Get nasty, son.
Get belligerent in the trenches, where nice guys get buckled, and don’t stop until you ransack the backfield.
That was the general mandate issued to Eddie Vanderdoes by Placer High School football coaches in 2010. He was 15 then, more broad grins, piecing blue eyes and unrefined body mass than the terror he would become.
“Coach Dennis Murphy was the guy,” said Vanderdoes, the Raiders’ rookie defensive tackle, after Wednesday’s practice in Napa, his eyes widening. “He preached being violent and mean and ruthless. He made sure I knew that.”
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Vanderdoes played angry his three varsity seasons without losing an ounce of his silly side. He could turn it on and off. Vanderdoes would blow up a play and then shimmy and shake to celebrate on the sideline at Placer, a social epicenter in Auburn on Friday nights.
The more Vanderdoes grew, the better he became, and he emerged as the most heavily recruited athlete in the history of the school, which opened in 1897. Every storied college powerhouse in the country called, the thinking that once this kid really figures it out, look out.
“That’s the one thing I noticed the most about Eddie – his confidence,” Placer head coach Joey Montoya said. “Once he grew there, it was, ‘Wow. He can dominate. He can be really special. He can be great.’
“I’d never coached a five-star recruit before. You go watch a college game live, or an NFL game live, and you can see it – the speed, size, dominance. But until you have one of those guys, you really don’t know what it’s like. Eddie was a physical specimen who could do things I’d never seen, and he’s still doing a lot of that.”
Vanderdoes had a mixed run at UCLA: great moments and frustrating ones, stalled at times by leg injuries. In the months leading to his first NFL training camp, Vanderdoes trimmed 35 pounds, down to 305, and he casts quite an imposing figure at 6-foot-3. He has bear-sized hands, barrel-shaped thighs and a broad base – a nicer way of saying he has one wide fanny.
Vanderdoes laughs. He knows he looks the part of stopper and bouncer. He has produced moments of brilliance in camp, unleashing on centers and guards in drills, knocking some on their backside. He has gotten to Derek Carr several times, exploding through the line to record non-contact sacks. He has punished one-man blocking sleds, delivering a distinct crunching sound that was common at UCLA, where defensive line coach Angus McClure recalled, “When he hits a sled, he hits it so hard, there’s a different sound, a different octave.”
Vanderdoes, a mainstay on the first-team defense in camp, has the attention of Carr. They fist-bump when leaving the Napa practice field, mutual respect between the team leader and rookie. And the Raiders need some defensive clout. They were last in the NFL last season with 25 sacks.
“Very explosive, great hands,” Carr said of Vanderdoes. “He reminds me a lot of the way (Justin) Tuck can get skinny and shoot a gap. If he gets beat the first time, he’s going to counter again. If he gets beat, then he’s going to counter again. His mind never stops. His motor never stops.”
Added Raiders defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr., “He’s a hell of a player. He’s really strong. He is going to make some noise this year.”
Vanderdoes said landing in the NFL still hasn’t hit him. It may not until he hits someone wearing another uniform. The Raiders open the preseason Saturday at Arizona.
“I’ve enjoyed it so far,” Vanderdoes said of camp. “It’s new. It’s fun. I don’t have to worry about school. Don’t have to worry about two-a-day practices. It’s a profession now. It’s a lot better,” he added with a laugh.
Vanderdoes said a highlight of camp was a visit from his grandfather, Bernhard Peat, a Placer County resident and perhaps the greatest athlete Placer produced before his grandson rolled through.
Peat was a three-sport Bee All-Metro star in the early 1970s – football, basketball, track and field. He still holds the Placer record in the long jump at 22 feet, 5 1/2 inches. Peat played football and basketball at Cal and logged 17 seasons of professional basketball in Germany, having arrived in Auburn as an 8-year-old from that country speaking not a word of English. Peat once squat-lifted 725 pounds.
Where did Vanderdoes get his athletic genes? That’s a start.
“Bernhard’s in his 60s, and he’s not built like Eddie, longer and leaner, but he can still dunk a ball, and he could show up at Placer right now and beat any kid on campus in basketball,” said Montoya, the Placer football coach. “Good genes.”
Peat said Auburn is pulling for his grandson.
“It’s almost too perfect where Eddie is and what’s happened,” he said. “And it’s not just his family that’s with him. We’re all a part of it, his pee-wee coaches, high school coaches and teachers, the whole community.”
Vanderdoes hit 92 mph with his fastball as a pitcher at Placer, once striking out 16 in six innings, and he would blast home runs into the trees that lined the outfield fence at James Field in Auburn. His younger sister, Baylee, is playing basketball on scholarship at San Diego State. Vanderdoes doesn’t deny that Baylee may be the best athlete in the family.
Vanderdoes said he has not treated himself to any luxuries with his new NFL earnings. He still drives a 2014 Honda Accord, and he zipped to Auburn to visit family and coaches before camp started. He credits his coaches, grandparents and parents – Behia and Eddie – for his humility.
“Everybody played a big part in my success,” he said. “Placer was my building foundation. Mom and Dad were my foundation for being a better man, doing the right thing, being disciplined. I look back and, damn, it seems so long ago but not so long ago. I’m here, and now I need to re-establish myself again.”