Deep into the fourth quarter of Atascadero’s game against James Logan last month, the Greyhounds were getting beat up.
After leading 21-0 at half, Atascadero couldn’t move the ball in the second half and James Logan was inching closer. Offensive lineman Brian Woodard looked around at his teammates as they entered the huddle. Everyone was down, but Woodard knew just what to say.
“Hey! Let the power of the half nacho be in you!”
To understand why Woodard would talk about food at a time like that, you have to understand the history.
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It’s Thursday, Oct. 15, one day before Atascadero is set to travel to Santa Maria to play Righetti. A group of Atascadero starting linemen are at the same place they are every Thursday before a game for the past year and a half, in line at Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant on El Camino Real.
It’s a small space, even smaller when the massive Atascadero players fill the room. Everett Cooper, Kevin Blodget, Woodard and Jarrett Thompson push some tables together and prepare for the weekly feast.
I ask the group what I should order.
“You gotta get the half nachos supreme,” Blodget says. The others concur.
The crew starts talking football — which team in the area is the best, who’s the best running back.
When I eventually grab my order, I’m shocked by the amount of food for $7.50. It’s a heaping mound of Mexican goodness: steak, cheese, beans, salsa, guacamole, onions, cilantro, sour cream, lettuce, jalapenos and tomatoes. The Styrofoam box thuds as I drop it on the wood table.
“This thing has got to be at least two pounds,” I say.
“How do you think we got so big?” Cooper says.
Atascadero does boast one of the biggest offensive lines on the Central Coast and could easily be mistaken for a group of college players.
Cooper (center) is 5-foot 11, 245 pounds; Blodget (guard) is 6-foot-3, 280 pounds; Woodard (tackle) is 6-foot-5, 290 pounds; Thompson (tackle) is 6-foot-2, 285 pounds; Kyle Townsen (guard) is 6-foot-3, 245 pounds. Backed up by running backs Marc Martin and R.J. Reusche, the Greyhounds have one of the best rushing attacks in the PAC 5, averaging 257 yards per game.
But one of those starters, Townsen, is not here this Thursday.
“Kyle is usually here,” Blodget says. “He will probably have his worst game of the season.”
Kyle better have a good excuse, because according to Blodget, they have a good thing going.
What started as a few of the starting offensive linemen getting together to study and eat has transformed into a superstition, with a winning record to back it up.
The routine goes like this: pack on the calories at Garcia’s and the adjacent Tastee-Freez on Thursday, win on Friday.
No Garcia’s, No Wins
Atascadero has lost four times in its past 21 games. All four losses have one thing in common: no Garcia’s and no Tastee-Freez.
“Our first game we lost last year was to San Clemente,” Blodget said of the 49-20 loss last September. “We went up there on a Thursday and stayed in a hotel, and we had no Garcia’s access and we lost that game.”
Last November before a game against Arroyo Grande, the tradition continued, but a power outage pushed the game to Saturday, throwing off the tradition.
“It wasn’t the day before,” Blodget said of the 35-21 loss.
Then, before the final game of the season, it was another food tradition that interfered with their ritual.
“Our last game, Newbury Park last year, the day before was Thanksgiving and Garcia’s was closed,” Blodget said. “We tried to reverse it. We picked up some chips and salsa and we went and had a linemen potluck at one of our friends’ house. It didn’t work out.”
Atascadero had 516 yards of rushing offense, but lost the game, 49-48.
This season, Atascadero’s only loss was on the road against Saint Francis. Again, no Garcia’s.
Trip to Tastee-Freez
As the linemen polish off their nachos and burritos, I call it quits with about half a pound to go.
It’s time to drive 300 yards for the second, and strangest, part of the tradition.
“Get the Freezee,” Woodard says as I wait to place my order. He orders a large Oreo Freezee with sprinkles.
Each of the linemen order a Freezee, but Blodget puts in an extra order. He’s coy about it. I figure it’s because he’s embarrassed by how much he has eaten, but he insists that his second order, a vanilla soft serve cone, won’t be consumed. All of the lineman say they try to eat healthy aside from this “cheat day.”
“This is a weird one,” Blodget says.
“Who’s got clean fingers?”
Woodard says his are and Blodget sits down and inches the cone toward Woodard’s extended index finger. Woodard slowly sticks his finger into the swirling vanilla ice cream and Blodget reluctantly sticks his tongue into the newly formed void in the middle.
A few teammates who tagged along this night, new to the tradition like me, let out a collective “ew.”
“We don’t lose when we do it,” Woodard reassures them.
Blodget then proceeded to give me the scoop.
“Last year, our very first time coming here, Mckay Richey, who was our guard at the time, ordered one of these cones. Tyler West, our center, took his finger and shoved it all the way down there,” Blodget says. “And McKay, took his tongue, licked the inside of it, all around, and ever since then it has been a tradition. And we have not lost since we have done it.”
The next day, Atascadero defeated Righetti 14-7.
It was a closer game than most anticipated. Perhaps because Townsen didn’t make it to Garcia’s.
Ice Cream Continues
The Atascadero offensive line, which has been eating and playing well all season, will need every calorie and superstition it can get when it hosts Arroyo Grande on Friday. The Eagles defense has shut out its past three opponents, and linebacker Sam Ness is arguably the best at his position in San Luis Obispo County.
The line said that thanks to Atascadero’s blocking scheme laid out by head coach Vic Cooper, a former offensive lineman and father to Everett, they feel confident.
“They can throw whatever they want at us and we still know how to block it,” Blodget said of dealing with different blitz looks from other teams.
Blodget said Tuesday that this week the entire offensive line, even Townsen, will be back at Garcia’s eating nachos before the game against the 7-1 Eagles.
Barring a power outage or an unforeseen holiday, Atascadero likes its chances.
And why not? It’s tradition.