James Kidd still looks game ready.
He maintains the familiar 5-foot-8 lean build, muscled calves, darting eyes. He looks ready to compete. At 170 pounds, Kidd is just five pounds over his playing weight from his myriad professional football stops a generation ago.
Kidd is 44 now but is still every bit a kid. He coaches the freshmen football team at Franklin High School with enthusiasm, believing that the best motivator is encouragement, not brow beating. He imparts wisdom on the benefits of the game beyond wins and losses, of accountability, brotherhood and sacrifice.
Kidd held a captive audience from his players on Thursday night after the Wildcats capped a 5-5 season with a 12-0 victory over Monterey Trail.
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Except his son Bryson, the Franklin players have no idea who Kidd was before he became a coach. They don’t know his regional lore, that he was a blur in jersey No. 21 at Elk Grove High from 1989-91, zipping and blasting into open space as a record-setting running back.
He remains proof that small guys can play big, and shows what academics can do for a young man.
And Kidd has stories and lessons. He survived a vicious knife attack as a freshman at Elk Grove, a victim of mistaken identity. He went to Colorado on scholarship to play receiver. There, he became close friends with another star with Sacramento roots – Rae Carruth.
They were roommates their senior season in 1996. Kidd and Carruth are linked in that they were prep rivals who played the same position on the same college team. Carruth became a first-round NFL pick in 1997 to Carolina, but his role in masterminding the shooting death of his pregnant girlfriend Cherica Adams in 1999 shattered a lot of lives.
Carruth was released from prison after serving 18 years on Monday.
“Honestly, that’s not the Rae I knew,” Kidd said. “He was a fun-loving, good guy when I knew him. At Colorado, he would read to kids because he wanted to and because he enjoyed it. That was my friend. I last talked to him when he was first jailed. It’s hard to fathom what’s happened.”
Mostly, Kidd has fond memories of anything affiliated with football, including bouncing around NFL training camps and stops in NFL Europe. He has no regrets.
Kidd said his body is sound and that he has no concussion fears. Kidd and wife Shareen have a 20-year old daughter – Tiana – studying engineering at Cal. Son Bryson still cannot beat his old man in a sprint, but that day is coming.
Kidd said athletics served as a motivator for him when he was raised by a single mother. He does regular grade checks on his Franklin players, insisting “no grades” means no chance in anything.
He had to convince his wife that freshman football would be a good thing for their son even as freshmen football participation numbers are in steep decline due to long-lasting concussion fears. A number of area programs this season folded freshmen programs, including at storied Elk Grove.
“My thought process is kids need to learn the fundamentals of the sport, and it’s easier to do that at a younger age than when you’re older,” Kidd said. “When you’re going against a guy who hasn’t hit puberty and doesn’t have muscles, that’s when you learn how to tackle the right way, to take a hit the right way, to fall the right way. You wait to learn that as a junior and you get hit by a guy who’s 270 with muscles, that’s when you get hurt.
“But the low numbers are concerning to me. Football at this age is a great way to teach the game, and how to become a good man and person.”
Freshmen football is also a reminder of reality to parents.
“I tell parents that we play on Thursdays,” Kidd said. “There are no college scouts out here. No scholarships are being handed out on Thursdays. You work toward that.”
Franklin varsity head coach Evan Boylan said of Kidd: “He has done a great job. We’re lucky to have him. He’s the kind of guy you want around these young men.”
Kidd also urges his players to stick with good company. Kidd was mistaken for someone else in 1988 when he was biking home from an Elk Grove High track practice. A group of older kids jumped him. He was stabbed repeatedly, his Lakers jacket absorbing most of the blows, though one wound nearly killed him.
Kidd did suffer a collapsed lung and was rushed to the hospital. Arrests of two 18-year olds happened within weeks.
“I have the scar in the middle of my spine, and doctors told me the reason it really didn’t hurt me was because I was fighting back, twisting and turning,” Kidd said. “That attack really messed me up. I was paranoid around crowds for awhile. I had a counselor at Elk Grove, Roy Smith, who really helped me.”
Kidd’s Elk Grove experience was capped by three years of football excellence. He rushed for what was then a Sac-Joaquin Section record 5,235 career yards and 72 touchdowns. He had a regional record 2,358 yards as a senior for a 13-1 championship team.
Lance Briggs is regarded as the greatest player in Thundering Herd history, well before his seven Pro Bowl appearances at linebacker for the Chicago Bears. Kidd would surely rate as a close second.
And yet, Kidd never anticipated coaching. He learned from his prep coaches such as Ed Lombardi that nothing beats a team game like football. Now he’s hooked.
“So many lessons to offer,” Kidd said. “Freshmen are forgetful. They sometimes forget their shoulder pads and say it’s in Mom’s car. I tell them, ‘It’s on you. The equipment was issued to you, not mom. Be responsible.’”
Or video games. Kidd tells his players: “Do you want to play more X-Box, or sit down and study for that test, because you don’t want to destroy your chances to succeed as a student.”