By Bill Tamburrino
If you have never seen Johnny Puleo and his Harmonica Gang, Google it. Writing this article reminded me of that old vaudeville act.
Coach Damon Baldwin recently informed me that three members of the offensive line had done well at lineman’s camp. That was all of the motivation that I needed to invite the returning members of the offensive line out to lunch.
Taking offensive linemen to lunch can be an expensive and dangerous proposition. One doesn’t want to get in between an o-lineman and the food.
Some of my fondest memories of my coaching days, however, involved linemen and food. One year I took the o-line to Escondido to see a Thursday night freshman football game. On the way home we stopped by an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. The business is no longer open and I have a strong belief that our visit had something to do with that.
I remember the names of the players: Jason, Mike, Stevie, Tom, Ian, Ryan, and Adam. Their last names are being withheld to protect the innocent. All I can tell you is that Tom was only about 255 pounds and the rest to the line called him skinny. The rest of the crew was closer to three bills than they were to a deuce and a half.
When we walked into the establishment, the manager or owner said something in Chinese. One didn’t have to have a degree in Oriental languages to understand what he said. He then ran back to the kitchen and told them to put a hold on the lobster and crab dishes. He knew that the vegetable dishes were safe.
The entire group did a lap around the buffet table doing a better job of recon than most Special Forces teams conduct. They then planned their attack. Bets were that the restaurant would run out of food before the o-line had all that they could eat. Nobody was willing to wager.
The waitress asked them if they were the Chargers. The Bolts were not doing that well at the time and one of the linemen said, “No, we are winning.”
I am not sure that the boys ever got full, but the restaurant was lucky that Coach Galli had placed a curfew on players the night before a game. At 9:30 the boys remembered the curfew and left before they got to the dessert table. There wasn’t much work left for the busboy or the dishwasher.
Another time I had the o-line over for a spaghetti dinner. This time the group only numbered seven. My wife cooked eight pounds of pasta, made meatballs, cooked sausage, and prepared five loafs of Italian bread and a huge bucket of salad.
The salad was truly antipasto. It was like a warm-up lap before the race. The boys were polite, but all talking ceased when the spaghetti arrived. Fortunately, my wife made plenty of sauce, because when she had to cook five more pounds of pasta there was something to put over the noodles. After dinner the o-line invited my wife and I out for dessert on them. We declined but scouting reports said that a local ice cream parlor (also no longer in business) almost ran out of ice cream. Fortunately for them, the boys ran out of money first.
When I asked this year’s linemen what type of food they preferred, they all said in unison, “Food!” So no persuasion was needed when I suggested Mexican.
As a warm-up I ordered 12 rolled tacos with guacamole and then each lineman ordered his favorite burrito. I learned my lesson about all-you-can-eat from the Chinese restaurant fiasco.
Last year’s Lineman of the Year, Luke Papps, was the one they called tiny this time. Poor Luke is only 5’10” and is a slim 225 pounds, but he plays and eats like a heavy weight. Center Eric Box is a mere 6’2” and only 260 pounds. Preston Johnson is 6’5” and is officially 281-1⁄2 pounds. Kwayde Miller is what higher education is all about. Kwayde is 6’8” and a svelte 290 pounds.
Eric, Preston, and Kwayde were invited to compete in the Passing Down Elite Lineman Challenge at Sage High School in Newport Beach. The participants had to have Division I height and weight and grades. The competition consisted of four events: benching pressing repetitions of 185 pounds, a medley race, a tire flip and a one on one blocking and pass rushing drill.
Eric and Kwayde were quick to point out that they were able to do more repetitions of 185 pounds than Preston. They made it sound like Preston had a bad day and that they were awesome. Preston then sheepishly admitted that he could only do 22 repetitions but was quick to point out that Eric and Kwayde only beat him by one rep. The center and tackle pumped the weight 23 times. As a team, Ramona took first in the event.
Every conversation about weightlifting inevitably gets to how much an individual can max in the bench press. Preston was quick to point out that his max in 340 pounds. Kwayde was next to speak up and fess up to 330. Even though anything over 300 pounds is considered very good, Eric just mumbled when he said 310. Luke smiled and said that his max is also 340, but before he got the 40 completely out of his mouth the other three linemen said in unison that Luke has shorter arms so he doesn’t have as far up to go.
The second event was a medley race involving a pickup truck and a weighted blocking sled. In the first leg Kwayde pushed the truck. Preston pulled the truck back in the second leg and Eric pushed a weighted blocking sled in the third leg. All three claimed that their leg was the most difficult.
Luke was called on to make the deciding vote. Luke didn’t have a ride home so he abstained from deciding the argument. He had to call a friend to get a ride home. That is what one gets for trying to be diplomatic. As a team, Ramona won the event.
Event number three was a tire flip race. Four hunter fifty-pound heavy equipment tires had to be flipped end over end 40 yards for a time. Ramona won as a team.
The tire flip is part of weighttraining class, and the Dawgs work on the drill every day. It comes in handy when the weight training teacher (Damon Baldwin) used to moonlight by preparing NFL prospects for the combine and used to run college camps. He knows what drills and competitions Division I coaches look at.
The fourth and final event was a one on one pass rushing and pass blocking drill. Each lineman had to line up as a pass blocker and try to keep another Division I prospect from getting to a quarterback (actually another lineman acting like a quarterback) five yards behind the line of scrimmage. The event was timed. Points were given for keeping the defensive lineman from getting to the QB and points were given for getting to the QB. As a team, Ramona won the event.
Last week Luke, Kwayde and Preston attended the National Underclassman Combine at Eastlake High School. Luke came in first in the strength category. He bench pressed 185 pounds 26 times. He was quick to point out that Kwayde (21) and Preston (22) also did well.
This was not a team event, but Ramona’s three linemen all finished in the top five in overall points.
Math is not my strong suit, but even I figured out that out of 150 linemen having three Bulldogs finish in the top five means that RHS won as a team. The events were: bench press, vertical jump, standing broad jump, 40-yard dash and a 40-yard shuttle run. Kwayde and Preston both said that their vertical jumps were better that Luke’s. Luke said that he couldn’t remember the numbers. That is a non-denial.
What next? Ramona gets an automatic berth to the Best of the West Lineman’s Challenge in beautiful Fresno. From there, the nation.
All four linemen dispel the stereotypical “dumb lineman” image.
All have the grades and SAT scores to get into a college. Eric wants to attend any college that gives him a scholarship. Preston’s dream school is BYU.
Kwayde has the most offers and lists Wisconsin, Oregon, and San Diego State at the top of the list for now. Luke would like to attend a Division III school like Laverne, Redlands, or Occidental.
After lunch one of the lineman asked if I would be doing another story if they win in Fresno. Translation: Will we be going out to lunch again?
Yes, eating with linemen is fun, even if it is dangerous at times.