This story was first published in September 2015 when Ian Book was a senior at Oak Ridge High School.
Ian Book made the call. He did not send an email or try to talk his parents or coaches at Oak Ridge High School into bailing him out. The senior quarterback realized he would have to take this one.
Any pressure that Book faces Friday night when Oak Ridge plays Vacaville at Tom Zunino Stadium will be nothing compared with what he had to confront into deciding where he will play in college.
Book had hoped to be a man of his word. He made a verbal commitment to Washington State University with every intention of continuing his football career with the Cougars. That will not happen.
Notre Dame saw to that with a scholarship offer to Book even though he was supposedly off the market. That was enough for Book to change his mind, leaving him with one difficult call to make.
Graham Harrell had recruited Book to Washington State. Harrell paid a visit to El Dorado Hills last spring to meet Book’s family and watch Book play lacrosse for Oak Ridge. He was sold on Book.
So was Mike Sanford, who had recruited Book to Boise State until leaving the Broncos to become the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame. Book was torn between Boise State and Washington State until Sanford left, so that news prompted Book to make a commitment to the Cougars.
Book’s future seemed to be a done deal until he got a call one day from Sanford. At first, Book did not think much of the call other than to think Sanford was merely checking in on a former recruit.
That was not the reason for Sanford’s call. After joining Brian Kelly’s staff at Notre Dame, Sanford began to sing the quarterback’s praises and convinced the Fighting Irish to take a look at Book.
An impromptu visit was arranged for Book this summer after he and his parents returned from a Caribbean cruise. They jumped on a flight from Miami to Chicago and then drove to South Bend, Ind.
“I fell in love,” he said, “with Notre Dame.”
Book’s visit ended with a scholarship offer. As much as he might have been tempted to accept it on the spot, Book realized he could not do so without first finding the nerve to call Washington State.
“(Book) was terrified that (the Cougars) would hear the news from someone other than him,” said Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere, a 1987 Vacaville graduate who is 3-0 against his alma mater.
Notre Dame’s offer was put on hold until Book returned home to weigh his options once again. “I needed time. It all happened so fast,” he said. “But when I got home, I didn’t need that much time.”
Turning down scholarship offers from the likes of San Diego State and Nevada was easy for Book because he did not commit to any of those universities. He did so with Washington State, however.
Imagine Harrell’s disappointment felt when Book called to say he had changed his mind. After explaining his decision to Harrell, Book said Harrell then handed the phone to head coach Mike Leach.
“I had to say the whole thing again,” Book said. “It caught them off-guard unfortunately. I could tell they were (mad). That was the hardest part. It was pretty awkward, but I was glad I told them.”
Book’s next call was to Notre Dame. Within seconds, Cavaliere got a call from a Chicago Tribune reporter asking about Book after the Fighting Irish announced Book had committed to Notre Dame. News of Book’s decision spread quickly on the Internet. Cavaliere took a minute to check Book’s highlight video on www.Hudl.com and found 15,000 new hits within 24 hours of the announcement.
Ryan Smith prefers to remember Demetrious Ward for how the Vacaville High School student lived instead of how the 18-year-old died in October 2014. Smith will judge Ward as the young man he knew as a teacher and coach instead of the one portrayed by media reports as a drug dealer who was shot for a small amount of marijuana.
Members of Ward’s family will defend him as a victim of being in a bad place at a bad time with bad people. There are those who will say he was asking for trouble by being out at 1:30 a.m. on a Monday, just six hours before he would have been going to school. And others will say Ward needed to learn a lesson and it is a shame the price of that lesson was his life.
Smith will not let those people decide how he remembers Ward. He will remember Ward for what he saw with his own eyes.
What Smith saw in 2012 was a freshman who skipped spring football workouts to stick with the track team even though he was just an alternate for the varsity boys 4×400-meter relay. Smith coached the relay runners at that time.
“A track meet is a long day, “Smith said, “and the 4×400 is one of the last events. For a kid like him, it’s got to be boring.”
Vacaville had a strong 4×400 team with seniors Tanner Mahoney and Imi Edopai, and sophomores Daniel and David Mewborn. The four qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet, and Ward tagged along as usual. Smith did not attend the meet because his wife had given birth a day earlier, but he did get phone calls with updates.
One call came after Mahoney fell and was injured during the 800-meter trials. He had to be scratched from the relay, Fortunately, Ward was ready to go. Vacaville won its heat in the trials, advanced to the finals and placed second.
That finish sent the four to the 2012 state championships, where they were overmatched and bowed out in the trials. None of that would have been possible, Smith said, had Ward turned his back on track to go to spring football.
Football was Ward’s game. His headstone at Vacaville-Elmira Cemetery is in the shape of a football jersey with his last name and No. 21 on the back. Football meant so much to Ward that he was making efforts to be a better student in the fall of 2014, Smith recalled.
“He really cared, He was getting good grades and was getting on track to graduate. He was turning around academically,” Smith said. “He was not getting into trouble at school. How could we know what was going on outside of school?”
Dulon Stevens, whose son Dulon Jr. was a football teammate of Ward’s, also noticed a change in Ward. “He was going through a lot of stuff, but he was making progress in life,” Stevens said. “There was some brightness in his future.”
One person who was well aware of Ward’s activities away from school is his father. Kevin Ward used tough love in an attempt to set his son straight, often reminding him that he alone would be accountable if he ran afoul of the law.
“He knew that if those were choices he was going to make, he would have to deal with it,” Kevin Ward said. “I told him if he was going to do the crime, he would have to do the time. Some kids just have to go out there and test the water.”
Kevin Ward prefers to remember his son in a positive light and has launched a youth football program, the Solano Hurricanes, in his memory. Kevin Ward is not concerned about competing with established programs for players. He is not concerned that any publicity for the program will rekindle talk of his son’s untimely and senseless death.
“This is in my son’s memory. It’s not about what people are saying. You can’t put yourself in his shoes,” Kevin Ward said bluntly. “You have to move forward and don’t look back. There’s plenty of room for one more (program). There’s plenty of kids. They need to stay off the streets and stay in the books. The streets are not your friend.”
The Hurricanes will hear that from a man who hopes to turn his loss into victories for youngsters who love football as much as his son did.