CONCORD, Calif._ At De La Salle, there is practice and preparation.
What there is not is any visible indication they are one of the nation’s top-ranked high school football programs about to open its season Saturday in Texas against a highly regarded Euless Trinity.
There is excitement and anticipation to be sure, but there are no signs at school that started last week; there are no special-themed t-shirts and there is no special sendoff before heading to Dallas on Thursday.
When De La Salle head coach Justin Alumbaugh is asked at a recent practice if the offense could break a huddle and come to the line and yell “Texas, here we come,” for a six-second video. He smiled.
“That’s not really something we do,” Alumbaugh says.
At practice, parents watching in the stands ask a Texas visitor more about taking college visits to SMU and TCU while in North Texas than they ask about the size or strength of the Sipi Tau-dancing, and always intimidating, Trojans.
Father Robert (De La Salle principal Robert Wickman) tells the visitor to be sure to check out a new science and tech building with a state-of-the-art robotics room.
De La Salle is pumped about coming to Texas. It’s a high-profile match up specifically set up for a prime time, national TVkickoff to the 2015 high school football season.
De La Salle arrived Thursday. The Spartans will have a couple walk-throughs at Mansfield’s Vernon Newsom Stadium before an 8:04 p.m. kickoff Saturday on ESPN2. Part of De La Salle’s precision and attention to detail, references are to 8:04, not 8 or Saturday night. There also is a tour of the John F. Kennedy Memorial set.
De La Salle is ranked No. 1 in the USA Today preseason poll. The Spartans’ core is led by linemen Damon Wiley, Devin Asiasi and Boss Tagaloa.
Trinity has speed like senior running back Ja’Ron Wilson but relies heavily on its strength, size and depth among its lines.
“When I saw how big and physical they were,” De La Salle’s Wiley said. “It got me fired up for the chance to play them.”
De La Salle is accustomed to high-profile games. De La Salle owns the longest winning streak in football history with 151 consecutive victories, going unbeaten from 1992 to 2003. The end of that incredible run was the subject of the 2014 movie When the Game Stands Tall.
The Spartans’ winning streak gained national attention and was one of the first “trending” type topics as the spontaneous, digital information age cranked into gear with easily available updates.
De La Salle opened with a high-profile win over Byrnes (S.C) last season and went 14-0 on its way to another California state championship.
But this is a storied program that emphasizes under-statement and no individuality. When the Game Stands Tall chronicled its success with a major screenplay climax revolving around a decision to take a knee at the end of a game rather than have a player set an individual record with one last score as time expired.
That was symbolic of a program built by Coach Bob Ladouceur, who is a 61-year-old assistant to Alumbaugh and still can be seen teaching a PE swim class before heading out on the football practice field. Ladouceur’s consistency and work-ethic still remain his and program’s trademark.
When California football coach Sonny Dykes held a practice at De La Salle last week, Ladouceur briefly spoke to the Bears with his simple message: “There is no secret to success”.
When Alumbaugh talks about the Spartan way it is with both a capital and lowercase S.
Former NFL and Cal star Maurice Jones-Drew is helping De La Salle as an assistant as he can between broadcasts as a TV analyst. His presence adds no fanfare, just an extra coach.
The Spartans don’t win games walking off the bus. They are fast and athletic, but nearly always undersized. Dykes said he first became aware of De La Salle in the early 2000s when he was an assistant at Texas Tech recruiting several players at Shreveport (LA.) Evangel. Dykes said Evangel was a strong team with about 10 major college prospects and ended up getting thumped by De La Salle.
“(De La Salle) has athletes but (their success) is everything they do,” Dykes said. “The coaching, the conditioning, the practices are just like seeing a Texas program here in California.”
De La Salle is making its first trip to Texas meeting its first Lone Star state opponent. Trinity is bigger than nearly everyone it plays and the Trojans have played teams from Utah, Arkansas, Washington and Maryland in recent years. Trinity is physical and while running similar, run-oriented offenses to De La Salle, they couldn’t look more different. De La Salle’s option is off fast snaps, quick-hitting and some misdirection. Trinity’s offense is a pounding with big linemen, a 240-pound quarterback and getting defenses too tired to react to quick toss sweeps to a set of speedy tailbacks.
While De La Salle avoids youtube, Trinity uses the video platform to its advantage. A diverse community has bonded around its Tongan team dances, which most recently made the viral rounds in a pool at the annual team swim. Trinity’s blue-collar style was highlighted as part of a Bill Parcells’ Gatorade commercial.
De La Salle is a private school in a quiet suburb about 30 miles east of San Francisco. Trinity is a public school with an address on Industrial Boulevard in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district of the Mid-Cities.
The two cultures clash in the same sport at 8:04 p.m. Saturday on national TV.
No wonder everyone is so interested.