Berkeley High football coaches call him “Mr. Everything.” It’s hard to argue with them.
In a single game against El Cerrito earlier this season, Nick Schooler, 17, ran the ball at fullback, defended the pass at strong safety and even punted after the ’Jackets’ starting kicker left the game with an arm injury.
And if it weren’t for Raymond Pinkston transferring to Berkeley High from Detroit earlier this year, Schooler might be taking snaps at quarterback as well.
“Every year I start as a potential quarterback,” Schooler said. “I show up every day during the summer and pick up on the offense pretty well.”
He’s never been Berkeley’s primary passer in an actual game, but did play quarterback in a scrimmage earlier this season, so it could be Schooler’s next position.
But then again, any position could be Schooler’s next position.
“He knows his position and everybody else’s,” said Matt Bissell, Berkeley head coach. “He picks up stuff much quicker than other players and seems to always know what he’s doing.”
Schooler’s intelligence and instinct allow him to read defenses and see plays happen before the opposing team even runs them. “He’s sort of a coach on the field,” Bissell added.
This year Schooler learned an entirely new offense under first-year coordinator Clarence Johnson just in time to switch to the other side of the ball after the ’Jackets’ starting strong safety, sophomore Chris Watson, became sidelined with a shoulder injury.
“A lot of guys just know what they’re supposed to do out there,” Johnson said. “But he sees the whole picture and plays extremely smart football.”
In Berkeley’s first four games of the season Schooler split time at fullback with Roger Mason and Aaron Boatright. He also filled in for two injured ’Jackets, Watson on defense and Jason Goodwin as punter.
“In emergencies we’ll put him in at receiver,” Johnson said. “I’m sure we could put him on the line if we needed to.”
Although he’s only 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, Schooler would likely get the call if a hole on the line needed to be filled. He played inside linebacker on the junior varsity squad as a sophomore and an outside linebacker on the varsity team last year.
It’s now clear how versatile Schooler is on the football field, but that’s only the half of it.
In the spring, Schooler picks up a lacrosse stick and plays – you guessed it – both offense and defense as a midfielder for a Berkeley High team that’s missed the playoffs by just a single game each of the last two seasons.
Lacrosse, which he started playing in the sixth grade, is Schooler’s first choice of sports to play. When asked about the similarities between football and lacrosse, he noted that they’re both full contact and as an aside said, “Jim Brown’s second-best sport was football. He played lacrosse first.”
At the collegiate level, big-time lacrosse is mainly an East Coast sport. Schooler’s interested in staying in California and possibly playing for a Division I school such as UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego or Stanford, which all field club teams. Williams College, a Division III school in Massachusetts, has recruited Schooler for its team.
As for football, Schooler’s family was instrumental in making him a two-sport athlete. His father played in high school and Schooler’s brother, Ben, played inside linebacker at Berkeley and was named all-league twice.
“He’s got me beat at football,” Schooler said of his older brother. “But I’m working on the lacrosse part and I pretty much have him beat there.”
Off the field, Schooler maintains a 4.0 grade point average while taking such classes as advanced placement statistics.
“I just put everything else aside during the week,” he said. “It’s just football and school.”
In the precious free time that Schooler does manage to find, he turns to photography, a hobby that began while he was a freshman. As an amateur photographer, he enjoys taking pictures of people and his chocolate Labrador, Hershey.
Back to the football field, Bissell said that a couple games were lost last year because athletes were overexerted. For that reason – and the fact that Berkeley fielded a larger team this year – just a handful of ’Jackets will see playing time on both sides of the ball.
Schooler, however, will continue to play more than one position because he’s well conditioned, Bissell said. In addition, the Berkeley coaches are quick to recognize just how important a smart player can be to the success of an entire team.
Still, even for a player as athletically sound as Schooler, he admitted that Berkeley’s 32-29 league-opening win over El Cerrito took a lot out of him. He ran for 25 yards on the ground, caught a touchdown pass with under a minute left in the first half, recorded his first career interception as a defensive back, and pinned the Gauchos deep in their own territory with a key fourth-quarter punt.
“It was kind of tiring,” Schooler said. “I was sore for the first time after a game.”