Tilting at Goalposts 

More than 90 percent of high school football players will never suit up in college, let alone the pros. But that doesn't stop them from pursuing their dreams.

Page 6 of 8

El Cerrito kicks a field goal midway through the second quarter, and Salesian answers with a touchdown. The Gauchos can't capitalize on Washington's receptions as Salesian scores again, but Nunley catches a long pass and scampers in for a touchdown in the third. Then the injuries begin. Five coaches hover around Banks before he is hauled off in a golf cart. Arrion hurts his hip and limps to the sideline. Keith Thomas, El Cerrito's quarterback, is helped off the field, and Darius Powe enters as signal-caller. He lofts a high pass to Washington, which is intercepted, and a close game ends 21-10. Salesian fans tell their El Cerrito friends that this was by far the best game of the year, but it is cold comfort as Salesian wins its division while El Cerrito hobbles home to an uncertain future.

November

Will last year's defending champion, with its 5-5 record, get into the playoffs? Yes and no. The playoff committee puts El Cerrito in — against perennial North Bay powerhouse, Sebastopol's Analy High, which is 9-1 on the year and, like the Tri-Valley schools, sporting what seems a cast of thousands on its squad. Dark blue uniforms stand four deep on the sidelines, facing the El Cerrito faithful, who have traveled on a dark Saturday night hoping for a miracle.

Hope dies on the first play, a squib kickoff to the Gauchos that Analy recovers and brings in for a touchdown three plays later. Midway into the first quarter, the score is 27-0. As in every other game, Rodney Washington makes nice catches and tackles, and fans applaud each pretty play. The cheerleaders get up a good head of steam in the second quarter, and the Gauchos score with 1:27 left to make it 27-7. The audience claps appreciatively and then settles in for the slaughter. Center Alex Meurer, who is also an efficient tackler on defense with a good eye for the ball, goes out with an injury. The downhill slope gets steeper as hikes resemble wild pitches. By the half it's 62-7.

Some blame the offensive coordinator. The line coach. The defensive coordinator. Special teams. "It all comes back to Kahn," says one man sadly. In the second half, Analy puts in its second string, and the clock keeps running. Dejected, El Cerrito can't score on the replacements. It is a dismal ending to a season that started with such high expectations.

December

The holidays help erase that awful playoff game. Archie performed well on his SAT, but wants an even higher score, so he'll retake it in January. Washington's grades are not as good as he would like; he's studying hard now that the season is over. He is philosophical about the season but concerned about his status. "I could have made the team better if I'd played my position [cornerback]. I was running kicks back, caught good catches as a receiver, played running back. But I never got to play a defense position throughout the whole year. I don't have that many highlights from one position." Which makes him what recruiters call an athlete — a flexible player valuable enough to be moved around the field to take advantage of his strengths. It should be a plus but often turns into a minus as busy recruiters search stats for yards gained or interceptions. Because Washington played multiple positions, his stats place him fifth or sixth in the league rather than the first or second that might catch a coach's attention. Coaches looking for corners could pass over Washington's highlights when they see three or four wideout catches along with open-field tackles and runbacks. "I'm still a three-star on Rivals," Washington says, "at 5.8. One more point would make me a four-star. We talk about this on the team."

Kahn sees it somewhat differently. When college coaches evaluate film, he says, they watch the first four plays of a highlight reel and either move on to someone else or finish the reel. "They might know they're going to offer after those first four plays," he says. "They look at raw athletic ability, size, and they watch to see what you're doing when the ball is not in your hands. Are you standing around daydreaming? They want to see athletes [those like Washington who play multiple positions] play as aggressively on defense and special teams as they do on offense." Kahn says that college recruiters often ask if he knows of other players or programs they should check out. "And I point out people, maybe players whose programs are under the radar. It's the right thing to do."

Although Kahn believes that a team's record doesn't impact recruiting that much ("I've seen kids get scholarships from 2-8 teams"), Washington is more practical. "If we'd done better, we'd of got recognized more from coaches. UC would never have left." Cal recruiters were interested in players but dropped off the map as the season progressed. On this score, Kahn is the pragmatic one. "Everyone's waiting on grades," he says. "That's the issue."

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