It was early afternoon on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and former Cal coach Roger Theder, the Pied Piper of quarterbacks, was on the move, coaching, encouraging and cajoling his charges.
Theder had already finished a fast-paced two-hour session at Pittsburg High School with a group of young quarterbacks just learning the craft.
Now he had 11 more quarterbacks — eighth grade through college — following his lead and instructions on a day most teenagers reserve for road trips, barbecues or double-digit hours of sleep.
"We've got a big group, but that's OK," an upbeat Theder said as his quarterbacks warmed up, zipping passes to a stable of receivers they brought along to run routes. "We've got all day today. All day."
You can't fake joy. You can't fake contentment. Well, at least not while coaching kids for well over four hours at a nearly empty high school stadium, light years away from the bright lights of the NFL and major-college football.
Unless Theder is a master thespian, he has definitely found his bliss over the past decade-plus as a self-employed, nationally renowned quarterbacks coach.
The list of Theder's past and current students is a who's who of Northern California quarterbacks. Trent Edwards, Ken Dorsey, Kyle Wright, Sam Keller, Drew Olson, Dennis Dixon, T.C. Ostrander, Josh Johnson, Corbin Louks, Colin Kaepernick and Willie Tuitama are just a handful of the names on the list.
"I'm just as happy now as I've ever been in my life, doing this," Theder, a longtime Orinda resident, said after the second session. "I enjoy this as much as I did coaching in the National Football League or coaching in college. These are great kids. And they want to be here. And they're having fun."
Theder obviously is, too. He's a coaching dynamo who makes you tired just watching him in action. He's 68 going on 28. Well, except for the stent doctors put in his partially blocked artery in April.
Theder had just finished jogging on some trails near Miramonte High School. He had felt a "little bit" of chest pain. Then while driving home on Moraga Way he suffered a "small heart attack" and blacked out.
When Theder came to, he was still in his car in the middle of the road, staring at an inflated air bag and at paramedics. Miraculously, his car wound up right-side up after rolling onto its side. No other car was involved, and Theder suffered no serious injuries.
Paramedics took him via ambulance to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, where he soon underwent heart surgery.
"I've been fine ever since," Theder said. "It wakes you up a little bit. I started eating different. I know that. Much less red meat. Less tacos. No sour cream.
"You never think it will happen to you, and I felt like I was in great shape because I run five days a week. When it happened to me, I was like, 'Wow, this is crazy.'" "
Theder is already back jogging a little. And he appears to be back to full coaching speed on the football field. This summer he plans to tutor quarterbacks five days a week at high school and junior college fields, including Pittsburg, Pinole Valley and San Ramon Valley.
During that Saturday afternoon session, Theder's group included Louks, former San Ramon Valley quarterback, now a sophomore-to-be at Utah, where he's No. 2 on the depth chart.
Kaepernick, the University of Nevada's starting quarterback, drove over from his family's home in Turlock for the session, too. Both quarterbacks started working with Theder after their freshman years in high school.
"He really knows football. He really knows quarterbacks," Louks said. "He teaches you the little things that people don't realize go into being a fundamentally sound quarterback. Every session he goes over protections and defenses and coverage and how to beat it.
"He has a great relationship with us. He's easy to approach, easy to talk to. He understands the kids. He knows how to get through to them. He's a great guy. I love what he does."
Kaepernick passed for 2,175 yards and 19 touchdowns with just three interceptions as a redshirt freshman in 2007.
"My throwing motion and mechanics when I first started were terrible," Kaepernick said. "He just refined everything for me. I've gotten to where I'm at because of him."
Theder never dreamed he'd become a quarterback tutor with a huge following. That certainly wasn't the plan when did a friend a favor over a decade ago and worked with his son, former De La Salle quarterback John Kirkham.
"He told somebody," Theder said. "They told somebody else. Pretty soon I've got a whole entourage of kids that want to work out. So it became a full-time thing. But it didn't start out that way, and I had no intention of it being this way.
"But then I found out with these kids, even though they have a great program in their high school, they can't do a lot of stuff in the offseason (with their coaches) because it's not legal."
As a private coach, Theder isn't subject to the same restrictions as high school and college coaches.
Theder's reputation has spread far beyond Northern California. During his summer workouts, you never know who might show up.
Former Wisconsin and current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Sorgi has traveled to the Bay Area to spend a week working with Theder. So has Virginia quarterback Peter Lalich.
"I've had kids come from Georgia, Florida," Theder said. "I've got a kid from Colorado, comes in all the time. I've got a kid from Chicago. I've got a kid from Cedar Rapds, Iowa."
Six weeks each year, Theder coaches at Competitive Edge Sports, a private facility in Georgia, helping quarterbacks and receivers prepare for the NFL combine.
That's as close as he comes to the NFL or major-college football these days. And you know what? Theder's fine with that, although some of those seven-figure coaching salaries out there give him reason for pause. He runs his coaching business more like a mom and pop operation.
"I don't make very much money on this thing at all," Theder said. "But the thing is, it's the fun of these kids wanting to be here.
"The first thing I tell them is I'm not going to guarantee anybody a college scholarship. But I know one thing, they're going to be the best mechanical quarterback wherever they go."
Theder doesn't miss the agony of defeat - "I didn't' handle losing very well" - or the 20-hour workdays from his NFL and college coaching days. He has plenty of time now to spend with his five grandchildren, including two that live just up his street in Orinda.
And Theder certainly doesn't miss the pain that comes from being fired, as he was after going 17-28 in four seasons at Cal.
"I hate to feel like I'm a failure, and I think at that time I felt like I had failed, and it really bothered me a lot," Theder said. "You don't even want to coach any more. Then you get back into it and you forget about it. But at first, it's difficult."
Nearly three decades later, Theder's feeling the joy and contentment that comes from helping young quarterbacks succeed.
Contact Eric Gilmore at firstname.lastname@example.org.