The plaque has a simple message. It reads "Newark High School 1979 Athlete of the Year Lance Castle."

But the story behind it is not simple, including the fact that the plaque did not reach its intended recipient for 34 years.

Duane Fountain, a 1982 Newark graduate, said Castle's name came up in a conversation he had with former Newark and Newark Memorial football coach Rich Swift in the fall of 2012. Swift was also a wrestling coach at both schools and an athletic director at Newark Memorial in his 35-year career at the two schools.

"I mentioned Lance's name in conversation and he said, 'You know Lance Castle?' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'I have an award for him.' I said I would give it to him, but he said, 'No, bring him to me.'"

That meeting never transpired. Swift, 60, died on Feb. 13, eight days after finding out he had an inoperable brain tumor.

"I didn't think it was an urgent thing," said Fountain about bringing Castle to Swift. "I thought I would get together with Lance and bring him over. ... I didn't know (Swift) would die."

Fountain had no idea what the award looked like or where to find it. But in the spring he asked Tim Hess, a close friend of Swift who coached with him, if he had seen the award. Hess found the plaque in Swift's truck and called Fountain.

"I was just amazed. I was in shock," Fountain said after seeing the award. "It made sense to me why Rich held onto it for 34 years. It wasn't just a participation certificate."

Not surprisingly, Castle was also caught off guard when he saw the award for the first time this summer.

"I didn't even know what it was until ... Duane handed it to me," said Castle, now a Castro Valley resident. "I got choked up. ... It was in pristine condition, still in Bubble Wrap. He was watching over it for me."

But there is more to this story, another reason why Castle got choked up.

Castle was only a part-time starter at linebacker and special teams captain his senior year for the Knights, who forged their way to a 5-5 overall record in 1978. In three years of wrestling at the school, he had a record of 0-44 in matches that were not forfeits.

"(Swift) had a place in his heart. I had to work a little harder than most," said the 5-foot-4 Castle, who later joined the Marines. "He knew I wasn't the best athlete, ... but I was intense. I would throw my body around (in football). ... (In wrestling) I would always hold my spot, but I would find a way to lose.

"By no means was I the best athlete. ... I am thinking he was thinking, 'That kid didn't quit.'"

Castle estimates that the last time he saw Swift was at least 20 years ago.

"I feel bad about losing a little bit of touch," said Castle, 53. "(Swift) remembered everybody. You could be the fourth-string person on the football team or barely on the wrestling team. He had the ability to remember every person that he coached, and believe me, he coached a lot of people."

Swift was the longest-tenured high school football coach in the East Bay at the time of his death. In his final season, Newark Memorial was unbeaten in the Mission Valley Athletic League and won its first outright league varsity football title since 1983. He also was a legendary wrestler at Mission San Jose High, where he graduated in 1970.

Castle describes Swift as "a drill instructor-type, a leader. He did it because he cared. ... Newark was lucky it had him."

Sometimes in life, a chance conversation can turn into something meaningful.

"If Duane had not mentioned it, I would have never known about it," said Castle about the award. "That really touched me."