Mercury News Gary Peterson column
San Jose Mercury News - 10/30/2017
Oct. 30--The flier, announcing football workouts at San Ramon Valley High School, caught the eye of Anthony Rocca. His son, Cade, was about to become a freshman at the Danville school. So one day father and son took a drive to check it out, neither knowing quite what to expect.
Cade, you see, has autism.
"I thought maybe in five minutes we would be going home," Anthony Rocca said. "But they lined them up, and he just took off running. And he's been running ever since."
Cade was 2 when he was diagnosed. When he was 12, his family moved to Alamo. His father says his son thrived at Charlotte Wood Middle School. Much of his free time at home was spent alone with his iPad.
Football? "My wife (Dawnie) was like, 'Why are you taking him there?'" Anthony Rocca said. "I thought to myself, we won't know unless we try."
It has been a transformative four years for Cade, now a senior on a powerhouse San Ramon Valley team. He rarely sees game action, though he caught a touchdown pass in a deftly orchestrated play as a freshman in a "fifth quarter" game -- in which coaches agree to extend a game for the benefit of players who spend most of their time on the sideline.
"It was pretty awesome," said Cade, listed as a wide receiver/defensive end, during a recent practice. "I've never done it before, so it was pretty awesome."
But it's what has happened off the field that has thrilled the Rocca family. Cade's teammates treat him like any other player even when they're giving him special attention -- helping tie a shoe, pulling his shoulder pads on. To a player, they mobbed Cade in the end zone after his TD catch.
"We try to teach them that it's one big family from the varsity level down to the freshman level," said San Ramon Valley football coach Aaron Becker "It started when he was a freshman with these guys. He's been their teammate ever since. They don't think of him as anything other than their teammate. He's a happy kid. He brings a breath of fresh air to our program."
"He's blossomed," Anthony Rocca said. At first, Cade would come straight home from games tired and overstimulated -- he can still be sensitive to loud noises. Now he goes out with his friends after games.
"He comes back here with the guys, they change in the locker room," Anthony Rocca said, "and then they go to someone's home for dinner. He's riding with guys and they're cranking music, doing their thing. He's been going out and having hamburgers with guys on Saturday nights."
Cade said that's why he decided to go out for football.
"What attracted me is I want to be the popular kid," he said. "My favorite thing about football is that I get to spend time with friends and have fun with them and goof off with them."
Anthony Rocca sees it as a triumph of a community. He raves about how San Ramon Valley High built on the good work started at Charlotte Wood.
"We got very lucky," he said. "Very unique scenarios. Very unique people to help. This is a good place to be if you have a kid with special needs. This school district, especially Charlotte Wood and San Ramon Valley, really step up. They made him the homecoming prince when he was a freshman. He rode in the parade. They didn't have to do that."
The Roccas have ordered Cade a college GED workbook. Cade, 17, who says his favorite subject is art, is starting to think about college. He says the University of Arizona is "my No. 1 choice, and it's been my No. 1 choice for a long time."
But first there is the matter of the charmed season the Wolves have going. Friday night they played their rivalry game against Monte Vista High. They conclude their regular season against mighty De La Salle.
Friday also was homecoming. Cade, like all senior players, wore gold shoes, sported a mohawk and escorted his parents onto the field before the game. Asked a few days before the homecoming event if he thought his mother might get emotional, Cade thought it over for a second.
"She'll be happy in tears," he said.
(c)2017 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.