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"Well, yeah," said Dad, bristling a little.
"Like there wasn't even a question," says Danny.
Upon coming home, Ladouceur tossed out his last-ever pack of cigarettes, and six weeks later he was back teaching and studying film in his cramped coach's office.
A Detroit native who grew up in the East Bay, Ladouceur fought hard and played smart through an injury-plagued career as a tailback and defensive back at Utah and San Jose State. He got his coaching start in 1977 as a part-time assistant at Monte Vista High in Danville, Calif. (During the week he worked as a probation officer at a juvenile detention center.) A year later De La Salle, then a 12-year-old school with a reputation for strong academics, needed a new football coach, preferably one who could also fill a religious studies teaching vacancy. Ladouceur had a degree from San Jose State and was taking night classes in theology, and though he had no teaching experience to that point, he got the job. When he arrived on campus, he found a handful of smallish boys with scant football knowledge. The program that would become the most dominant in high school history had never had a winning season.
De La Salle saw no reason to pour funds into a team that was generating little interest, so Ladouceur, then 25, served as head coach, offensive coordinator, strength coach and equipment manager. The first thing he did was to have his players bring in whatever weights might be lying around their houses and, at a time when off-season workouts weren't standard even in college, instituted a running program he thought could give his undersized players an edge late in games. Then he taught his players a split backs veer offense, still the basis for more than half of De La Salle's plays. In Ladouceur's mind the simple system, which depends on quickness and execution, would help level the playing field against bigger opponents.
In 1979 De La Salle was shut out twice but finished 6--3. In each of the next two years the Spartans had two losses. Then, in 1982, they went 12--0, with a 48--0 pasting of Salesian, a school that had beaten them 32--0 three years before. During that first undefeated season, Eidson, who was also teaching religion at the school, joined the coaching staff. He soon became Ladouceur's righthand man, providing an excitable yang to the head coach's cool, calculated yin.
As the program improved, better athletes began to arrive. Many of their parents had picked up stakes to move closer to the school or took extra jobs to afford the tuition (now $9,950). Aaron Taylor, who would go on to be a standout offensive lineman at Notre Dame before spending six seasons in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and the San Diego Chargers, was a self-described 14-year-old drug dealer in Marin County when he and his mother, Mardi, saw a news segment about the Spartans on television in 1986. Knowing that her son's sole healthy ambition was to become a football star and that De La Salle offered a stronger academic program than the school Aaron attended, Mardi found a job and a house in Concord and set about trying to enroll her son in the school.
The Taylors' experience belies the periodic rumors that the Spartans recruit top kids in the area. "I was a 280-pound 15year-old when I came to De La Salle and announced that I wanted to play," says Aaron. "You know what Coach Lad said? Take an entrance exam, talk to admissions people, and then maybe, if that went O.K., we could talk about football." Like all of Ladouceur's players Aaron also had to agree to a team rule and promise he wouldn't drink or do drugs as long as he was on the squad.
Admission to De La Salle is awarded by a panel that does not include any football staffers, and financial aid is determined by an independent, off-site service. Says Brady, "We regularly turn away strong football players who we think won't make it academically."
Even the coach of De La Salle's biggest rival, Concord's own Clayton Valley, thinks most rumors regarding the Spartans' recruiting stem from jealousy, that the school's success has been its most effective draw. "Has an assistant coach or two talked up De La Salle to a prospective student? Certainly," says Eagles coach Herc Pardi. "Have alumni done the same? I believe it. But that happens at public and private schools everywhere. I am certain neither Bob Ladouceur nor Terry Eidson has actively recruited a single player."