House of Pain
This article appears in the September 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
McClymonds head coach Alonzo Carter doesn't buy into hype. Sure, some players carry a big reputation, but Carter wants to see you perform with his own eyes.
The story was no different when linebacker Joshua Tatum transferred in from St. Mary's (Berkeley) last December. Tatum's cousin, McClymonds star tight end Na Derris Ward, kept telling Carter about Tatum's talents. But for Carter, the hype fell on deaf ears.
It didn't take long, however, for Carter to change his tune on Tatum, now a 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior stud for McClymonds and one of the nation's top recruits.
"I'm one of those guys who you need to prove something to," says Carter, who's in his seventh year at the helm and led McClymonds to the Oakland Athletic League's Silver Bowl title in 2001 and the regular season league title in 2004. "I had never seen Joshua play before he came here. I gave him a hard time about that until I sat down in my office and watched his game tape. After watching it, I was saying, ‘This dude can play.' I got it wrong. He was making plays all over the field. I was seeing a one-man show."
Forgive Carter if he was a little skeptical at first. After all, Tatum only played two games during his junior season at St. Mary's after he suffered a partial tear of the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Tatum had originally injured the shoulder at a football camp in the summer of 2004, but he ended up playing the first two games of last season with a harness that helped his range of motion.
Of course, it would have taken Jack Bauer of "24" to figure out that Tatum was in pain — he certainly didn't play like he was hurt. In just two games, he racked up 41 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. But in the second game, against El Cerrito, Tatum injured the shoulder even further and decided to shut it down for the season.
"The first game, I knew I was playing hurt, but I didn't give up," says Tatum, who is rated the No. 6 linebacker and No. 30 overall recruit in the nation by SchoolSports.com. "I wanted to do what was best for the team. But after the second game, the pain was so excruciating that I couldn't continue."
It was an ironic turn of events for Tatum, who was usually the one doling out the pain to opposing ball carriers, flying around the field like a younger version of Ray Lewis. As a sophomore at St. Mary's, he was named the Bay Shore Athletic League Defensive Player of the Year after recording 125 tackles, 10 sacks, seven forced fumbles and four interceptions.
Now, he was forced to watch the game he loves from the sideline. But instead of sulking, Tatum showed support for his teammates by attending every practice and every game.
He had surgery on his shoulder at the beginning of December and soon after transferred to McClymonds. Although he was entering new surroundings, Tatum knew he had a friend waiting in Ward, who is rated the nation's No. 2 tight end and No. 63 overall recruit by SchoolSports.com.
"NaDerris is the closest person I have at McClymonds," says Tatum, who's narrowed his list of colleges to Michigan, Miami, USC, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Cal, Oregon and Mississippi. "He's been with me through everything. He's family."
Tatum also couldn't wait to hone his skills under coach Carter, who has sent more than 60 players to Division I college programs in his tenure at McClymonds.
"I just wanted to get healthy because he prepares so many players for the college level, and I wanted him to prepare me," says Tatum, who notes he'll be 100 percent healthy at the start of this season.
Despite coming off major surgery, Tatum's intense dedication to his sport made it hard for him to stay away from practice and the weight room at first. Carter brought Tatum along slowly, and it gave Carter a chance to teach Tatum how to channel his aggression on the field.
Before, Tatum would hit players full force without the proper technique. Carter worked with him on staying in control and focusing more on the mental side of the game. Tatum has heeded Carter's advice. And for opponents of McClymonds, that's nothing but bad news this season.
"I'll take down a ball carrier like he stole something from me," says Tatum. "When I hit them before, it used to be like I was from the movie ‘Waterboy.' Now, it's head-hunting time. I'm in control now. If you're acting pretty on the field, I'm going to attack that facemask."
Once Tatum was cleared by doctors, he became an animal in the weight room and on the practice field. So far, the hard work has more than paid off as he can bench press 340 pounds, squat 500 pounds and run the 40 in 4.53 seconds. In May, he was named the top player at the scout.com Berkeley Combine, and he recorded 34 reps at 185 pounds on the bench press at the Palo Alto Nike Camp.
"He's a special kid because he works real hard at getting better," says Carter. "The question was whether he could live up to the hype, and so far, the answer has been yes."
Mention the word hype to Tatum and he gets sick to his stomach. Numbers in the weight room are nice, but Tatum is more concerned with staying healthy and having a monster senior season. That, he hopes, will quell any questions regarding his shoulder.
"I feel like I have to prove I'm the best linebacker in the country," he says. "I want to back up the hype, and if you want to believe it, come out to McClymonds. Hype is false. I'm real. I'm not hype. This is the truth."