Friday, Jun. 22, 2012
Futures were set at past all-star football game
By Brian VanderBeek / firstname.lastname@example.org
There were several months between the time the rosters were announced for the 1977 Lions Club All-Star Game and the game itself, and every player had his own way to prepare.
Los Banos High offensive lineman Rick Howard saw the game as a chance to catch the eye of a college football coach. He had played on the Tigers' Trans-Valley League championship team the previous fall at a very lean 6-feet, 6-inches, and 200 pounds.
But once named to the team, Howard rededicated himself to the weight room, and by the time the 10-day live-in camp at Merced College opened, he had bulked up to 225 pounds.
"Even now I look back and remember the week we had together and how I enjoyed every second of it," said Howard, 53, whose youngest child, Bryce Howard, played for the South team June 16 at MJC Stadium, a game the South lost 30-0.
"Just hanging around all the guys and going to the lake and the movies ... there was a lot of team camaraderie there."
I had a similar dream, but weights never were a part of anything I ever did in athletics. After being named to that same 1977 South team as a wide receiver out of Ripon, the previous fall's Southern League champion, I worked all summer at the Simpson-Lee Paper Company, rode my bike home and ran five nights a week.
By the time camp rolled around, I was carrying 167 pounds at 6-2 -- five pounds lighter than my fall playing weight -- and probably was as fast and as lean as I ever thought I would be.
Through the two- and three-a-day sessions, some in temperatures approaching 100 degrees, Howard somehow kept his weight on and his strength up. By the time the game rolled around, I was down to 152 pounds, weak and swimming inside the same pads that fit so well at the start of camp.
Catching the eye of a coach was out of the question. Heck, if I turned sideways, I'd disappear completely.
We lost the game 16-0 to become the first all-star team to be blanked, but it was still a thrill for me to be introduced and run onto the field at the University of the Pacific Stadium, where I hadn't missed a Tigers' home game in years.
Yes, I dreamed of playing football at Pacific. In retrospect, there was no way I was going to beat-out future seven-year NFL veteran Lionel Manuel for playing time. Manuel was a couple years younger than me, but that was the kind of talent UOP was luring in those days.
So when the game ended, I pulled off my gear for the final time. A little sad, a lot drained.
Howard was one of the last players to get back inside the tiny, steaming lockerroom. Despite playing on the line of an offense that got shut out, Howard was able to attract the attention he wanted.
"As soon as the game was over, Coach (Chester) Caddas asked if I could be back on campus on Monday to play for Pacific," Howard said. "It was an opportunity that made a huge impact on my life. Los Banos was a tiny town back then and it was a huge privilege for somebody from Los Banos to be able to go to a school like Pacific."
Howard went on to play at left tackle for Pacific, bulking up to 250 pounds and graduating in four years. His son Bryce will be playing on the offensive line for Mark Speckman at Menlo College this fall, doing a lot of running, pulling and trapping in Speckman's fly offense.
I never did play football again, but my memories of the experience were similar to those of Howard. It was a wonderful time spent with a lot of great athletes, some of whom -- such as Howard -- I still run into from time to time.
And despite not being offered that scholarship, the time spent wasn't a complete loss.
While at the camp, Modesto Bee sports writer Fred Schwarz did a feature story on the receiver from tiny Ripon High. Toward the end of the interview, he asked what I'd be studying in college, or if I had career plans.
I told him I wanted to get into some kind of journalism, either radio or newspapers, and he told me there was an opening for a part time sports writer at The Bee.
So at the same time Howard was beginning his football career at Pacific, I was stepping foot in a real newsroom for the first time -- opportunities made possible only because both of us were chosen as teammates for a football game 35 summers ago.