The opening kickoff of the Hartnell Community College football
season was less than 24 hours away, and tensions were mounting
in the Shaffer household. Sophomore defensive end-tight end
Jeff Shaffer looked across the dinner table at sophomore outside
linebacker-tight end Adam Shaffer and snarled, "Son, pass the
bread already." 'All right, Dad," Adam mumbled through a
mouthful of steak. "Just hold on a second."
Such exchanges were commonplace last year after Jeff, 40, and
Adam, 19, became what are believed to be college football's
first father-son teammates by signing up at Hartnell, a two-year
college with 7,000 students that is located in the central
California agricultural community of Salinas. If, as locals
say, this city of 120,000 is "the salad bowl of the
world"--because of the vast vegetable fields that surround
it--then Adam and Jeff are the dressing, supplying a little
extra zing on fall Saturday nights.
Everyone in town knows about the Shaffers. Adam, who is 6' 1"
and weighs 250 pounds, was recruited by Harnell last year after
an outstanding career at Salinas High. Jeff's story has more to
do with serendipity.
Only eight players had returned for football when Gary
Kollenborn was hired to coach the Hartnell Panthers before the
1995 season, He looked everywhere for local talent, including
the stadium bleachers during practices. "I saw this large
figure in the stands one day and asked, 'Who is that?'"
Kollenborn says, recalling his first glimpse of Jeff's 6'3",
255-pound frame. "My defensive line coach, Mike Aaroe, said,
'That's Adam's dad, and he wants to play football.'"
That was all Kollenborn needed to hear. After a quick check with
the Commission on Athletics the governing body for California
community colleges, which said it imposes no age limit on
student-athletes, Kollenborn handed Jeff a maroon-and-gold
Panthers jersey. "It was a dream come true," says Jeff, who
hadn't played football in high school but had stayed fit by
running and lifting weights. "Also, I just wanted to be close to
Wish granted. Jeff, whose teammates call him Pops, was placed at
defensive tackle alongside Adam, who played defensive end last
year. 'Adam became like a dad to me, tutoring me all the time,"
Jeff says. "In games we'd be down in our stance, and he'd say,
'Be careful, Dad. It's a trap.'" Last year Adam was Hartnell's
most consistent defender (36 tackles, 17 assists, two
interceptions, one sack, one fumble recovery) and was named
All-Coast Conference. Jeff was in on 13 tackles (10 solo)
despite missing three games with a calf injury.
To become eligible, Jeff returned to the classroom for the first
time since he graduated from Salinas High in 1974, He takes the
required 12-unit class load at night; during the day the day he
is a bill collector for the local water company. Jeff spent his
first practices convincing his teenage teammates that he didn't
belong in a rocking chair, "The first time he hit me, he really
rocked me,"says 6'1", 280-pound offensive tackle Cesar Chaidez.
"Then he picked up our center and threw him five yards."
Jeff gives credit to Adam for helping him overcome a troubled
past that was characterized, Jeff admits, by "a lot of
partying." One night three years ago Jeff came home drunk and
was confronted by his older son, (Adam has a younger brother,
Dann, 18, who is a senior at Salinas High.) Adam told his dad
that he didn't like seeing him in that condition, so they
reached a mutual accord: no more drinking or swearing for either
of them while they remained under the same roof. As a result,
their bond ws solidified. ALiam and Jeff play video games
together, work out together and double-date with mom Tami and
Adam's fiancee, Becky Freitas. "He's my best friend," Adam says
of his father.
This season the Panthers are looking to improve on last year's
2-7 record, and Adam is hoping ot make the jump to Division I
next year. He has drawn feelers from Arizona State and San Jose
Adam and Jeff's first game this year was on Sept. 14 against
Sierra Community College, of Rockland, at a Salinas stadium
dubbed the Pit. From the start the Hartnell fans implored the
Panther coaches to "Put in Pops!" They received a treat when
Adam and Jeff were inserted on offense as blocking tight ends in
Late in the fourth quarter, with Hartnett leading 32-7, Adam and
Jeff were trading stories on the sidelines. "Look at them,"
Freitas said. "They couldn't be happier."