gender -- and he remains the most celebrated and heavily recruited athlete from the area.
"He's the greatest ever," Miller said. "No one was more dangerous or more difficult to prepare for. He'd take off on a pitch, and all the angles of the tacklers were wrong. Only the real special ones do that."
The tale of Bruschi and Willhite is equal parts inspiring, compelling and, in the case of Willhite, heart-wrenching. Bruschi was the one who wasn't supposed to make it but kept finding himself in the quarterback's face. His mother didn't want him to even try on a helmet or pads growing up. She wanted him to dabble in music and play in the school band.
But when Bruschi and his family moved from San Francisco to Roseville before his freshman year for a better lifestyle -- and to "avoid earthquakes," Bruschi said -- he sought out something to quell the boredom.
He found football.
Willhite was the ultimate can't-miss prospect, who ultimately missed. The muscled legs that carried him to celebrity status -- being whisked away to Notre Dame or Nebraska on a red-eye after running roughshod over a Metro League opponent, or meeting President Reagan at national functions -- ultimately failed him. He never fully recovered from two torn hamstrings.
A shell of his self, he switched to fullback at the University of Oregon, quietly started all four years with modest numbers and played a handful of NFL games before more injuries sidelined him for good.
"I think about my career and what could have been every day," said Willhite, who lives in Sacramento with his college sweetheart Karen, and their two young sons, Kellen and Kaelin. "Look at all the money NFL guys made. I was the next Herschel Walker, the next great back, everyone said. But I'm OK with my legacy. I was the best once. I graduated from college. I'm a happy man."
Willhite cracks that he almost never had a shot at football, having faced death twice.
He was hit by a car when he was 4 years old and spent three months in the hospital. When he was 9 years old, he had a serious allergic reaction to a bush on a walk to the park with brother, Gerald. Severe blisters and swelling made it difficult to breathe, and had Gerald not hoisted his heavier brother and ran the half-mile back to the house to plunk him into a tub of ice water, Willhite might not have made it.
Willhite has not been forgotten. Karen says checkers recognize the last name at the grocery store. And at the Sacramento warehouse he helps manage, co-workers challenge a man who now looks more like a thick tight end to sprints across the parking lot for $100 wagers. As in his Cordova days, Willhite still beats the last man to the finish.
"I've still got it," Willhite said amid laughter.
The time Bruschi approached a coach was the last time he was so timid. Roseville freshman mentor Don Hicks looked the shy Bruschi up and down and proclaimed him a lineman.
"I had tennis shoes and no clue, and if coach didn't take me under his wing, my whole life would be different today," Bruschi said. "That trips me out. My mom wanted me to stay in the band, but I think I made the right decision."
By the time he was a junior, Bruschi became so forceful and relentless, Roseville coaches had to cancel live kickoff drills. "We couldn't afford to lose so many bodies," Tigers coach Larry Cunha says today.
Bruschi's play was instrumental in his team's cardiac season of 1990. Six wins were secured in the final minutes, including playoff games.
After beating Cordova, Roseville played at new No. 1 and unbeaten Elk Grove. Bruschi would stagger off the field after plays, aided by teammates and coaches as if he were departing a Civil War battlefield. Seeing this, Elk Grove coaches would yell to their troops, "OK, single block Bruschi on the next series."
It was a ruse. Bruschi would knock his man down. "When the ball snapped, I had strength again," he said.
A late field goal gave Roseville a 36-35 lead. James Kidd, Elk Grove's speedy All-City tailback, took a flea-flicker with six seconds to go and was off to the races. He was tracked down from behind by Bruschi, leaving then-Elk Grove coach Ed Lombardi to mutter, "We just got beat by the best guy I've ever seen."
Bruschi didn't fit the prototype college recruiters fantasize about -- too stumpy, short and slow, they said. Only Dick Tomey of Arizona took a serious flyer on him, recalling that "the kid was just crazy, and you need that in football."
Bruschi went on to tie the NCAA career sack record with 58, inspired by the so-called slight of not being good enough.
"I took that personal," Bruschi said. "It really ticked me off -- where do people get off on thinking that? That motivated me."
Now married to his college sweetheart, former Arizona volleyball star Heidi Bomberger, and expecting their first child in December, Bruschi relishes his role in the NFL as that of an up-and-coming star. He still has his music, a clarinet and a saxophone, to help distance himself from the gridiron wars. And the memories? They're stacked neatly next to the VCR.
