Andres Washington finished suiting up in the Pierce College visitors' locker room. Most of the Glendale players had already left for the field. Across the room, two small groups of players gathered in prayer and Washington, often viewed by teammates as aloof, watched intently.
"Andres let's get going," said John Cicuto, Glendale defensive coordinator. "You ready?"
"Yeah coach," Washington responded.
Cicuto turned and walked down the corridor, but stopped when he noticed Washington hadn't followed him.
"I went back and he had joined one of the groups to pray," recalled Cicuto, who says he was touched by the scene. "You could tell there was a bond within those kids. It was incredible."
For Cicuto, it's proof that team unity translates into victory. The Vaqueros, ranked No. 20 in the nation by JC Gridwire, are 3-0 and have outscored opponents 124-13.
And nowhere are the ties stronger than between the linebackers--a weak link last year because of inexperience and dissention. Though many of last season's linebackers complained about limited playing time, the new season has brought acceptance.
"Last year it was 'forget the team, it's all me,' and that's when the season gets away from you," said outside linebacker Steve Hieber, who remembers Glendale's 0-4 start in 1987. "Now we've developed a 'we and us' instead of 'me and I' philosophy."
Because the Vaqueros are so deep at linebacker, the coaches have the luxury of rotating starters. Tim Hull, Darin Warren, Rodney Rosser and Washington split time at the 2 inside spots; Anthony France and Hieber are the outside starters.
"If you look at them physically, you may look at other JCs and find that they have guys a little taller, stronger and faster," Cicuto said. "But I guarantee no one around is as good at technique."
In fact, Glendale's technical prowess has led to many of the 22 fumbles it has forced--14 of which were recovered by Glendale. But don't think the Vaqueros are undersized. Washington (6-2, 235 pounds) is a transfer who played at Washington State and has been moved from defensive line to linebacker to utilize his speed.
"The play goes away and he's behind the running back pulling him down," said Gil Reudaflores, Glendale's inside linebacker coach. "That quality is Division I. He's a man playing with boys."
But Washington's teammates bear little resemblance to children. In fact, the team's hardest hitter might be France, who at 6-2, 200 is the smallest starter in the group.
"He plays for contact," outside linebacker coach Danny Geyer said of France, who has caused and recovered 2 fumbles and recorded 2 sacks this season. "The only way he'll be blocked is if he makes a technical error. He'll never be overpowered."
Hieber, whose first college play was a quarterback sack, has the best technique of the linebackers, Geyer says. This year Hieber has 3 sacks and has caused 3 fumbles.
"He's always in a low, striking position," Geyer said. "He's always working towards the ball and that's why he makes so many plays."
Rosser's forte is his coachability. The sophomore transfer from West Los Angeles College has a team-high 15 tackles.
"He could be as good as any guy in the state," Cicuto said. "He's a tremendous team football player."
Hull, a Glendale High graduate, sprained his knee in the Vaqueros' first full practice. The injury kept him out of practice for a month and he's in the process of gaining lost ground.
"He's still got great speed and quickness," Cicuto said.
Warren, too, injured his knee and had surgery last spring. A sophomore, Warren has started every game of his college career.
"He doesn't have the great ability of a Rosser or Washington," Cicuto said. "But he's probably playing the best of all of them."
The players have an unusual devotion to the game--something Cicuto noticed on the bus ride to Pierce.
"I sat in the back of the bus," he said. "I looked around and kids were studying their play sheets. And usually we have to tell kids, 'Hey, let's start thinking about the game.' But that wasn't the case."