Recently, two worried parents near Sacramento longed for a committee.
They desired a group of their fellow Del Campo High School parents, working in conjunction with teachers and district officials, formed in the name of explaining why the works of noted sleaze-smiths like J.D. Salinger and John Steinbeck were required reading. More acceptable titles would be recommended. "The F-word is the F-word," the mom was quoted at the time.
Consider current Del Campo senior Eddie Plantaric, the Sacramento representative in Stanford's 2010 football recruiting class, thankful the bookshelf diet failed. Plantaric – who chose The Farm over heavy consideration from UCLA and Cal – loves "Catcher in the Rye." George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" is high on his AP English to-do list. Unaware the movement even took place (he was only in eighth grade at the time when the San Juan High School District passed on it), the defensive end prodigy sees the bigger picture.
"I didn't know that. That's too bad," said Plantaric, listed at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds. "'Catcher in the Rye' is my favorite book. I was reading it the same day [Salinger] died this year."
Academics have always been an emphasis in the Plantaric (pronounced Plan-TAR-ick) household. Ed Plantaric was intent on his only son avoiding his father's high school fate: an all-everything Sacramento area star linebacker with only the grades for junior college. Don't mess with Ed now. He's a supervisor with the U.S. Department of Justice, training special agents in weapons expertise.
Opposing backfields throughout the Sac-Joaquin Section became decidedly unsafe once the younger Plantaric uncoiled from his three-point stance. He registered 141 tackles as a junior, forcing five fumbles and totaling 4 ½ sacks. Rivals.com rated him the state's No. 2 strong side defensive end prospect. He then led the Cougars to a second straight section championship, buoying a program that has won 50 games since 2005.
Older sister Samantha is scholarship swimmer at UNLV. Plantaric is anything but a late bloomer athletically, as he emerged from a childhood heavy with youth swimming into a football standout at the youth level.
"He's always been a gifted athlete," Del Campo head coach Mike Dimino said. "But he's a guy who's going to use his smarts out there as much as his athletic abilities. He'll know the snap count. He'll anticipate."
Plantaric counts former Cardinal defensive coordinator Ron Lynn as a big factor in choosing Stanford over the Bears and Bruins. He says he felt more comfortable at Stanford, both in the presence of its assistant coaches and the ambience provided by the campus.
"As soon as I started walking around Stanford, it felt like the one," he said. "I was in awe. Choosing Stanford means getting the best in everything. It's the best in academics; it's the best in athletics. I know football has had some down years lately, but it's on its way back."
He transferred to Del Campo after his freshman season from nearby Bella Vista High, which provided the Cardinal with offensive linemen in Gordon King (an All-American for Bill Walsh's 1977 squad) and Kurt Josephson a decade later. Both campuses sit in suburban Fair Oaks, minutes from Sacramento's city limits.
The state capital is assumed Cal Bear territory, with Sacramento High producing Berkeley alums like Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and former Cincinnati Bengals kicker Jim Breech. Cal standout safety turned NFL hopeful Syd Thompson played prep football at the city's most established high school football program, the esteemed Grant High Pacers. What Sacramento lacks in balancing the state's budget, it provides in pride towards its youth athletes. The city hosted a huge parade in 2008 to celebrate the Pacers' state championship.
Del Campo – second only to Grant in wins by Sac Joaquin Section football teams over the last five years – has its own compelling lineage. Matt Barnes moonlighted as a tight end before his basketball skills brought him to UCLA and now the NBA. The most famous of school's former athletes called basketball his passion, and once scored five touchdowns in game from his tailback spot. Dusty Baker fondly remembers his high school days.
"The coaches know how to prepare you here," Plantaric said. "You're challenged so much mentally."
Plantaric and his family attended six of the Cardinal's seven 2009 home games, including the Big Game. Praise him for his nascent knowledge of Stanford traditions. Commend him being a little overly admiring. He mentioned both John Elway and Jim Plunkett by name when asked about Stanford football history. Cal and Stanford, in his words, are "national powers" in football.
"I know Stanford has a really strong tradition for quarterbacks. Hey, maybe I can become a legendary Stanford football player before it's all over," he said.
Dimino will remember his 2009 squad as his most unique group. Defensive back Jaron Wilson will play at Harvard in 2010. The coach says half the roster achieved at least a B-average in the fall. Young people here can clearly succeed, even without parents with too much time on their hands.
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