Local Sports Hero

01 February 2017 Written by  By Michelle Lassle
Published in February 2017 Articles

Chris Fender didn’t originally want to play football.

However, after his stepfather recommended the sport to the first grader to help channel his aggression and lessen the trouble he was getting into, Chris signed up. “I hated it at first,” Chris said. “I didn’t like running or working out, and I cried a lot.” Over time, Chris grew to love being on the field and forming bonds with his fellow players. “The bonds and friendships that I won’t ever forget about will always be through football. I’d be a completely different person if I didn’t have it. It’s made me value teamwork and taught me to not focus on being an individual.”

As a freshman at Freedom High School, Chris earned his spot on the freshman team where he truly began to learn what it meant to play as a unit. “When I played in middle school, I did it for me,” Chris said. “I wanted to be the cool kid; I mean, who doesn’t? High school crushed that immediately.” The design of the program is to bring the players in and teach them that they are all equal, despite the fact that there may be natural standout players. Everything always goes back to their motto: “One Team.” “Our coaches showed us why things work better when you operate for the whole instead of the individual.” In his sophomore year Chris progressed onto the JV team where he was a defensive captain, and then he was pulled up to varsity for the playoffs.

Returning as a varsity player his junior year, Chris had no idea just how groundbreaking his season was going to be. “During the summer, if you would have asked me if we were going to go undefeated, I probably would have laughed,” Chris said. “I didn’t believe it, and I don’t think anyone else did either.” This particular group of boys had the potential to either be an average team or become something outstanding. “It was the perfect opportunity to be great,” Chris said. “We worked our butts off and capitalized on all of the talent.” Freedom’s 2016 varsity football team was the first in school history to have a record of 10-0, as well as the first to have an undefeated season. They were the second team to be BVAL champions and the second team to beat their rival, Pittsburg High School, twice. The team also had the second most players with Division I scholarship offers.

“This year they created an open division comprised of the top four teams in northern California, and we were the first team at the school to be a part of that.” The team was ranked first in NCS, going back and forth with De La Salle for the top spot throughout the season, and went on to beat Pittsburg after skipping the second round of playoffs. They then had to face De La Salle where their streak came to an end. “That game wasn’t even about winning or losing. It was about enjoying a moment that you’ll never forget. We had already done the unthinkable.”

Chris and his team did not reach greatness on pure luck. They were practicing for two and a half hours Monday through Thursday, competing on Fridays, and then returning for early morning Saturday sessions. The boys had a fourth period weightlifting class, and they spent their lunches watching film and studying playbooks. “That’s what set us apart from other teams,” Chris said. “No other team prepared like we did and took the extra steps.

When it came to the team’s success, Chris played wherever his coaches and teammates needed him. Typically playing in the outside linebacker position, Chris was moved to defensive end for a chunk of the season, and then relocated to defensive tackle to fill in for players who were injured. “People always ask me which position is my favorite. It was never where I wanted to play; it was where the team needed me to be.” Outside linebacker, however, is where Chris said he thrives. As a linebacker, you are responsible for everything. “The linebacker is the quarterback of the defense. He tells you where to be, what to do, and how to do it.” Chris also admitted that to be a linebacker, you have to be a little bit crazy. “You have to be aggressive and willing to put your body on the line in order to make those tackles.” Chris admittedly took a little while to get past the fear of taking hits, but once he reached the point of fearlessness, he never looked back. That led him to being named Best of the West for Pop Warner Northwest in his eighth grade year, playing into overtime and scoring the game winning touchdown, all with broken ribs. He also earned five sacks during this past high school season.

Beyond high school Chris wants to study nursing. He plans on attending junior college first and then transferring to a university to earn his bachelor degree and eventually return for his master’s. As for playing football at the college level, Chris said he will take that opportunity if it presents itself, but education is the priority. “If you asked me a couple years ago, I would’ve said I wanted to play Division I football and go pro,” Chris said. “Now, I’m not going to college for football; I’m going for my degree. My goal is to have multiple options to be successful.” However, this extraordinary season will always be special to Chris. “We’re evidence that you can do anything you put your mind to. It’s amazing to be a part of something so special, and I’ll never forget it. Ever.”

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