Delton Edwards, or “Coach D,” as he has affectionately been known over his 15-year career as the head football coach at Oakland Technical High School, has a tough act to follow.
It’s his own. Coming off one of the finest seasons under his watch, capped off with a regular-season Oakland Athletic League (OAL) title, the 48-year-old Edwards and his team face several hurdles in trying to recapture last season’s success. Heading into tonight’s game against Balboa High School of San Francisco, while still appearing certain that everything will work itself out in due course, he is still resolving which less experienced players fit best to plug the holes left after the departure of half of last year’s squad to graduation.
“We’re going to miss those guys we lost to DI football last year,” he said—referring to Division I, the highest-level football schools in the country. “So, I mean, it’s a big patch we have to fill. But the beauty of it all is once these guys grow up, it’s going to be a steady flow. That’s the good part.”
Edwards was describing four players who left for big-time college football earlier this fall: defensive lineman Fred Thompson and safety Ryan Murphy, both to Oregon State; wide receiver DiAndre Campbell, who is now enrolled at the University of Washington; and defensive back Edgar Gillies, who left for Sacramento State.
Deciding on the team’s new leaders is also critical, and something that is still undergoing relative scrutiny. While Tech has yet to announce captains, the staff is expecting a group of seniors—linebacker Charles Lewis, wide receiver Daron Duong, and linebacker/running back Randy Fudge—to bear the burden of leadership for the team, along with junior quarterback Gregory Pierson.
However, Lewis, who is currently drawing the eye of both San Jose State and Fresno State, will have to do his early example-setting from the sidelines. He is rehabbing a deep knee bruise that he sustained during a practice and will likely be out until the Bulldogs’ third game against Pinole Valley.
As for the returning starter Pierson, whose sophomore season was split in two because of an early leg injury of his own, Edwards thinks the team’s fate depends on how quickly he can mature.
“Defensively, we’re going to compete, there’s no doubt about that,” Edwards said earlier in the week, looking on as players practiced. “It’s what (Pierson) does with our offense and whether he leads us, and cuts down on those mistakes, that’s going to tell how our season goes.”
Edwards turned his head in the direction of Pierson.
“This year should be his year,” he said. “He took his lumps last year, and he should shine this year.”
Pierson, who described himself as “100 percent ready” in addition to being completely injury-free, said he is confident in his abilities to lead the team.
“If I give it my all,” he said, “I feel like I’m talented enough to where I can carry the team to a win. So as long as I’m giving it my all, we’ll see some wins.”
Edwards also said the performances of juniors Simione Havea (center/defensive tackle) and Kameron “Hercules” Manning (offensive/defensive lineman), as well as seniors Lennard Davis (cornerback) and the Gates twins, Tomy and Tommy—both at the running back/corner back position—will be vital in determining what type of season Tech will have.
As if all that wasn’t enough to overcome, the Bulldogs will be playing all but tonight’s season opener on the road. Tech added several new opponents to the schedule this season, and many of the schools the team plays cannot afford buses to travel for away games.
Noting that last year’s group did not lose a single game when appearing on the visitor side of the scoreboard, associate head coach Virdell Larkins, a member of the class of 1986 at Tech, said he prefers playing away from the home field.
“I like playing on the road,” he said. “I think just coming into the new stadium, the team stays focused, and the bus ride—I love the bus ride—keeps the team focused.”
Edwards also looks at the bright side of playing so many games away from Tech this year, saying he likes the camaraderie it builds.
“It’s going to help us grow up,” he said. “It will make us come together as a team. When you’re on the road, you don’t have any choice but to bond. When you’re at home, you get kind of lax because you know you’ve got home cooking.”
As for the OAL as a whole, while league play is widely considered a toss-up, Fremont, which is coming off its first-ever league championship with the Silver Bowl victory over Tech in 2009, is initially favored to repeat. However, Tech’s impressive 4-1 league record, as well as its 9-3 overall mark last year, means the Bulldogs are also a team to watch.
“Once leagues start, then it’s hard to count on anybody because any given Friday anything can happen,” said Larkins.
Assistant junior varsity coach Wayne Brooks, who like both Edwards and Larkins, has a long history with Tech, likened the parity of the conference to preparing breakfast.
“It’s like making pancakes,” said Brooks, who graduated from Tech in 1962 and has taught government and economics at the school for almost 40 years. “We’re all making them from the same batter—Oakland—but the difference is who is watching them cook. You have to flip them at just the right time and not let them burn.”
Brooks, who was also the head coach of the varsity team from 1972-78, went on to explain the importance of the support system that Tech has in place for its program.
“A lot of these kids have a self-destructive nature, and we do a very good job of nurturing them and monitoring their family issues so that they don’t mess up in class,” he said. “Our coaches can be hard on players, but it’s tough love that has many of them coming back after graduation to coach, and has led to a steady increase of success.”
Pierson summed it up: “If everybody feels like they are brothers, then everybody knows that we have to protect our family. Because ain’t nobody going to let nobody come in their house and kick the door down.”
Catch Coach D and the 2010 Oakland Tech Bulldogs open up their season against Balboa tonight at 7 p.m. for their only game on their home field this season. The OAL opener, a title game rematch versus Fremont at Curt Flood Field in Oakland on Oct. 16th, is also a game to circle on the calendar.