Today’s Los Angeles Daily News carries a story about perhaps the best-ever running back to come from Grace Brethren High in Simi Valley, CA.
By Ramona Shelburne, Staff Writer
When the legend of Chad Kackert is shared with future generations at Grace Brethren High in Simi Valley, the story will begin during the fourth week of the 2002 season, when running back Josh Matthew missed a game to attend a weekend church trip and coach Dennis Stephenson asked a 5-foot-6, 140-pound sophomore wide receiver to fill in for the week.
“That was the year that changed my life,” Kackert said. “The first week I had 230 yards and three touchdowns. … I’ve been playing running back ever since.”
Matthew went on to have a fine season as a wide receiver. Kackert hasn’t grown much since then, but he has gone on to become one of the most prolific running backs in area history.
Going into Saturday’s Southern Section Div. XII championship game against Ontario Christian, the 5-foot-8, 180-pound Kackert has 3,286 rushing and 54 touchdowns this season. That is the second-best season in area history, behind Jermaine Marshall, who played for Kilpatrick of Malibu in 1999.
Kackert’s 129 career touchdowns have far surpassed the previous area mark of 99, by Hart’s Ted Iacenda in 1993-95. Kackert’s mark is No. 2 in state history, behind the 137 scored by Lorenzo Booker of St. Bonaventure of Ventura in 1999-2001.
Kackert’s story actually begins four years before that 2002 game, when his mother, Betty, finally allowed him to play football.
“They have minimum height and weight requirements, so we had to wait until he was big enough to start playing football,” Betty Kackert said. “He was smaller as a little kid. We’re smaller people in this family. I’m 5-1 and my husband is 5-4. …
“But Chad had always been a good athlete. We had him in baseball, skateboarding, surfing and (judo). He’s always had this fearlessness. Chad doesn’t take stupid risks, but he’s always been able to push it.”
At the time, Kackert could barely fit into a set of football pads. He was 70 pounds and didn’t hit 5-foot until eighth grade.
But he had speed. Great speed — as a high school junior, Kackert was clocked at a blazing 4.39 in the 40-yard dash. And he had a coach, Kevin Williams, who believed in him and was willing to work with him on fundamentals.
“He taught me all the basics,” Kackert said. “I was scared to death of him, but I always remember going through all the drills trying to do everything right to impress him.
“That was the only year I played running back until my sophomore year in high school.”
Kackert finally had a growth spurt when he got to high school. At the time, Grace Brethren played eight-man football, but with just 100 male students at the school, Stephenson put Kackert on the varsity as a freshman.
The next season, Grace Brethren switched to 11-man football, and four weeks later, Matthew went on his church trip and Stephenson made the position change that changed Kackert’s life.
Kackert rushed for 1,030 yards and 26 touchdowns that year. As a junior, he finished with 49 touchdowns, and this season he has exceeded those numbers. His father, Craig, worked in special effects for the film “Jurassic Park,” and he has documented every game with three to six cameras and made highlight tapes for every player on the team.
Despite the gaudy statistics, Kackert didn’t begin attracting attention from Division I programs until he ran the 4.39 in the 40 at a Nike combine last summer.
“He ran a 4.4 back-to-back, then did a 4.15 in the shuttle, and the next day we started getting calls from Oregon and Oregon State,” Grace Brethren coach Terry Gourley said. “I get a lot of calls from colleges about him, and they all want to know: Is his size an issue? From my perspective, it’s not because of his speed and the size of his heart.”
Kackert has official visits lined up in January with Oregon and Nevada. He’s also trying to finalize a trip to Oregon State. He could become the first player from Grace Brethren to earn a full scholarship.
Before Kackert leaves, Grace Brethren plans to retire his No. 27 jersey. And the story of the little running back who broke all the records might one day become legend at the tiny school in Simi Valley.
“There’s a lot of big guys out there in football who have a lot of talent but don’t have a lot of heart,” Gourley said. “Sometimes I think God gives all the heart to the little guys like Chad.”