Sean LaChapelle made a vow each day when he crossed a bridge leading to the football field for practice on the Vintage High School campus in the ’80s.
He made a promise to himself that no one was going to outwork him. It didn’t matter if it was two-a-days in August, an offensive practice during Big Game week or a defensive practice before a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoff game.
LaChapelle, a two-way player who starred at wide receiver and free safety as well as a punt returner, went all-out with an intensity and fervor for the game, whether it was running precise pass routes and making catches on offense or coming up with big stops on defense.
“That was my little secret to myself,” he said last week. “Every time I saw one of my friends working hard, I would push them and say, ‘Keep going, keep going.’ But in the back of my mind, I was always telling myself, ‘You’re not going to outwork me.’”
LaChapelle was one of the best to ever play football in the Napa Valley. He was named an All-American by SuperPreps and, as a junior, when the Crushers won the 1986 Section title, he had two catches for 56 yards — including a 32-yard touchdown reception — in a 15-8 quarterfinal win over Lodi. As a senior, he led all Valley receivers with 38 catches for 616 yards and 12 TDs. He also rushed for 375 yards on 51 attempts and scored three times. He returned a punt and three interceptions for touchdowns.
“I sure did enjoy Vintage,” he said. “Football is at its purest at the high school level. Man, high school sure was fun. We had a lot of great athletes that did a lot of things well on those teams.”
LaChapelle, a 1988 graduate, is headed to the Vintage High Athletic Hall of Fame. He was elected with the inaugural class, which also has two legendary coaches, Burl Autry and Bill Williams, along with Craig Landis, Russ Orrick, Kim Payne, George Moskowite and David Ilsley.
An awards dinner is on Sept. 14 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Napa.
Nominations for the Hall of Fame class were accepted in January, February and March. There are categories for athletes and coaches. There is also a special category for community members who have made contributions to the school or athletic program, who aren’t necessarily Vintage High graduates.
The eligibility requirements for athletes include being a Vintage graduate, having graduated at least 10 years ago, having been a top student-athlete at VHS, being successful in their chosen profession, contributing to the community in which they live and being an outstanding citizen. Each nomination must be substantiated by research and documentation.
The creation of the Vintage High Hall of Fame Foundation comes during Vintage’s 41st anniversary as a high school.
LaChapelle, a resident of Sacramento who works in construction, will enter the Hall of Fame with Ilsley. They are in the same class and were teammates at Vintage.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” LaChapelle, 42, said. “Dave played unbelievable football, but he did all of the other sports. For me to have my name recognized with Dave and some of the other guys, it’s pretty awesome.
“It’s kind of nice to fall back into the ’80s again and reminisce. This is a good step in honoring some of the past athletes who had success there. I have some really fond memories of those times. I thought we had a really good coaching staff, and we had a bunch of guys that worked really hard together.”
Vintage’s 1980 SJS title-winning team, which was 13-0, and the 1986 championship team, which was 13-1, were both honored two years ago at a dinner at the Elks Lodge of Napa.
The ’86 team was loaded with talent. Besides LaChapelle and Ilsley, the Crushers had Steve Buccellato, The Sacramento Bee’s Superior California Player of the Year, as well as Warren Bowers, Fred Schmidt, Steve Porter, Anthony Anderson, Mark Massari, Kevin Montoya, Marc Vandershoot, Charles Hammond and Larry DeZorzi, just to name a few key players.
The Crushers had playoff wins over Grace Davis-Modesto (13-7), Lodi, Tracy (7-6) and Christian Brothers-Sacramento (14-0).
“Steve Buccellato was a fierce ball carrier. David Ilsley was a dominant tight end-defensive end. Charles Hammond threw an unbelievable deep ball. He could throw the ball,” said LaChapelle.
During his junior year, LaChapelle caught 22 passes for 425 yards and seven touchdowns. He rushed for 165 yards on 30 carries and scored once.
He was a team captain and received All-State acclaim from California Football magazine.
Following his graduation, he played in the California North-South Shrine All-Star Game.
All-America honors at UCLA
LaChapelle became one of the top receivers in UCLA history, catching 142 passes for 2,027 yards with 14 TDs from 1990-1992. As a split end, he played at 6-foot-3 1/2, 205 pounds.
He caught a career-high 11 passes against Arizona State in 1991, had three TD catches in a 1991 game against Arizona, and had 154 receiving yards in 1992 against Cal State Fullerton.
“When I look back at my time at UCLA, and the time I spent with that football program, it’s something that I’m really thankful for. I’m really blessed to have had that time,” he said.
“Everything about that place felt right for me. It was just comfortable.”
He enjoyed a banner campaign as UCLA’s third wide receiver, earning third-team sophomore All-America honors from Football News in 1990. He became one of just 14 players in school history at the time to catch at least 35 passes for 600 yards in a season. He was UCLA’s second-leading receiver with 39 receptions for 607 yards and two touchdowns. He made a season-high seven receptions against UC Berkeley, good for 95 yards. He was an offensive winner of UCLA’s Captain Don Brown Memorial Trophy for Most Improved Player and an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection.
During the 1991 season, LaChapelle earned second-team All-America honors from the Associated Press, United Press International and College & Pro Football Newsweekly, third-team acclaim from Football News and first-team All-Pac-10 status from the league coaches and Football News. He was the offensive winner of UCLA’s Henry R. “Red” Sanders Award for Most Valuable Player.
At the time, he set all of UCLA’s single-season receiving records. During the regular season, he ranked sixth nationally in receptions per game (6.2) and seventh in receiving yards (89.7). In 12 games, including the John Hancock Bowl, he made 73 receptions for 1,056 yards (14.5 average) and 11 touchdowns — all school records at the time.
LaChapelle had established himself as a candidate for first-team All-America honors in 1992 following a spectacular junior season. But he suffered a cracked rib against Arizona in the fourth game of the season and missed three games due to the injury. As one of UCLA’s offensive captains, he still finished the season with 30 receptions for 364 yards and one touchdown.
“My ultimate goal was to get to the NFL,” he said.
Playing in the pros
He did just that, as he was a fifth-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams in 1993 and also played for Kansas City. During his NFL career, he caught 29 passes for 445 yards with two touchdowns. He spent three years in the NFL.
He also played for the Scottish Claymores of the World League of American Football, which was later renamed NFL Europe. He was inducted into the Claymores’ Hall of Fame in 2000.
Playing high school ball for Vintage was one of LaChapelle’s best experiences.
“There’s nothing like high school football,” he said. “The next level, there’s a lot more pressure. And the level after that, it’s all a business.”
He has returned to Vintage twice in the last year to work with some of the younger players, helping them with the basics of playing receiver positions.
“I’ve always been a technician. I wasn’t always the best athlete in college or in the pros, so I had to be a great technician and I had to use everything to my advantage.”
This past spring, LaChapelle was invited to speak to football players at Vintage about his experiences playing the game. He talked about just how close the players were on the teams that he played for at Vintage, how they spent time together and how they were friends.
“We all worked hard together, we all ran the hill together, we all played other sports together, we could go play stick ball together, we would go play mud football together. We all just hung out together, we all went fishing together. We created this bond that once we got on the football field, we were able to push each other and make each other work harder.”
LaChapelle and his wife, Diona, have a son, Chance (13) and daughter, Tatumn (11).
Information on the Hall of Fame awards dinner is still being finalized.
For more information about the HOF, email Crushers Athletic Director Cam Neal at email@example.com or call Neal at 815-1105.