The best example of what kind of player Blake Renaud is came after his De La Salle High football team won the California Interscholastic Federation Open Division championship game against Crenshaw-Los Angeles.
As the Spartans posed for a team photo, Renaud stood off to the side, hesitant to join the fray. Several coaches implored him to join in, to which Renaud responded quickly.
"I've still got one more to go," Renaud told his coaches before joining the group.
It is that determination that made Renaud, only a junior, the driving force for the De La Salle defense this year. And now, for helping to lead his team to the state title, the Spartans middle linebacker has been voted the Bay Area News Group's East Bay Defensive Player of the Year.
Pegged with immense talent last year when he started as a sophomore, the bumps he experienced in 2008 became a boon in 2009, as the game began to slow down. His standout junior season culminated with a 10-tackle performance in the CIF title game.
"There were some growing pains, but he was so aggressive and he wasn't intimidated," said assistant head coach and former De La Salle linebacker Justin Alumbaugh. "He worked hard, and the key was he kept improving. The mistakes were OK because he kept improving."
A quiet leader, Renaud was never the one to make the big speech in front of his teammates. He led with his actions, providing direction for a defense that dominated a large part of the time.
"He holds other people accountable," Alumbaugh said. "If they don't know what's going on, he helps them out or makes sure they get up to snuff. ... It certainly goes a long way when you're one of the hardest working guys."
Renaud also will be the first to admit that having such an outstanding defensive line helped him become an elite playmaker. With Dylan Wynn, Dino Waldren, Will Marre and Chris Lawrence paving the way up front, Renaud was free to use his athleticism to make plays.
The scariest part of Renaud's game is the potential for improvement, considering he still has one more year to hone his skills at the high school level. And, to hear him tell it, the ultimate goal is still ahead of him."
"Seeing all the seniors get so excited and leaving happy," Renaud said. "I want to work hard to get that feeling."