Berkeley High Football Season Begins

By Al Winslow
Friday September 07, 2007

Berkeley High School football practice was noisy and chaotic. The field was shared with the woman’s field hockey team, a jogger circling the perimeter and random groups of children throwing footballs. 

In the more-or-less football portion of the field, a coach is yelling: “Hit! Hit! I want to see you hit!” and players accelerate toward each other from a few yards apart until they crash with a sound that only crashing football players can make. 

No one seems to get hurt. But this isn’t surprising. Teenage athletes are nearly as indestructible as they think they are. 

A distance away, a group of offensive linemen watches silently. There are five of them. Even standing by, they stand in formation with a “Thou Shall Not Pass” look about them. After a while, they go off by themselves to practice the intricacies of their craft.  

This involve scores of perceptions and decisions in the few seconds they get to protect their quarterback from what off the field would be a felonious assault, or the second or two to swindle formidable people out of enough space for a running back to slip through who then unaccountably seems to look for the first opponent he can find to smash into. 

They are considered the most essential players on the team. Bob Ladouceur, head coach at De La Salle in Concord, one of California’s best teams, is also the offensive line coach. In the National Football League, the best offensive team frequently is the team with the best offensive line. 

Varsity line coach Greg Pedemonte, who looks like a math teacher, described a lineman’s skill as “esoteric.” 

“Misplace a hand by six inches and you lose control of the block,” he said. 

The players are big (Omar Kitami, a starting tackler on the junior varsity, is 14 years old and weighs 240 pounds) and you’d think they would be slow. 

But they have very fast hands. 

The shouts from a lineman scrimmage are esoteric. 

“If he pushes your hands away put them right back.” 

“Nice job Clarence, nice job. Take him all the way to the end of the  


“See what happens when you do it like that. It works.” 

What worked was unclear. It’s all a blur of hands, shoulders, forearms and twisting bodies that lasts about three seconds. 

It’s like watching something like full-contact speed chess.  

Berkeley will play an exhibition game against Deer Valley this evening (Friday) at 5 p.m. at the Berkeley High School field. Admission is usually $8.