By Ray Hamill — When Connor Chase talks, his teammates listen.
The senior St. Bernard’s lineman is constantly directing them before every play, telling them what to expect, to hustle, or just to shut up, if necessary.
He’s also the sort of player who walks the walk. An abundantly talented lineman who backs up his directives with his own play.
That’s the sign of a good leader.
But that’s not what makes Chase the player he is, and that’s not what separates him from the pack.
Chase doesn’t just inspire his teammates. He appears to genuinely care about them.
“My hopes for this team?” He said, pausing for a moment to contemplate the question. “My hope is that everyone on this team can get the same chance I have.”
It’s unlikely, considering the bar he’s setting, but it’s sort of answer you want from a player the Crusaders are relying heavily on this season, and a player head coach Matt Tomlin describes as his team’s undeniable MVP.
“As a person, he’s just a tremendous leader. He does everything right on and off the field,” Tomlin said. “On the field he’s just so physical and intelligent. He’s just like having another coach out there.”
The 6-foot-1, 305-pound Chase has been overwhelming opponents all season and will play Division-I football somewhere next year.
He’s on Fresno’s radar, having already made a trip there, as well as taking a couple of unofficial visits to other top programs.
“He understands what it takes to be successful,” Tomlin said.
But for now, he’s keeping his options open and focusing more on the current season.
His Crusaders are 5-2 and have a bye this weekend, but having lost two straight they won’t head into their Big 4 opener next week with much momentum.
But Chase hasn’t lost any belief in his teammates, and expects them to be up for the challenge in a new tougher league.
“We’re a young team, I will say that, but we’ve got a lot of dudes with a lot of potential,” he said. “This team’s good. When we have our hearts in a game, there’s not a lot you can do to stop us.”
The four-year varsity starter was a key member of the St. Bernard’s state championship team in 2015 as a 14-year-old freshman.
In his career with the Crusaders, he has won 42 games and lost just six, while winning three league titles in his first three seasons.
He has also started every game in that time.
The intimidating senior lineman wasn’t always quite so intimidating, although he was always as enthusiastic.
“I come from a football family,” he said. “My dad played, my grandfather played, they all played.”
He remembers hanging out on the sideline before he could even play.
“I started out when I was seven, I was a waterboy,” he joked. “I had to be eight to play.”
The following season, Chase was finally old enough and made his competitive debut in the sport, playing youth football with the Arcata Tigers, although it wasn’t necessarily at the position he saw himself playing.
“I wanted to be a quarterback,” he said with a laugh. “Every kid does. But I figured out that wasn’t going to happen.”
And what does he remember from that first game?
“I was so scared,” he said. “I was completely terrified. I had never played before.”
The good news is Chase got past that early setback and has been dominating opponents ever since.
The family connection has always been an important one for Chase.
His father James, who played with Tomlin at McKinleyville High, was Connor’s head coach in youth football and now coaches the St. Bernard’s offensive line.
But the influence goes beyond that.
“My parents definitely push me to strive for academics,” said Connor, who has a 3.5-to-3.9 GPA. “I owe a lot to them, and to this school.”
The family tradition appears set to live on too, with younger sister Makenna a freshman cheerleader and basketball player at St. Bernard’s, and younger brother Hudsen already possessing the physique to suggest he will follow in his older brother’s footsteps, and perhaps even surpass them.
“He’s seven and he’s already up to here,” Connor Chase said holding his hand halfway up his chest with an expression of disbelief. “He’s going to be a tank.”
A winning start in Texas
As for his fondest memories as a Crusader, Chase says winning the state championship as a freshman definitely stands out, but it’s certainly not the only one.
“Winning in Texas was cool,” he said of the trip the Crusaders took to Tyler, Texas, in 2015, defeating Brook Hill 43-40 in his varsity debut. “Winning in East Texas doesn’t happen much.”
As for this year’s team, while they may lack the experience of the previous St. Bernard’s squads Chase has represented, he still sees plenty of potential.
The Crusaders have several talented playmakers at the skill positions, but for the senior center, the line is where it all begins.
And it’s a line that has been coming together nicely, and one that has surpassed expectations this season.
“It’s the biggest line I’ve had in all four years,” he said. “And we’re tough. We have a tough line … We’re trying to keep it physical. It all starts with the line.”
After suffering back-to-back losses, Chase and his teammates will be looking to get back on track when they travel across town to play Eureka next week in their Little 4 opener.
And Chase believes his team has what it takes to compete alongside the bigger schools.
“The potential that we have is the big thing,” he said. “We have a lot of athletes on this team. A lot of good players.”