Oregon football coach Chip Kelly was at the
Central Catholic (Modesto, Calif.)
football practice on Tuesday, which made sense.
The team's top recruit, 6-foot-5, 235-pound tight end Johnny Mundt
, has committed to the Ducks and with the way kids change their mind it's good policy to maintain close personal contact.
Doesn't Spencer Stark
Central Catholic's 6-foot-2, 305-pound starting two-way lineman lost his father inexplicably on Friday. Recovering
from shoulder surgery three days earlier, John Stark sustained a blood
clot that led to a stroke, which led to his unexpected and truly tragic
Spencer Stark was at practice preparing for a
Sac-Joaquin Section championship game against Escalon when he got the news.
According to those close to the team, Spencer was extremely close to
his father, who never missed his games.
Spencer made the
very easy decision — for him anyway — to play in Saturday's 52-10
victory that advanced Central Catholic into
Friday's Division IV North Regional Bowl Game
against McClymonds (Oakland)
The Raiders wore "JS" stickers on their helmets throughout the game
and will do so Friday. Many of them said they played for Spencer and
the memory of his father. They played with great passion
but still maintained composure to roll up the surprising
six-touchdown victory against one of the SJS's most respected programs.
the game, Spencer, who had held it together throughout, let
Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa threw his arms around the giant
junior, Spencer let out all his tears.
Well, at least for most of one day. The grieving process doesn't stop overnight.
honestly wasn't tough for me to play today because I knew my team had
my back and I knew I can ask them for anything," Spencer told
Modesto Bee reporter Brian VanderBeek
after the game. "Just knowing that, I knew
I could come out here and do what I needed to do to get the job done."
Canepa said the
only job Spencer has at this point is to grieve and be around his
teammates and family. His immediate family want him to be in whatever
surroundings heal him best.
Spencer believes what would please
his father most would be around his second family — the Raiders — as
they chase their ultimate goal of a state bowl championship. On
Saturday, his father will be laid to rest.
wants to do — play or not play — we support 100 percent," Canepa said
Wednesday. "Frankly, I wasn't expecting him to play on Saturday. But that's what he wanted to do and we certainly weren't going to deny it. All his teammates are like his brothers. I think at this
point he'd rather be around them than sitting at home.
tough deal, obviously. For all the kids, the entire program and
community. We all feel deeply for him and his family. They are all great
people. It's not surprising Spencer is such a great kid, the nicest kid
you ever want to be around.
"He's also very strong. He's handled this better than 99.9 percent of the people I know."
helped Tuesday to have Kelly out there offering condolences to Spencer
and talking to him about football and life and death. Kelly wasn't just
out there to keep in contact with Mundt. He knew there was a bigger
picture, a greater good then securing a recruit.
"It meant a lot
to Spencer that coach Kelly spent time with him," Canepa said. "It was a
very nice thing to do. It meant a lot to all of us."
Spencer is not just a big body on the line, he's a legitimate college prospect.
"That kid is solid in all ways," said Central Catholic 16-year statistician
Tony Ribeiro, who had two sons graduate and play football from Central
Catholic. "He's going places. He loves the game. Just like his father
did. It's been a sad week — a lot of sadness to deal with. But Spencer
keeps going. The whole team does."
The team Central Catholic plays Friday knows plenty about tough times.
McClymonds is in West Oakland, one of the toughest inner-city regions in the country. McClymonds has been a source of great pride in the community, having won three straight Silver Bowl (Oakland Section) championships and six of eight. Its basketball program has also lifted spirits, with a Division I state crown in 2008, and its alumni athletically is an impressive who's who of legends: Bill Russell, Frank Robinson, Paul Silas, Vida Pinson, Curt Flood, Jim Hines and Antonio Davis to name a few.
coach Curtis McCauley was more than a little sympathetic to Spencer's
loss on Wednesday.
"That's a hard thing to go through at any age," he
said. "At 17 or 18, very tough. Our heart goes out to the young man and
Many of McCauley's players — "too many to
count," he said — have endured major emotional upheaval in the past
season, including a Hurricane Katrina refugee who lost family members
and another player whose father was recently murdered.
the football field, being together is a real blessing," McCauley said.
"It serves many purposes. We're definitely a family — we're the Mack
family and that's how we fight through adversity and find ways to
flourish and win."
In that regard, there is a connection between these two teams and communities.
— a somewhat rural, agricultural community known for its wine-making and dairy
products and immortalized in the George Lucas film "American Graffiti" —
has little in common with the inner city of Oakland. The programs,
about 70 miles apart, have never faced each other over the years. The
coaching staffs have never crossed paths.
McCauley, a former
assistant at Laney College, coached at Modesto Junior College once. "I
would imagine most of our kids have never stepped foot in Modesto,"
The teams don't even have a common opponent this season, but what they do share is being very good at the game of football and leaning on each other in a time of need.
That, and on Friday, they'll be playing at Lincoln High School with a State Bowl berth on the line. See game preview
"I know our guys are ready," McCauley said on Tuesday. "We wish the game was tomorrow."
Said Canepa: "Every day that we play and practice together is a good day. We just don't want that to stop."You can contact Mitch Stephens by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MitchMashMax. Read VanderBeek's very personal blog on covering Spencer's story.