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NLI Day

What: NCAA National Letter of Intent signing day.

When: Wednesday

Sports: Football, soccer, men's water polo.

To coaches, ADs and parents: Please let us know about your athletes who will sign letters of intent this week.

The list will be published in Thursday’s sports section. Email sports@pressdemocrat.com. Please include name, high school, sport and college.

PETALUMA — Dylan Korte awoke on the morning of May 4, 2016 and saw what was ahead of him as no different than May 3 or May 2. Or, for that matter, April 2 or 3. He would go to class as a junior at Casa Grande High School. Korte, of course, would stand out. He’s 6-foot-8. Of course Korte wouldn’t act like the big man on campus, which he literally was. Not his style.

May 4 offered no hint, much less a promise, that Korte’s life was about to suddenly and dramatically change by dinnertime. A good student, a great friend, Korte was the typical Casa student, on his way somewhere.

At 10:44 a.m. Casa football coach Trent Herzog’s cell phone rang. It was Alfred Pupunu, the former standout tight end for the San Diego Chargers, now the tight ends coach at the University of Idaho. He would be arriving on campus shortly. Herzog was expecting the call; he and Pupunu have a friendship that goes back almost 10 years.

“What you got for me?” Pupunu asked Herzog. It’s a question he asks Herzog every year he visits. As what will soon become spectacularly obvious, it’s a blind trust. In his eight years as Casa’s head coach, and another 17 years as an assistant, Herzog had 26 Gauchos advance to play college football. As well as being Casa’s coach, Herzog is a talent scout for a highly respected scouting service.

“We got a guy for you,” Herzog told Pupunu.

This is where the blind trust comes into play. Korte, an offensive tackle, had started just six games at that time for Casa. Didn’t play football before his freshman year at Casa. Didn’t start even one game his freshman and sophomore seasons. To say Korte was unfamiliar with football as a freshman would be the same as saying Korte was unfamiliar with what happens after he puts gas in his car — he knew it worked but how it worked, um, not exactly.

Korte was pulled out of class. In the golf cart driven by Casa assistant baseball coach Gordy Wirtz, Korte was puzzled. Didn’t think Wirtz was taking him for a hamburger.

“I still had no idea,” Korte said.

It was just a five-minute chat between Korte and Pupunu. Pupunu saw Korte’s frame, the 306 pounds dispersed nicely — no flopping fat, in other words. Seemed like a nice kid. Respectful. Intelligent. Korte went back to class. Pupunu looked back at Herzog for validation.

“He’s got a ton of upsides,” Herzog said.

Pupunu trusted Herzog. Pupunu phoned back to his head coach at Idaho, Paul Petrino. Herzog shortly will be sending you some highlight tape. The tape was sent and reviewed.

At 7:48 that night, Pupunu called Scott, Korte’s father, and offered his son a college scholarship to play football for the Vandals, a Division I school. It was a full ride.

“I wasn’t exactly sure what a full ride meant,” Korte said.

Korte’s ordinary day became a most extraordinary one, from being just another kid in class to one who will receive a free college education. Who never saw it coming. Whose football career wasn’t backloaded with performance videos, all-conference honors and hosannas from Nick Saban.

It was as if a college scholarship just parachuted in for the day.

“Don’t be messing with me, Trent,” Scott told Herzog mid-day. A San Francisco police officer, Scott is cautious and non-reactionary by nature, a swell trait for his job. He would have gone slowly with Idaho, turning it over and over, considering all the angles. Something like this, after all, just doesn’t happen. Herzog agrees, never having a Casa kid rise like this from anonymity. Sure, there was some sniffs from schools. Sniffs, that’s all.

“It felt like a snowball rolling down a mountain,” said Korte, who will sign the official Idaho letter of intent Wednesday at a before-class, on-campus ceremony.

Herzog will be the first to admit that if Korte were 5-foot-8 instead of 6-foot-8, this wouldn’t have happened.

“Colleges look for two things, size and speed,” he said. “If you have both, you’re golden. If you have one, you’re recruitable.”

At 6-foot-8, a legitimate 6-foot-8, broad shoulders and sizeable fanny and thighs perfect for an offensive lineman, Korte needed to learn speed. As a football newbie, he had an advantage.

“He had no bad habits to unlearn,” said Casa’s line coach, Frank Giammona.

What Korte had to learn, however, was unique to his position.

“You don’t walk down the street with your knees bent,” Giammona said.

One also doesn’t walk in a crouch. Or, for that matter, in short, choppy steps. The use of his feet for an offensive lineman is the one necessary, absolute skill. Without adroit use, the tackle becomes a stationary object, as easy to avoid as a tree with deep roots.

Thus began the most monotonous but essential instructions from Giammona.

“Tap, tap,” Giammona told Korte. “Six million times, I bet, I told him: One … two … one … two … ”

The motion is this: Short steps, no more than inches, to the side, to the front, to the rear. Contact is light, like a smooth dancer gliding. The intent: A quick reaction to the onrushing opponent. To do less is to be a helpless, embarrassed player waving as the train passes.

“OK, OK, OK,” is all Korte ever said to Giammona’s persistent instruction. It would be an interesting sight in practice — the 5-foot-8 coach getting in the grill of someone a foot taller.

This is how thoroughly he absorbed Giammona’s command: Korte would go to sleep at night saying to himself: “One ... two ... one ... two ...” Some people count sheep to go to sleep. Korte counts his steps.

The result was this: In a game during Korte’s sophomore year, Giammona was thunderstruck. The coach doesn’t remember the game, doesn’t even remember what Korte did.

“I just remember thinking to myself: ‘This kid has something,’” Giammona said.

On such a singular impression hope developed, expectations took form and enthusiasm increased. All of that folded into the perfect personality necessary to be a high-functioning offensive lineman — an eagerness to work together with the other guys in the line. Korte has that self-effacing personality. Almost to his detriment.

In a game last year against San Marin, Korte found himself listening to disrespect from an opposing player —cackling, crowing, talking smack in his face.

“I picked him and threw him to the floor,” Korte said.

On the sideline, Herzog and Giammona gave themselves a high-five. Not because they approved of the personal penalty, not ever. Rather, they saw Korte emotional, a rare time in which he didn’t keep his emotions concealed.

“All he tells me is ‘OK, OK, OK,’” said Giammona, profiling a coach’s dream. As if he can handle everything. As he has since his life changed in one day and in less than 10 hours.

“I want to get my degree in criminology,” Korte said. “And I’d like to play in the NFL, if I develop enough.”

Crazy, isn’t it, for a 17-year-old kid to say that, a kid who started only 17 games in high school, who was never touted as everyone’s blue chipper, who isn’t going to Clemson or Alabama or USC.

Crazy, yes, but that’s the best part and this makes the best story.

Which began May 4, 2016.

When Dylan Korte was offered a Division I college football scholarship from a university that had not contacted him until that day. Korte knew Idaho was famous for potatoes. He’s eager to create the same feeling for 6-foot-8 offensive tackles.

To contact Bob Padecky email him at bobpadecky@gmail.com.

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