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PETALUMA — This is the Trent Herzog I know. This is the Trent Herzog so many people around here know. This story shows why so many people in this small town are having a hard time dealing with his exit, and why three of the school’s biggest financial supporters of athletics have decided to walk away.

Just so you know, the player’s name and the game will not be identified. The kid is a great kid. He was just acting like a kid at the time. So I will protect his identity.

Casa Grande had just won a big football game. The Gauchos played well against a quality opponent and while it wasn’t an upset, the victory wasn’t assumed. Herzog drew his players into a tight circle after the game. I was standing off his right shoulder. I heard everything.

Herzog began his speech, talking about how proud he was of them. They took the challenge and answered it convincingly.

Herzog was in mid-sentence when the best player on the team blurted out some colorful expletives celebrating the joy he and his mates were feeling.

Herzog paused in mid-sentence, stared at the best player on his team and said with a firm voice: “We don’t talk like that around here.”

That’s all Herzog said. Didn’t have to say any more. All the yelping stopped. The player lowered his head, embarrassed.

Herzog didn’t have to respond to the outburst. In fact, given the moment, most coaches would have shrugged. Youthful exuberance. It happens. Football is an emotional game. Especially after this victory. Yet Herzog felt no game, no victory, no matter how special, is worth losing perspective. No reason to act like a knucklehead. No reason to lose your civility. Treat others the way you’d want to be treated; that’s always been his mantra. Respect is given when respect is earned.

So when the Casa players gathered in the weight room this Monday after school, to begin their offseason workout routine, they crumbled when the news trickled in. “Trent’s gone!” Some started to cry, some bawled, all stared into empty space. In short order they fled. Left campus. Heck with the workout. The man who taught them how to man up, why it was important to be held accountable, was gone.

They felt untethered.

“He turned my son into a man,” said Chris Korte, the mother of Dylan, a former Gauchos offensive tackle now on scholarship at the University of Idaho. “And those boys who were crying, it was the big boys crying … did you know about last May? Do you know what he did?”

With Dylan and Dylan’s father, Scott, Herzog flew to the Pacific Northwest. The three toured East Washington University, the University of Montana and Idaho.

Herzog wanted to see if Idaho worked for Dylan since the university had offered him a scholarship. They met with former Gauchos kicker Matt Abramo, who was still with Washington State at the time, to get a taste of campus life.

“Trent spent his Memorial Day weekend with Dylan,” Chris Korte said. “Who does that?”

Yes indeed. Who does that? To say Herzog goes out of his way for kids, it’s not like he goes out of his way to shake their hands. No, he goes out of his way for kids to shake hands of college coaches and players, even if it’s to go out of state. So many youth coaches claim they are in it for the kids, a nice catch-all phrase that sounds good, but all too frequently is hollow.

“A lot of coaches say it, but it’s because they get a little extra money or it takes their mind off their lives,” said Peter Parrick, a former Casa and SRJC player now on scholarship at Alabama A&M. “Not Trent. He’s like a second father to me. And I’m not alone, that’s for sure. Look at how he changed Elijah Qualls’ life.”

Qualls’ story is well known. Qualls was an inner-city kid from Sacramento who lived among gunshots and gangbangers and crime, dead ends at every turn. Herzog, with an assistant coach, moved Qualls to Petaluma. Qualls went from a life with no future to become a projected first-round NFL draft choice.

“If my son, Nic, grows up to be like Trent Herzog,” said Tammi Petri, of her 22-year-old son who played for Herzog, “hallelujah!”

Teenagers and their adult parents often have a conversational disconnect, adolescent ego bulldozing logic and common sense, leaving both parties struggling to communicate. Nancy Chadwick didn’t say a word Monday to her son, Braeden, and yet they understood each other perfectly.

Braeden, a starting offensive tackle at Casa, came home with the news. Crying, he walked right past mom.

“He wouldn’t communicate,” Nancy said. “He shut himself in his room for three hours.”

Mom understood.

“I have shed a lot of tears,” Nancy said. None probably as deeply sorrowful then when Braeden emerged from his room and said he didn’t want to go back to Casa, he wanted to transfer to another high school. He was suffering the pain of immediate reaction, later lowering his thermostat, vowing to go on at the school.

“Braeden just idolizes the guy,” Nancy said. So they didn’t speak that much but understood each other perfectly. They knew, as so many around here have, that Casa Grande High School was, quite literally, his life. A graduate and a Casa player, Herzog could never be repaid for his efforts.

Despite how it ended, Herzog can live quite comfortably with his legacy. His annual charity golf tournament raised more than $350,000 for the school. He refurbished the school’s weight room. He arranged and led the sponsorship for the new scoreboard. He started the fundraising for the new field turf.

Herzog’s imprint is everywhere and though he would never ask for it, Casa should pay tribute to the man. Acknowledge it. Don’t let his time pass into the gray blur of eternity. As an example, name it the Trent Herzog Weight Room. The school should and needs to do something for him. Reciprocate.

Pay tribute, as I am about to do.

I’m a Petaluma resident. My 11-year-old son will go to Casa. It wasn’t that long ago I had this vision: He would play football for Trent and play basketball for James Forni. It was a dream matchup.

But life happens while you’re making other plans.

No one has to explain that sentence to Trent Herzog and the Forni family.

Oh my, but I wish they had to. Oh, I do so wish that.

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

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