It started as a novel idea, then became a reality.
De La Salle vs. Jesuit: The nationally renowned Spartans from Concord against the Marauders, a former area power accelerating into a new era.
And Marlon Blanton, the second-year Jesuit coach who experienced De La Salle’s mystique first-hand as a player, stressed that one takes that call from Contra Costa County, immediately if not sooner.
“You don’t say no to that game, that’s for sure,” Blanton said with a hearty laugh. “We already know where and what De La Salle is, how great, and it’s a great opportunity for us to see where we are, too.”
The teams play Friday night at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley on ESPN2, and Blanton said the game goes beyond the final score. It’s an educational experience, he explained.
“We’re not De La Salle,” Blanton said. “We’re Jesuit, and Jesuit has its own tradition. As a competitor, you want to perform at the highest level. It’s the same in math. If I’m really good in Algebra 2, or trigonometry, I need to take something to really challenge myself.”
The Marauders embrace this challenge against De La Salle, their first against the Spartans. Jesuit’s players are revving up for their shot at a program that has been labled “De La Stomp” over the years for how it habitually crushes the opposition with fundamentals, skill and stamina.
Since 1991, De La Salle has posted a remarkable 250-0-2 against Northern California schools. The Spartans are 24-0 against the Sac-Joaquin Section and 7-0 against Sacramento-area teams.
De La Salle set a national record winning streak of 151 games that included 12 undefeated seasons, ending in 2004. And how many high school football programs have had a Hollywood movie made telling their remarkable success story?
“The Game Stands Tall” recently opened in theaters throughout the nation, not that Blanton rounded up his team and ordered popcorn and front-row seats.
“That’s something I’d definitely say no to,” Blanton said, laughing some more. “We’re not going as a group. We need to prepare for a game.”
Blanton said his De La Salle experiences molded him, “and saved me.” He grew up in Pittsburg in an at-risk home without his parents. A youth coach steered him to De La Salle for structure and discipline, particularly under Bob Ladouceur, who coached the Spartans to 399 wins from 1979 to 2013 and is now in his second season as an assistant to Justin Alumbaugh.
Said Ladouceur of Blanton in 2013: “My goal for Marlon, he was so poor, I thought if we could academically just keep him on track, keep him above the curve, he’ll get a scholarship, just out of need basis. I was always pushing him in that direction. He went to Saint Mary’s College and the rest is history for him. I’m real proud of that guy.”
A knee injury sidelined Blanton as a De La Salle senior in 1990, so he turned to youth coaching, a passion that carried through college.
“It was in my blood, and it helped me a lot,” Blanton said. “For sure, De La Salle offered me a good path. The whole experience, the teachers, coaches, teammates, the whole gamut made me who I am. Every educator influences someone along the way, and it’s part of our souls to help better people. I hope that’s what I’ve done.”
After leading St. Patricks/St. Vincent’s of Vallejo to championships, Blanton jumped at the chance to lead a large school in Jesuit. He replaced a 200-game winner in Dan Carmazzi, now coaching his alma mater of Christian Brothers. Blanton’s players vouch for his impact.
“Coach Blanton has been great for us,” Jesuit receiver Isaiah Bailey said. “He doesn’t always say a lot, but we listen, and what he says is meaningful. We feel lucky to have him.”
Blanton installed the run-heavy veer offense at Jesuit, a staple for De La Salle over the decades, but one very few teams in the state employ.
“The veer is something I believe in, absolutely, but I remind everyone that it doesn’t matter what you run, it’s how you execute,” Blanton said.
Jesuit executed well enough in 2013 to win its first playoff game in 10 seasons. The Marauders seem to have the foundation to continue winning with quarterback Cole Brownholtz, fullback Beau Bisharat, Bailey at receiver, linemen Robert Paylor and Josh Leatherby and tight end Kori Collons,.
And as odd as it sounds, given its success against NorCal teams, De La Salle could be vulnerable in this opener without starting quarterback Anthony Sweeney (knee injury) and Northwestern-bound linebacker Simba Short (shoulder).
Jesuit is breaking in a new passer, too, in Brownholtz, whose first start will be a memorable one.
“Against De La Salle, we have to get it out of our system who and what they are and just play and not let the name get the better of us,” Brownholtz said. “We know there’s some magic there, something spectacular.
“But they’re normal kids just like us, and walk just like us, a regular team, even though we know that part’s not true.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.