No athlete performs in a vacuum. He is surrounded by coaches, teammates, parents, friends, expectations and, most of all, history. History is the tie that binds. Today always carries yesterday with it, and it should, for otherwise the past is a meaningless jumble of nothing, discarded like an empty soda can, and just as irrelevant. Dean Haskins wanted to make sure his Montgomery football team would never go there, that's why he plucked that 25-pound boulder from the Bennett Valley hills and painted it red.
"I wanted a symbol that would mean something to them," said Montgomery's coach.
Before every game this season, as the Vikings leave their locker room to the field, the players reach down and touch the rock, painted in school color red. That rock is a tactile representation of everything the previous coach, Jason Franci, had built at Montgomery. Those three NCS titles. Those nine NBL championships. Those eight 10-plus victory seasons.
But the program had fallen on hard times the past three seasons, only 10 victories total, not even a .500 season. Was Montgomery football in danger of becoming irrelevant? Was it disappearing? "At the first practice," Haskins said, "I asked them, 'How are you going to be remembered?'"
Step up, boys. You are in control of Montgomery football. What do you do with it?
"To us, football is not just something else you do," said linebacker-fullback Henry Stelzner.
You know, like going to Whole Foods to buy a bean burrito.
So dedicated are Haskins, his staff and his team that Montgomery has become the buzz of Sonoma County after only three games of the season. Montgomery is 3-0, having equaled already its victory total in each of the last two years. And the Vikings didn't scramble either to eke out any of those victories. The scores of 54-7, 50-18 and 40-0 are dramatic proof of that.
It has been a while since there has been so much curiosity about an Empire team so early in the season. How good are the Vikings? How far have they come?
"We're going to find out Friday night," Haskins said.
Montgomery will travel to Petaluma to play Casa Grande, an established program that offers quite possibly the best team in the Empire. The Gauchos are 3-0 like the Vikings. They possess a NCAA D1 talent at quarterback, JaJuan Lawson, and enough skills to average 31 points a game while giving up just 13. That Casa Grande started like this does not surprise anyone. That this NBL matchup evokes such curiosity is a surprise.
Don't let anyone tell you they saw this coming. That said, this game won't be ignored. Can't be.
"What this feels like," Stelzner said, "well, it doesn't quite feel like revenge after the last couple of years. But it does feel good to be on the other side (of the final score)," Stelzner said.
Averaging nearly 48 points a game, no matter who does it, players can feel a sense of comfort, a type of confidence that can kill momentum.
"We're trying not to let those games go to our head," said Justin Perry, middle linebacker and right tackle.
Haskins and his staff are realists. Montgomery didn't beat any 2013 NCS champions in those three games. The combined record of those three opponents is 3-9, with Pinole Valley winless. The players' enthusiasm, while welcomed and encouraged, is tempered by the facts.