YOUNG GUNS, Jackson, Eskridge lift Serra

Serra's pulse-pounding 21-17 victory, achieved on a fourth-and-inches plunge by Deleon Eskridge with three seconds left, gave the Padres a win last week against Mountain View St. Francis.

Patrick Walsh had no way of knowing it, but when he agreed to become the keynote speaker at an awards night in San Jose six years ago, he had sowed the seeds for one of Serra High School's greatest football victories.


Walsh had completed his second season as coach at the all-boys Catholic high school in San Mateo. He was already turning a once-foundering program around. That, added with the fact Walsh was once a record-setting running back and senior-class valedictorian at powerhouse Concord De La Salle, and it's not surprising he was invited to speak.


The Peninsula Pop Warner Association was having its academic awards night. One of the honorees was a grade-schooler named Cody Jackson, now the Serra quarterback.


"I guess that night Cody determined he wanted to be a (Serra) Padre," Walsh said. "Sometimes

I think about what would have happened if I didn't speak at that banquet."


To begin with, Serra wouldn't be 5-1 right now, nor 2-0 in the rugged West Catholic Athletic League. It almost certainly would not have defeated Mountain View St. Francis last Friday night, ending a 34-year winless drought against the Lancers.


Serra's pulse-pounding 21-17 victory, achieved on a fourth-and-inches plunge by Deleon Eskridge with three seconds left, gave the Padres the win.


Jackson, a sophomore, engineered two-minute drills at the end of each half that resulted in 1-yard Eskridge scores. The second drive, begun on the Padre 37 yard line with 3:08 left, was aided by four consecutive completions by Jackson.


"I wasn't that nervous," Jackson said of the pressure-packed drive. The whole team came together on that last drive. I had faith that the linemen and Deleon and (fullback) Jeff Thomas would stay focused and get the touchdown."


The drive was capped by a pitch from Jackson to Eskridge, who leapt toward the St. Francis goal line and reached the ball over, just a split second before it was knocked out of his hand and recovered by the Lancers.


"It was an emotional win," Jackson said. "We hadn't beaten that team in 34 years. It meant a lot for all of the old faculty members and alumni."


Serra's alumni list reads like a who's-who list of tremendous pro athletes. It includes Barry Bonds, Jim Fregosi, Gregg Jefferies, Lynn Swann, Tom Brady and others.


But it wasn't its star-studded list of ex-players that swayed Jackson and Eskridge to enroll at Serra. In Jackson's case, it was Walsh's long-ago speech.


"He was just so enthusiastic when he spoke about competing and wanting to play to your fullest ability that I decided (to attend Serra) based on that," Jackson said.


So every school day Jackson and his neighbor Doug Caldwell, who plays for the Serra junior varsity, travel from their homes in the San Lorenzo across the Hayward-San Mateo bridge to the school on West 20th Avenue in San Mateo.


"It's not that bad," Jackson said. "It takes some driving and the schoolwork is hard, but wins like (against St. Francis) make up for it."


Eskridge, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound junior, took a circuitous path to Serra.


Like Jackson, he played for the powerhouse San Bruno Rams Pop Warner team. In middle school he became interested in Serra after seeing the school featured often on the Sports Focus TV highlight show.


The budding star tried to enroll at Serra out of eighth grade, but was turned down for academic reasons. He went on to live with his father in Antioch and eventually starred at Antioch as a sophomore, gaining more than 1,000 yards on a winless team.


But Eskridge also had problems at Antioch and, by last January, was trying to transfer to Serra.


"We weren't focused," Eskridge said of his former team. "We goofed around a lot. We didn't have too good of a season."


Added Walsh: "Deleon had some issues over there. Sometimes some places are better for kids than other places. This was the best thing for both programs. It's better for Deleon to be at Serra and Antioch is better off too.


"We haven't had one issue with his attitude. He's been like a breath of fresh air - always ready to work. He loves football and runs out every carry in practice. He's been a model cititzen."


Serra accepted Eskridge after he raised his grades at Antioch significantly last spring. He currently has a 3.0 grade point average.


Now living with his mother Shelley in the Bayview-Hunter's Point section of San Francisco, Eskridge takes the train every day to Serra.


Asked what Serra's young guns, Jackson and Eskridge, have meant to the program, Walsh said: "They bring an element of confidence and belief in themselves and the program. They also bring their playmaking ability, because of that confidence and belief."


Like Jackson, Eskridge thinks victories like the one against St. Francis make his long daily trek to San Mateo worthwhile. There were no second thoughts when many in an overflow crowd of 3,500 last Friday swarmed the victorious Padres.


"It was exciting," Eskridge said. "I'd seen that kind of thing on TV, but I'd never experienced it myself. It was pretty cool."


Athletic directors or coaches who would like to suggest a player, coach or game to be featured may contact football editor John Faulkner at or publisher Gary Trousdale at


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