Rob Stockberger, principal of nearby California High in San Ramon and a former coach who has the rare distinction of having won a football game against De La Salle, also scoffs at recruiting accusations. "Bob Ladouceur doesn't need to recruit," he says. "His success alone is a magnet."
If De La Salle is guilty of any offense, it is nepotism, since nine players on this year's team have had brothers precede them. Regardless, all accusations against the school have been rendered void at least temporarily by the Bay Valley Athletic League's acceptance of De La Salle's proposal that it be permitted to play as many as five games outside the league, thereby making itself ineligible for the league championship. Among the outside opponents already scheduled for next season is Mater Dei of Santa Ana, a perennial power in Southern California football. The two juggernauts will collide next September.
A good starting point to explain the De La Salle phenomenon is Ladouceur himself, a coach who, on the testimony of players past and present, may be as worthy of canonization as the school's namesake, St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle (1651-1719), founder of the Christian Brothers order. "I've never known an adult like Coach Lad," says defensive lineman Matt Geldermann, whose twin brothers played before him at De La Salle. "He's more than a coach. He makes you look at yourself as a human being. He shows you that football can be won the right way. We want to set this record for him."
"There is no question in my mind," says former player Brien, "that if five of his star players broke team rules before a playoff game, he'd suspend them on the spot without giving it a second thought. Playing for him was the athletic experience of my life."
"I was going nowhere in this world before I came to De La Salle," says Taylor, whose single mother enrolled him in the school. "Coach Lad was a father figure to me. I needed the discipline he gave me. Playing for him was football at its purest." Both Taylor and Brien used their respective bye weeks in the NFL this year to come west and root De La Salle on to the record.
The unassuming Ladouceur doesn't consider himself saintly, even though until this year, when he accepted additional duties as a school fund-raiser, he taught classes in religion. A dark-haired man of 43 with riveting, deep-set eyes, he had limited coaching experience before coming to De La Salle. He was, by his own assessment, a mediocre defensive back at San Jose State in the mid-1970s. After graduation he spent a busy year working as a juvenile hall counselor while studying theology at St. Mary's College and serving as an assistant coach, with his friend Stockberger, at Monte Vista High in Danville, Calif.
When the head coaching job at De La Salle, then a football pushover, opened up in the fall of 1978, Ladouceur applied. "The Brothers accepted me," he says, "more for my religious training than my coaching experience, which was minimal." De La Salle, which opened in 1965, had yet to have a winning season, and Ladouceur inherited a sparse varsity squad of 24. He quickly decided that because of his team's deficiencies in size and depth, and because he had no skilled passer at quarterback, he would use the veer option offense, which relies more on trickery than on power. In his first season the Spartans finished 6-3. Three years later Ladouceur had the first of his 10 undefeated seasons. There has been no stopping him since.
With superior talent now, Ladouceur still uses the veer—mainly, he says, because nobody else does, and that makes it harder to defend. But the veer scarcely accounts for this unprecedented success. No, the real reason is the coach's power to create a true brotherhood from the disparate elements of his team. In fact, team seems an inadequate term to define the bond these players share.
For 10 weeks every summer, Ladouceur holds voluntary conditioning workouts at the school that are open to youngsters throughout Contra Costa County. All of his players show up, sacrificing their summer freedom. The day before a game, Ladouceur and Eidson conduct their philosophical seminars in the chapel. The night before a game, the team has dinner at the home of a player, along with some parents, and afterward the players affirm, often tearfully, their commitment to each other.
On the field Ladouceur insists that his players show respect for their opponents. There is no trash talking, no end zone celebrating, no dancing after big plays and no bandannas or any other sartorial adornment that might detract from the luster of De La Salle's green-and-silver uniforms. "You look at the guy next to you on the line," says Geldermann, "and he looks exactly like you. We are all one."