The brains behind the braun

Del Oro football team emphasizes academic excellence as it makes its championship run
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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ROSEVILLE — For guys like Tanner Huber and Jason Heath, shoulder pads and a helmet are like a second skin. On Thursday night the two Del Oro High seniors were looking sharp, wearing shirts and ties under their Golden Eagle jerseys. Heath, a 6-3, 265-pound lineman wore his glasses. Huber was clean-cut — a six-day old gash on the bridge of his nose was the only clue that he is a fierce middle linebacker. They each channeled their inner-Mr. Rogers and read books to attentive school children at Barnes & Noble bookstore, volunteering for a fundraiser for the Loomis Grammar School Library. But the studious look isn’t a facade for Del Oro’s football players. Forty of the 47 players on Del Oro’s regular season roster had grade point averages over 3.0. Several are near the top of the class, including all-Sierra Foothill League center Kevin Love. “He’s the leader,” Taylor said. “The great thing is, a lot of our best players are the best students on the team.” Huber sports a GPA of 3.96. “It will be 4.0 after this semester,” he promised. His stats on the football field are nothing to scoff at either. Huber leads Del Oro’s bullish defense with 96 tackles on the season and Taylor said the 6-1, 210-pound playmaker has sparked Del Oro all year long. It’s all incredibly gratifying for Huber, who wasn’t sure he’d play football again after he tore the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee five games into his junior season. The devastating injury came just one year after he tore the ACL in his other knee as a sophomore. “I didn’t know if I was going to come back,” said Huber, who plans on attending BYU, and possibly playing football there, next fall. “I worked hard. At the beginning of the year I was testing it, and I wasn’t sure. But then I realized I could do everything again. It’s been nice to finally have a healthy season.” Huber said just as the Eagles push each other to greatness on the field, a similar thing has happened with their studies. “Since we were freshmen, we’ve just been smart football players,” Huber said. “If a few of the leaders are into grades, that helps and we have that. And we have an academic program that is good for anyone that’s slacking.” The players were tutoring the next generation of Golden Eagles Thursday night. Barnes & Noble in Roseville hosted kids from Loomis Grammar School, who enjoyed listening to stories read by the Del Oro players. Taylor mingled and smiled, just as he has so often after Del Oro games this season. The coach, who won his 100th game with the Eagles when they beat Oakdale for the section title last week, picked the participating players for the book reading in the same manner he picks the starting lineup on Friday nights. The top performing student-athletes got the nod to read to the eager kids. “It’s a reward,” Taylor said. “We’ve tried to celebrate the kids that are doing it right. We hold them to a higher standard and we’ve lost some players from that. But we’ve found that if they’re making the right choices with their studies, they will usually make the right choices on the field.” Steve Birch, Del Oro’s defensive coordinator, is in charge of the academic enrichment program. There is accountability from every angle, with teachers and parents signing off on assignments each day to make sure the players stay on track. “The staff at Del Oro is great working with us,” Taylor said. “Del Oro believes in academics and athletics and it’s really a two-way street.” Del Oro makes the right reads Jennifer Mishler started the fundraiser with Barnes & Noble last year, raising more than $1,200 for Loomis Grammar School’s library. She has a son in the eighth grade at the Loomis school and knows the influence of the Golden Eagles. “Especially for some of the older kids, they know the football players will be here and they really want to come spend time with them,” Mishler said. The Del Oro players read to local elementary school children on a regular basis throughout the school year. This year’s team has taken football-crazed Loomis on a remarkable ride to a second straight section championship, and the team is likely headed to a CIF State Bowl Championship next weekend in Carson. Several thousand fans would likely join the Golden Eagles at their first-ever state bowl game. “Loomis is such a great community, so supportive,” Mishler said. “We overheard the guy that works here at Barnes & Noble telling another worker, ‘Get ready. Loomis is a small town, but they all come out.’” The wait is almost over Del Oro will find out this afternoon if its prolific season will continue. The Golden Eagles are expected to land an invitation to the CIF State Division II Bowl game in Carson next Saturday. The state’s 10 section commissioners will meet today and vote on the representatives to each of the five bowl games. Taylor’s squad practiced last week in anticipation of the bowl game and said “tentative” plans are in place for the team to leave Loomis on Thursday for Carson. If projections hold true, Del Oro would meet San Diego-area power Helix in Carson. The Highlanders (12-1) lost their season opener to Eastlake, then coasted through the rest of the schedule, including a 44-6 romp over Oceanside for the San Diego Section Division II title.