Juan Hernandez stood in his living room, an old piano in front of him, a black-and-white television to his left, and a tattered screen door at his back. He casually glanced at a wall covered with awards, newspaper clippings and pictures.
The names Hernandez and Channel Islands High splattered the wall. It's been a winning combination the past five football seasons:
Fernando Hernandez, Best Offensive Lineman 1985 and '86.
Carlos Hernandez, first-team All-Southern Section, All-Ventura County and Channel Islands' Most Valuable Offensive Player .
Arturo Hernandez, Most Valuable Lineman, junior varsity.
"They are some of the best we've ever had at Channel Islands," said Joel Gershon, the Raiders' football coach.
Despite the honors, Juan didn't gloat with the typical fatherly praise. He is proud, no doubt, but doesn't gloat. There isn't time.
It's time for the Hernandez's to buckle their chin straps and dig in for fourth and inches. They're playing for broader horizons, greener pastures than the ones they left behind in Mexico 15 years ago.
"When (my sons) tell me about something good they've done, I just tell them they have to try more and more," Juan said. "I don't care about good plays; they can tell their mother about that."
Well, Blanca's ears must be aching.
Fernando, 21, starred at Channel Islands and Moorpark College, and is the starting right tackle for Southern Oregon State College--an NAIA Division II school in Ashland. Coach Jim Palazzolo said Fernando is the team's "go-to guy" in the Raiders' veer offense, and is perhaps the finest offensive tackle in the Mt. Hood League.
"When we need somebody moved, he'll move them," Palazzolo said.
Carlos, 20, is a returning starter at offensive tackle for Moorpark College and Arturo, 16, starts at defensive tackle as a junior at Channel Islands.
"Arturo has so much potential, it's scary," said Ben Tirado, Channel Islands' defensive coordinator. "He might be better than the other two, but it's tough to say."
It's easy to say the Hernandez boys have learned the game of football, and it may lead to as many as three college degrees. Those are three more than Juan could afford on his disability payments. He has been out of work a year and a half with a back injury.
Juan, 48, grew up in the rural village of Silao, Mexico, picking fruits and vegetables. He has little formal education, but doesn't expect his five sons (Omar is 11 and Iban is 4) to follow his footsteps in that regard.
"I never had that opportunity for an education," Juan said. "So, through my experience, I try to teach the other side. I tell them they aren't going to be able to (survive) on $160 or $170 a week, so they need to take good notes."
The sons realize the importance of football to their education. "That's why I play," Carlos said. "There's just no way we could pay for school."
After Juan received a letter from Southern Oregon that listed required physical dimensions and 40-yard dash times for players, he supervised workouts for all three sons on the Channel Islands track six days a week last summer.
Fernando was the only Hernandez about to cross the Siskiyous, but that didn't prevent Juan from dragging the rest of the throng to the track. Juan, 5-foot-5, 170 pounds, stood on the top row of the bleachers, stopwatch in hand, and shouted commands in Spanish as nearly a half-ton of flesh rumbled down the field.
But they didn't always enjoy it.
"He made me come out," Arturo said with a smile. "There were times when I didn't want to."
Arturo and his brothers likely had one hand clamped to a leg on the kitchen table as their father grabbed the other. Because, regardless of football's role in the household, it still ranks about fourth in importance behind tacos, tacos, and, quite frankly, tacos.
During an average meal, Fernando (315 pounds) will eat 16. Carlos (260 pounds) and Arturo (265 pounds) eat only 12 each.
"Whatever's left over, we give to the dog," Carlos said. "Sometimes the dog doesn't get anything to eat."
The trio is equally as serious in the weight room. Fernando bench-presses 350 pounds, Carlos and Arturo press about 300 each. Fernando squats 500 pounds, Carlos and Arturo about 475 each.
But that depends upon the informant. You'll likely receive three different figures from the three brothers, who tease each other about everything from tacos to wind sprints. "We get in a lot of arguments, but it's just child's play," Carlos said.
And part of the competitive atmosphere. The three keep an eye on each other, but not with the same sharp vision as Juan.
"I think their father has developed an understanding of the impact that football can have on their lives," Gershon said.
That understanding is described in a poem that hangs in a frame on the wall in the Hernandez's living room. It is a collection of thoughts Juan selected from from various recruitment letters.
This is vital to us. We believe a person has the dignity and personal honor which no other has the right to challenge . . . You are first and foremost an individual who the Lord has endowed with special physical skills. Skills to be respected as much as those of the artist, musician, or genius.
But the most paramount of things to all parties is your worth and welfare as an individual. This includes the special skill of football. Be proud of this unique gift. Use it, develop it, and be proud of it. It is a very important part of the total you.
And of the Hernandez family.