At De La Salle winning isn't everything; it's the only thing you don't talk about. "Everyone asks me how I've won 151 straight games," says Ladouceur. "My answer is always the same: 'By not concentrating on winning.' If you work hard enough, the wins will just come."
But those wins have attracted attention, much of it unwelcomed by Ladouceur, who has done his polite best to dodge reporters for as long as they've hovered around De La Salle's cramped sidelines. Sixty-seven wins into the Streak, Eidson went to the chalkboard in the locker room and scrawled 72 in big numbers. "If you don't know what this means," he then told the players, "you're gonna soon find out."
The number referred to the previous high school football record for consecutive wins, set by Hudson ( Mich.) High from 1968 to '75. On Nov. 7, 1997, De La Salle, led by future Miami linebacker and 2004 Denver Broncos first-rounder D.J. Williams, shattered the record with a 56--0 win over regional rival College Park High of Pleasant Hill, Calif. The New York Times, CNN, ESPN and SI were among the news outlets that covered the game. The following year the Spartans showed up on Cheerios boxes, one of which is tucked in a dusty corner of a neglected trophy case outside the school gym.
It was around this time that De La Salle began to get scheduling requests from teams that wanted a shot at snapping the Streak. Ladouceur was uncomfortable with the idea of parading his players around the state but realized that a strictly local schedule was unfair to his team. "You wouldn't feed kids algebra," he says, "when they're already on calculus."
One of De La Salle's first powerhouse challengers was Mater Dei of Santa Ana. In four games from 1998 to '01, the Spartans outscored their Southern California counterparts 135--55 before bringing a halt to the series. In '01 they took on Long Beach Poly, which has produced more NFL players (50) than any other high school. The first time the teams met, Poly, with 24 players who would land Division I scholarships, was ranked No. 1 in USA Today and De La Salle was No. 2. The Spartans won 29--15. The following October the Spartans prevailed again, 28--7.
Two years ago De La Salle's competitive circle widened further when the Spartans agreed to go on that trip to Honolulu, but only when the game's Hawaiian sponsors offered to foot the bill for the trip. Last year brought Evangel Christian, which agreed to come to Concord when De La Salle declined to make the expensive trip to Shreveport. For their trouble, the eight-time Louisiana state champions were handed a 27--10 loss that was watched by more than half a million viewers on ESPN2. It wouldn't have been that close if the Spartans hadn't taken a knee on their opponents' one-yard line three straight times in the final minutes. "That," said Evangel coach Dennis Dunn afterward, "was class."
In an NPR broadcast the week of that game, Concord resident Murray Sperber, the former Indiana University professor and author of several books on the corruption of amateur athletics, offered a less rosy commentary on the game. "There's never been this kind of national schedule [for high school football] before, and particularly between high schools who travel great distances to play each other," said Sperber. "There's a kind of inevitability to this, but you don't have to like it. I personally think it's terrible."
Patrick Walsh, who played for De La Salle in the early '90s and now coaches at Junipero Serra High in nearby San Mateo, wishes detractors could spend a year with the Spartans. "For those [De La Salle] coaches, football is a platform for teaching you how to work hard, how to grow into an upstanding man. How to commit."
Of all the people who worry about how De La Salle's celebrity might affect the players, none frets more than the religion teacher who built the program. As the Streak grows, Ladouceur concentrates on keeping his charges focused and grounded. Each week during the season, players must write their goal for the next game on an index card and hand it to a teammate, who will remind him before, during and after the contest of what he'd written. On Thursdays the Spartans gather in the school chapel to listen to inspirational readings from their teammates. In one such meeting last year, star wide receiver Cameron Colvin, who was declared academically ineligible for five games, tearfully apologized to the team and expressed how lucky he felt, having lost both of his parents, to be part of this football family.
"It's an amazing scene," says Contra Costa Times columnist Neil Hayes, who spent a year with the team to write a book about De La Salle. "I would drive away from those sessions saying, What am I doing for my fellow man? What am I doing that's important?"