PIRATE POWER UNLEASHED: San Leandro HS
In the past, San Leandro never had a 1000 lb lifter. After two years of implementing the BFS program, they have five Varsity football players who total over 1,000 lbs. and soon to be seven.
By Reed Sainsbury
Published: Fall 1999
Dan Calcagno has had a profound impact on northern California football at San Leandro High School. In 1984 Calcagno played quarterback for San Leandro and led that team to a 10-0 season. That young undersized quarterback learned early what it takes to win as he led the state in touchdown passes. After high school he continued on with athletics; playing college and minor league baseball.
In 1995 San Leandro's head football coaching position opened up and the former Pirate quarterback leaped at the opportunity to once again return to his old team. One prevailing obstacle was that San Leandro's football program wasn’t where he left it in 1984. Since then the program had really declined to the point that one season had a turn-out of only 18 players on the whole team. With such small numbers it was no mystery why San Leandro had won only two games in the past three years. This news was heart shattering for the former quarterback who had previously built up so much pride in his school. He was determined to turn the football program around, this time by coaching.
Coach Calcagno’s first year coaching showed signs of improvement over previous seasons as the Pirates went 3-7. However, Coach Calcagno wasn’t satisfied with just a little improvement, he wanted a championship. In order to win he knew that some changes had to be made. He hired former Cal players Scott Nady and Brad Bowers for his assistants. Nady began coaching the special teams and Bowers coached the offensive and defensive line. The coaches decided if the Pirate football team was to win then they would have to begin with the basics, which are strength, speed, flexibility and plyometrics. After getting rid of fancy machines that look nice but don’t produce the results from doing Power Cleans, Squats and Bench Presses, and investing $1,400 on free weight equipment, the Pirates had a base to build from. They incorporated the Bigger Faster Stronger program into their football regime. The coaches knew that in order to win the kids needed to want to win and this meant dedication. All players who weren’t committed to training in the weight room on the BFS system were cut! Eight returning starters who weren’t dedicated and willing to follow the new program were denied a spot on the team. This, of course, momentarily hurt the Pirate football program but Coach Calcagno commented “we knew we had to do it. We couldn’t have returning starters leading younger players astray by not training as a team in the off-season and performing the core lifts in the weight room.”
Since eight returning starters had been cut from the team, the opening 1997 football season found nine sophomores starting on varsity. They were a small team but most importantly they trained as a unit in the off-season and started a leadership program which inspired younger athletes to follow. The Pirates finished the season 4-6; not as good as they wanted but better than last season. It was a pretty good season for such a young team. That same year they added former NFL football players Eric and Greg Zomalt to their coaching staff and switched their offense to a wing-T because of the talent they had in the running back positions.
One of the key ingredients to their success believes Coach Calcagno is spending a week of two-a-days up in Jackson; a camp in the mountains. Here, the kids are taught discipline, hard work and sacrifice. They start each day off with a swimming workout in the pool at 5 a.m. and the rest of the day finds them involved in vigorous training and conditioning drills in temperatures that reach over 100 degrees. Calcagno reports, “the kids really bond and come together as a family.” This starts each football season off on the right foot. The Pirates are ready to take on any team after this intense training session in Jackson.
In 1998 the San Leandro Pirates were ready for battle. They had been training intensely on the BFS system. They had prepared and fulfilled all the requirements to become champions. They were ready to go-fight-win and that is exactly what they did. Their defense was an offense’s worst nightmare. This lethal force rose to the top and was labeled as the #1 defense in all of Northern California. They physically punished their opponents and finished the regular season with an astounding 9-1 record. The Pirates best game of the season came when they did battle with their arch-rivals Bishop O’Dowd. Bishop O’Dowd had been undefeated for the last four years since they’ve been in the HAAL League. To make things more exciting it was their homecoming. The Pirates strapped on their helmets and came to town to take care of business the old-fashioned way. On the opening kickoff, San Leandro fielded the ball at the 20- yard line and ran it all the way back for an 80-yard touchdown. The rest of the game was history as San Leandro crashed Bishop O’Dowds Homecoming and brought their 19-0 winning streak to a screeching halt. What a victory!
The Pirates went on to the playoffs but lost a nail biter to Castro Valley. Then Bishop O’Dowd returned with a vengeance to put them out in the semi-finals. Although the Pirates lost in the semi-finals, they were still labeled the Hayword Area Athletic League Champions. Six players were named All-League and inside linebacker Mike Smith was named Defensive Player of the Year.
Coach Calcagno says he has really been blessed. San Leandro had not been to the playoffs in eight years and had not won league since 1987. Just three years after taking over a desolate program and incorporating the BFS system, he led the Pirates to a 9-1 record and an HAAL Championship Title. Quite the turn around for the former Pirate himself.
When discussing the keys for turning this losing tradition around, Coach Calcagno replied, “On the BFS system the kids are able to see their results as they keep track of sets & reps. This gives them motivation and they don’t become stagnant in their workouts.” Coach Calcagno went on to explain that the kids need to be training correctly to increase their speed and strength. “The older kids showing the younger ones how to lift is promising to a Coach. To see twenty five freshmen and twenty five sophomores in the weight room lifting is great.”
During the summer Coach Calcagno has two classes in the weight room, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. The kids have the option to attend either one. Three days a week are spent working on the weights and two days are spent working on plyometrics. There are about 120 kids who attend throughout the day.
The Pirates have a motivational weight lifting program called the “Pirate Power System”. On this system, all athletes who total over 750 lbs. (by adding the Squat, Bench and Clean) receive a Pirate Power System T-shirt. Athletes that weigh under 150 lbs. follow a special formula to calculate their body weight to determine their eligibility for a T-shirt. For every 100 lbs. over 750, athletes receive a different colored T-shirt. When they reach over 1000 lbs. they receive a sweat suit and plaque. This helps motivate kids to reach their upper limit in the weight room. In the past, San Leandro never had a 1000 lb lifter. After two years of implementing the BFS program, they have five Varsity football players who total over 1,000 lbs. and soon to be seven. More than ten players can Power Clean over 250 lbs. Prior to 1998 they had one athlete in three season who could clean 250.
Before the new coaching staff came to San Leandro High, there had not been a scholarship football player in 12 years. Since the new staff has been there and the team has been lifting the BFS way, the Pirates have had three scholarships with ten current players being heavily recruited.