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From All Star Game to the NFL

Feature article in 2013 All Star Program
by Dick Sparrer

It was quite an opportunity for the Santa Clara Lions when the Pop Warner organization was invited to sell programs at one of the early Santa Clara County All-Star Football Games.

It turned out to be a successful fundraiser for the local youth football group, and it also provided a chance for the young Lions to get a look at what the best high school football players could do.

No doubt all of the Lions who were hawking programs that night back in the mid 1970s were convinced that one day they would be there themselves, playing as all-stars at San Jose State’s Spartan Stadium.

One of them would.

John Hendy was selling programs on that hot August night back in the ’70s, and just a few years later he would return to wear the yellow jersey of the North team in the summer classic.

It was just one of the many highlights in a brilliant football career that started in Santa Clara and ended on the turf at Jack Murphy Stadium where Hendy starred as a starting cornerback for the San Diego Chargers of the NFL. Stops in between included all-league seasons at Wilcox High School back in the days when the Santa Clara students still called themselves the Warriors, and all-conference seasons in the secondary at West Valley College and Long Beach State.

An all-purpose player in high school, it was at West Valley College where Hendy honed his skills in the defensive secondary.

“I had a really good coach there,” he said, referring to the late Ray Goni, the longtime Saratoga coach who also served as an assistant for the Vikings. “I learned more about playing defensive back from him than from any other coach I had. He had me ready for everything I would face in the years to come.” And that meant two years as a scholarship player at Long Beach, and a trip to the NFL.

Still, despite the success Hendy enjoyed at every level in his football career, his participation in the summer all-star game in San Jose remains among the highlights of his playing days.

“It was one of the best experiences I ever had—from the dinner, to the practices, to the game,” he said. “My mother still has my all-star jersey.” Hendy was the only Wilcox player selected that summer but that didn’t bother him. “I just wanted to play football.”

And wearing his old black Lions facemask as a subtle tribute to his former Pop Warner team, play he did.

Now, some 32 years later, that experience of playing in the “Best Game in Town” is one that John Hendy has never forgotten, and it’s that experience that a new crop of all-stars will enjoy this summer.

The 39th edition of the summer classic, now called the Charlie Wedemeyer All-Star Football Game, moves to San Jose City College this year and will feature the same intensity Hendy experienced when the top seniors from the 2012 football season go at it on July 18 at 7:30 p.m.

The all-stars will enter the game with the same hopes and dreams of moving on to play football at the collegiate and professional levels as so many all-stars before them — like Hendy — have done.

Hendy is just one of the many all-stars who have gone on to play in the NFL. Players like Nathan Jackson of Pioneer and Jeff Toews of Del Mar, Trent Edwards and Jared Allen of Los Gatos, James Jones of Gunderson and the late Pat Tillman of Leland - the list goes on, and is quite impressive.

?Equally as impressive is the cast of competitors who played alongside and against Hendy in that summer game in 1981. Players like the late Ken Caminiti of Leigh, who went on to star as a Major League Baseball player, and John Faylor of Archbishop Mitty, who was a member of the San Francisco 49ers. And future collegiate stars like Jacque Robinson of San Jose High and Kurt Heinrich, Kevin Tanner and Rick Worman of Saratoga.

Despite the incredible talent assembled on the North squad, Hendy’s team lost 5-0 to the South, but it’s not the score that the former great remembers most about the game.

“It was a blast, and those practices were pretty intense,” he recalls. “It was fun to dish it out to those guys I’d been reading about the newspaper.”

One of those players was Jacque Robinson of San Jose, who would go on to become the Most Valuable Player in the 1982 Rose Bowl. The two were reunited in 1984 when they played as teammates in the East-West Shrine Game at Stanford University.

The game marked the end of a successful collegiate career for Hendy, who won all-conference and All-America honorable mention recognition as a senior.

“I was always a physical player,” said Hendy, a 6-footer who played at 205 pounds in college. “I had pro scouts coming out to my practices.”

They must have liked what they saw because Hendy was drafted in the third round by the San Diego Chargers. He earned a starting job as a 23-year-old cornerback in the fall of 1985 and won a first-team spot on the NFL All-Rookie team after intercepting four passes — returning one 75 yards for a touchdown — and averaging five tackles a game. He had two picks against Buffalo and was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

His promising career came to end a year later, though, when he suffered a dislocated shoulder and soon after that blew out his knee.

“A lot of people wanted me to move to safety,” he said, but he knew his playing career was over.

But it wasn’t the end of his time in football. He returned to this area to volunteer his time as coach for the Lions, then served as an assistant coach for many years at Wilcox.

His all-star experience came full circle in 1996. The kid who had sold programs at the Santa Clara County All-Star game in the ’70s and played corner for the North in 1981 returned to the game as a member of the North coaching staff that summer.

These days, Hendy just watches the game from the sidelines and is looking forward to following the exploits of another young hopeful. His son, Jordan, is sophomore planning to begin his football career this fall at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale.

“He’s a big time hitter,” says Hendy of his son.

He should know.

1974—Doug Cosbie (St. Francis), Dallas Cowboys
1974—Don Schwartz (Archbishop Mitty), St. Louis Cardinals; New Orleans Saints
1975—Jeff Toews (Del Mar), Miami Dolphins
1977—Rich Campbell (Santa Teresa), Green Bay Packers
1978—Carl Monroe (Overfelt), San Francisco 49ers
1978—Greg Woodard (Silver Creek), Oakland Raiders
1979—George Achica (Andrew Hill), Chicago Bears
1979—John Tuggle (Independence), New York Giants
1980—Ben Bennett (Peterson), Cincinnati Bengals; Chicago Bears
1981—John Hendy (Wilcox), San Diego Chargers
1981—John Faylor (Mitty), San Francisco 49ers
1982—Erik Howard (Bellarmine), New York Giants
1983—Randy Kirk (Bellarmine), San Francisco 49ers
1986—Tim Ryan (Oak Grove), Chicago Bears
1988—Jeff Garcia (Gilroy), San Francisco 49ers; Cleveland Browns; Detroit Lions; Philadelphia Eagles; Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Oakland Raiders
1994—Pat Tillman (Leland), Arizona Cardinals
1997—Nathan Jackson (Pioneer), Denver Broncos
1998—Tully Banta-Cain (Fremont), New England Patriots; San Francisco 49ers
2001—Jared Allen (Los Gatos), Kansas City Chief; Minnesota Vikings
2002—Trent Edwards (Los Gatos), Buffalo Bills; Jacksonville Jaguars; Philadelphia Eagles
2002—James Jones (Gunderson), Green Bay Packers
2008—Kiko Alonso (Los Gatos), drafted by the Buffalo Bills