De La Salle High School Football Story Looms Large as Football Season Draws Near
At this time of year, vacations are numerous. This is the season to reflect and pull off the side of the road for a few days to get some exercise, leave town, see some family and friends, maybe read a book.
It is also the time when football starts to creep into our consciousness once again. It’s not the Fall yet, and the luscious college football Saturdays, featuring fantastic tailgates, have not yet kicked into gear. But they’re coming, seemingly just a few days away.
I have been reading the perfect book to reorient myself towards the football mindset. Called “When the Game Stands Tall,” it’s the story of the De La Salle High School football program that won an all-time record 151 straight games during the 1990s and 2000s.
There are plenty of moving football stories such as Tom Brady extricating himself from a mediocre college career at Michigan too, through incredibly hard work, becoming arguably the best quarterback in football history. There is the story of Bill Belichick getting fired from his job as the Cleveland Browns coach and then proceeding to win five Super Bowls as leader of the New England Patriots.
All good stories and there are so much more. But the story of the De La Salle football program that was so amazingly successful is a football story like no other. At the center of this is the coach who engineered this incredible program, Jim Ladouceur. Most football coaches are boisterous and extroverted and like the limelight. Not Ladouceur. This guy is different.
His dream job, according to the book, is not coaching the varsity team that he led to four national titles but rather to coach the school’s freshman team. The basics of football such as teaching young boys how to block defensive tackles and ends are where he was hyper-focused.
In the book are copies of the speeches he gives to his players on Friday nights before games. The content of these speeches is deeper, more honest, and full of more wisdom than you can imagine from any other football coach at any level, or many other preachers and professional inspirational speakers.
Speaking from the heart with no prepared notes, as he always does, Coach Lad said the following the night before the team’s first game of the 2002 season when the streak stood at 125 games:
I’m the dean of coaches. I’ve been coaching longer than almost anybody else in the Bay Area. I’m not saying I’m the best coach. I’m just saying I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen a lot of teams. I think that’s my strength as a coach. I’m not a genius. I’m not brilliant as a coach. But my strength is being able to tell you guys if you’re playing up to your abilities. That I do know.
One thing to understand throughout this year is what I tell you will be my perception of the truth. I’m not going to bullshit you. I’m not going to lie to you or make up shit to try to fire you up – none of that stuff. I’m going to give you exact feedback of what I see and what I hear.
Here’s how the meeting is going to go. I’m not going to give you any pregame talk tomorrow. I don’t give speeches. Don’t anticipate some guy firing you up, whether it’s a teammate or a coach. I don’t want to do it and I don’t want them to have to do [pointing to his assistant coaches]. Do it yourself. If you sit there and say “I need somebody to fire me up,” that’s horseshit. It doesn’t happen that way. It all comes from within your own heart.
The book is full of these talks that this coach gives to his team. There is a tone to them that is unique. He is direct and sincere while not being mean or overly critical. He says what he truly believes – what is in his heart – and his players obviously respond.
There has never been a high school football that has won so many consecutive games – they shattered the previous mark of 72 straight. The streak of 151 games will never be broken.
This man, more than any other person or factor, is the reason why this all happened. He is deep, methodical, and totally real with his players. He certainly is a great strategist, but there have been plenty of football coaches with that skill that has not won nearly as a high a percentage of the games that Ladouceur coached.
He’s not about frills and accolades and trophies. To him, it was never even about the winning. It was always about the players on the team caring about and loving each other.
As this football season is about to unfold, it is important for us to remember what great football teams are made of. De La Salle High School was at its core a football program that inspired teenage boys to strive and achieve tremendous greatness.
One humble and special man’s actions and words made it all come true.