CONCORD -- In his first year as head football coach at Mt. Diablo High, Bryan Shaw had to start by assembling a staff that could help him turn around a struggling program.

Both Shaw and his players are finding that one of their most valuable coaches wears an apron, likes to garden and won't have a thing to do with blocking, tackling or throwing a football.

As the Red Devils have gone through two-a-day practices to prepare for the season, they've had some tasty help. Cindy Gershen, owner of Sunrise Bistro in Walnut Creek who also teaches at Mt. Diablo, has provided breakfast and lunch for both the varsity and junior varsity football teams between practices.

"Her goal is to change the way the teachers eat, then go to the students and this is the bridge to that," Shaw said. "We want the kids on campus to see the football players acting right on campus and eating right on campus. Hopefully that's going to spark a little bit of change and exposure to different foods."

But this isn't a case where Gershen just drops off food and heads back to the classroom. Instead, she hangs around and talks with the players, encouraging them to practice hard and to continue improving as a team.

Gershen is no newcomer to sports. A hard-core fan of the San Francisco Giants, she was crushed when star outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended last Wednesday for using performance enhancing drugs.


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So, she turned it into a teachable moment.

"I said to these kids, this is performance enhancing that's not illegal," Gershen said of eating right. "If you start this in schools and coaches are giving them this and kids are feeling good and understanding how to take care of their bodies, what are the chances they're going to do that to their bodies?"

For a team full of players likely more familiar with junk food than good food, there might have been a bit of hesitation when presented with healthy options.

That hasn't been the case at all.

Thursday's lunch of barbecue chicken, polenta, fruit and green salad stood little chance against two teams that had just finished lifting weights.

"I wasn't expecting it, but the food is good, and people out here love it," said team captain Isaiah Barney. "We get more energy from it, so when we come out for the second practice, we're all re-energized."

The meals have also had an unintended consequence. School administrators have started coming to practice right around lunch time, helping themselves to a plate and interacting with the team as they refuel for a second practice.

"How many high school kids in double-days are getting polenta?" Shaw said. "That's pretty awesome."