To Ducks: De La Salle sends its best
UO buzzes over arrival of four from an unbeatable school
By winning 151 consecutive football games, you've earned the right to philosophize.
Bob Ladouceur, the head football coach at De La Salle High School Ñ the Catholic prep powerhouse in Concord, Calif., that's sending its four best players this year to the University of Oregon Ñ says maintaining the unbelievable streak boils down to playing for teammates, believing in coaches and growing up right.
'Kids respect true humility and that you stand for something more than winning,' Ladouceur says in the recent book 'When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Football's Longest Winning Streak' (North Atlantic Books, $25), written by Contra Costa Times columnist Neil Hayes.
'I'm talking about how life should be lived and how people should be treated,' the coach continues. 'Our kids aren't fighting for wins. They're fighting for a belief in what we stand for.'
It's an 'incredible' streak, UO coach Mike Bellotti says, one of the greatest in sports history. In college, Mount Union College won 55 in a row, ending in 2003, and Oklahoma won 47 consecutive in the 1950s. In the NFL, the Miami Dolphins went 17-0 in 1972.
An opponent hasn't beaten De La Salle since 1991, doubling the next best prep streak.
And now De La Salle and Oregon seem to be inextricably linked, what with receiver Cameron Colvin, defensive back Willie Glasper, defensive back-running back Jackie Bates and linebacker-safety Terrance Kelly heading to Eugene in the fall. The Ducks might be starting spring practice Saturday, but the buzz in Duckdom still centers on their recent recruiting class and the coup in landing all four 'DLS' players.
Two days after the Feb. 4 signing date, the man responsible for attracting the four went under the knife for the first of two hip replacement surgeries Ñ with a big smile on his face.
'I let it be known I would take all four,' says Nick Aliotti, UO's defensive coordinator. 'If I could get one out of four, I'd be happy. Two would be darn good. Three would be outstanding. Four out of four would be unbelievable.
'I lucked out they knew each other and clicked. Not bragging Ñ it just worked out.'
The Ducks had not had much luck recruiting De La Salle players in the past, save for cornerback Charles Favroth, receiver Demetrius Williams and linebacker David Martin (via junior college) recently. In fact, they had struck out many times, most recently with running back Maurice Drew going to UCLA and quarterback Matt Gutierrez heading to Michigan.
Then again, the Spartans haven't been known for putting out many Division I prospects. 'Four to six' per year, Bellotti figures, while some schools like Long Beach Poly (Calif.) have 10 or 12.
Bellotti worked the Bay Area in the past before handing off to Aliotti, who has built strong relationships with Ladouceur, defensive coordinator Terry Eidson and the dean of students, who happens to his brother, Jay Aliotti.
'You can't push a kid'
Jay Aliotti, a coach at nearby Pittsburg High School in 1991 when Pittsburg handed De La Salle its last loss, advises students about colleges. Nick Aliotti says his brother would never compromise his position to help him.
'It doesn't help, but it doesn't hurt,' Nick Aliotti says. 'He tries to help us with everybody, but it can only go so far. His allegiance is to kids and the school first.
'But those coaches have a good feel for Oregon. They would say how they treat their kids and run their program and how we conduct business and treat our kids at the higher level are similar.'
Eidson, speaking for Ladouceur, who had a heart attack after last season and only recently returned to school, says: 'A lot of people are trying to speculate that way,' that the Aliottis conspired, 'but I keep trying to tell people it has nothing to do with Oregon. You can't push a kid to go anywhere.'
As the story goes, the Ducks continued to recruit Bates even after he was injured and sat out last season. So he committed early, in part 'because I've always liked their colors.'
Bates talked with Kelly and Glasper, who committed soon after, but both also had Oregon as their first choice.
'When I took the trip there, I knew it was the place for me,' Glasper says. ' I could just tell because of the coaches, players, the surroundings and the campus.'
Adds Kelly: 'I just liked it up there, even though it rains. I have a good relationship with the coaches and players.'
All along, Colvin remained coy, considering many schools including USC and Michigan. A national-level recruit, he looked for the best opportunity and tried not to factor in where Bates, Kelly and Glasper would go. But, in the end, he went with his heart and stuck with his friends, and the Ducks landed the 'jelly doughnut,' as Aliotti called the 6-2, 190-pound receiver. Colvin announced his intent on national television Feb. 4.
Recruit saw support
Aliotti recruited the other three players harder than Colvin and 'loved him up' by continually playing the friend-and-family card.
'I told him, 'You can't take (friends) out of it. It's not out of it,' ' Aliotti says. 'He realized that more as time went on.'
Says Colvin: 'It's what I needed, a family atmosphere, because of my past. I needed a strong support system. My friends were there during the hardest time in my life.'
Colvin's mother, Veronica, died two years ago from a stroke. At age 6, his father, John Cameron Colvin, died in his sleep of what Colvin says was 'walking pneumonia' Ñ authorities said it was 'acute morphine intoxication' Ñ while young Cameron and his mother slept next to him. Authorities charged his mother with murder, saying she laced cough medicine with pharmaceutical morphine.
After a June 1994 indictment, Veronica Colvin's case ended in mistrial in 1997, and prosecutors dropped murder charges. But while the trial was going on, Colvin's uncle went to prison for his involvement in a kidnap-and-murder case.
Colvin's older sister, Saimone, and guardian and godparent Jay Lightner played big roles in raising him, and his De La Salle teammates stood by his side.
Colvin, Bates, Kelly and Glasper are all featured prominently in Hayes' book that examines the streak. Under Ladouceur, the Spartans have a 287-14-1 record since 1979, and the Spartans have played a 'national schedule' in recent years. 'They take on all comers,' Aliotti adds, from Hawaii to Louisiana.
'Neil Hayes tried to explain (the streak) in 395 pages, and at the end, he still says it's a mystery,' Eidson says. 'You can't really pinpoint one thing,' although the coaches and the unassuming Ladouceur are a good place to start. By the way, they earn from $1,200 to $3,000 per season, just like most prep coaches.
'The kids' commitment to one another and the program is phenomenal,' he adds. 'You just don't see it in other schools.'
Kelly says the coaches run it 'like a college system,' with summer workouts and everything.
'It's not a football factory,' Aliotti says. 'You'd be surprised at their (average) facilities and how they approach things. They are just genuinely good people and good teachers. And they get kids there because of what they've done.'
They don't recruit, Colvin says, 'but the program recruits itself. If you're an athlete, you want to be put in a premier spot.'
The wins kept coming
Last year, Colvin, the starting quarterback, and Bates missed games, Colvin for an academic suspension and Bates for an injury. But the streak continued. Kelly and Glasper stepped up.
'We just work hard and stay committed and love to compete,' Glasper says.
Williams, UO's starting receiver, says the high school team's discipline is second to none, and Bates agrees.
'We might not have the most talented guys, but we definitely have the preparation and discipline,' he says.
'They've done it with a simplistic approach Ñ outexecuted people, outcoached people,' Bellotti says. 'They run an option-veer offense, and have for many years. And you have to stop it. When you stop it, they have answers. And they don't beat themselves.'
And now Oregon has four of their players.