"I've still got the old high school tapes," Bruschi boomed with pride. "My wife loves them. She says things like, "Hey, you were good,' and "Nice hair, Tedy.' "
How the team was picked
Some 110,000 teenagers have played high school football in the Sacramento region since 1950, the first year The Bee picked an All-City team, from Galt to Woodland to Placerville to Grass Valley and all points between. Fifty years of first- and second-team All-City teams gave us a pool of 3,100 candidates to ponder, and since our editors wouldn't go for a top 1,000 list, we settled on a crisp 100 from the opinions of veteran coaches, ex-players and former Bee prep editors. Performances were based on high school only.
Player School Pos. Ht. Wt. All-City years 1. Tedy Bruschi Roseville DL 6-1 240 1989-90 Greatest impact defender ever; won games with sacks, blocked kicks, emotion.
Boston Herald Saturday, September 23, 2000 FOXBORO - Tedy Bruschi finally feels comfortable calling himself linebacker. Look at the stat sheet and you'll see why some are comfortable calling him the Patriots' best linebacker. Bruschi has come a long way since his his transition from his college position, defensive end.
was primarily a special teamer and situational pass rusher that first season, but since then his linebacker duties have increased steadily. Now he's not only a starter, but he's calling the plays and staying on the field on virtually every down. He's also playing his tail off. Bruschi has recorded a team-high 30 tackles, provided coverage in passing situations and recorded a sack. ``Sure, I feel a lot more comfortable,'' said Bruschi this week as the 0-3 Pats prepare to face the Dolphins tomorrow in Miami. ``I've been feeling more comfortable ever since I came into the league in 1996. I've had to do a lot of growing. It's my fifth year now so I should be feeling comfortable.'' Bruschi said the physical demands weren't as hard as the mental side. ``I think much differently than I did in college,'' he said. ``I was a D-lineman. You know? D-linemen think about the game differently than linebackers. Your responsibilities change from black to white. As a D-lineman you're wrestling with big offensive linemen every play and you're either playing run or just rushing the pass. At linebacker you have to read either run or pass. You've got to drop back, you've got to blitz sometimes, you've got to cover man-to-man. You have to make adjustments and you have to make calls. It's night and day.'' In fact, said Bruschi, it's not until recently that he began to even think of himself as a linebacker. ``I took me about three years, really,'' he said. ``I came into the league in '96 and I didn't know what a hook-drop was. I basically started from scratch. Fortunately I was able to rush the passer and play on special teams, which kept me on the team and during that time I got good coaching and I've turned myself into a linebacker.'' Where the past few years Bruschi generally played on the weak side, now he's in the middle next to Ted Johnson. Last year, Bruschi had defensive linemen in front of him, which often left him unblocked and able to flow freely to the ball. This year, he's playing head-up on guards and having to fight through more traffic. But even with the harder assignment, Bruschi is playing better than ever. ``I was middle last year, too, but I was covered,'' said Bruschi. ``Now I'm in the middle with an uncovered guard over me. That's something that (coach Bill) Belichick will chance week to week and I do a lot of things, but, yeah, I have been playing some middle.'' As for the play-calling duties, which have long gone to Johnson, Bruschi welcomes them. ``They asked me to do it. I can handle what they ask,'' he said. ``They ask me to be up there in front of the huddle and call the defense because with me being in so many packages, dime, nickel, they just want to have me up there - and I'm fine with that.'' What Bruschi isn't fine with is the plays his defensive unit has given up this season. He knows that one or two more plays and the Pats would have a win or two under their belts. ``Of course. The disappointment is that we're 0-3,'' he said. ``When you're 0-3 you need big plays. We need to come up with more of them.''
FOR MANY, GAME TO BE FROZEN IN TIME ICY
CONDITIONS BOWLED OVER SOME PLAYERS
Bruschi, a graduate of Arizona, quickly showed his defiance for the cold and snow by dressing only in short sleeves. Later, though, as the cold worsened and the snow deepened, the New England linebacker realized that battling Mother Nature is often a losing battle.
"This was the worst, by far the worst, conditions I ever played in," said receiver Troy Brown. "You just had to concentrate so much just on not falling down."
"The worst was in Calgary, it was minus-24 at kickoff and probably minus-44 by the end of the game with a minus-85 windchill with six inches of snow and 35-mile-per-hour winds," said Flutie.
Playing in brutal conditions in Canada taught Flutie a few lessons.
"There are certain things you can do and certain things you stay away from. The key is not to turn the ball over, play field position and all that."
Each team adjusted as wind, the wind chill, and the snow worsened, and Flutie was impressed by how the Patriots began to run more crossing routes.
"When you roll across the field, it's a straight line for the receivers," he said. "You can't change directions (in bad weather) and the defensive backs have to react to a receiver."