DeLeon Eskridge doesn’t know where one of the most famous footballs in Serra High School history ended up.
He just remembers stretching it over the goal line for a program-altering 21-17 win over St. Francis of Mountain View on Oct. 6, signing it for a school raffle with the rest of his teammates a few days later and, while satisfied, hoping it wouldn’t be the highlight of his first season with the Padres. The carry came on a fourth-and-1 with 3.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter and his touchdown gave Serra a win over the Lancers for the first time in 34 years and 35 meetings.
“I remember how exciting it was and how big it was for the program,” said Eskridge, now a senior. “But I didn’t want that to be my best memory of last year. We wanted to win a championship, but we fell short.”
Eskridge is referring to last season’s Central Coast Section Open Division semifinals, where the Padres lost a heartbreaking 23-22 decision to Oak Grove of San Jose. It’s a defeat that has served as a motivating force for many players at Serra, which returns a lot of the best parts of a team that went 9-3 in 2006 and won a share of the West Catholic Athletic League championship. Leading the pack is Eskridge, the reigning WCAL Back of the Year who ran for 1,461 yards and 23 touchdowns in his first season at the school.
“DeLeon could be in for a monster year,” Serra coach Patrick Walsh said. “He’s put in the work and he’ll probably even play a little defensive back for us this year as well.”
Some time on defense should come relatively naturally for the 6-foot, 185-pound Eskridge, who said he first grew interested in football while running around the house as a small child playfully tackling older sister Shellana. The native of The City’s Hunters Point neighborhood spent his first two years as a prep playing for Antioch, where the Panthers did not win a game in his sophomore season.
So he arrived humbly at Serra, a school with famous football alums such as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Pittsburgh Steelers legend Lynn Swann.
“He was a quiet guy when he first started working out with us,” Serra star running back-linebacker Tiuke Tuipulotu said. “But then he started to get more comfortable and cracking jokes and now he’s one of our leaders.”
Eskridge was also mindful of treading too heavily on foreign turf, as Tuipulotu had already established himself as a strong back after becoming the WCAL Sophomore of the Year in 2005. So while Eskridge didlead the team in carries, yards and touchdowns last year, he was content to block and act as a decoy when necessary. The result: An offense that gained 3,604 yards on the ground and scored 46 rushing touchdowns (including 865 yards and 11 TDs by Tuipulotu).
“Everyone’s just excited to win and I’m cool to share the ball,” Eskridge said. “I’ll block all game and not score one touchdown. I’m just as happy seeing [my teammates] score as doing it myself.”