Mike Knudson was a 178-pound freshman at Esperanza High School in 1979. Four years and 67 pounds later, he was off to USC as an offensive lineman.
The pounds didn't come easily, though. Every ounce was paid for with sweat.
Knudson lifted weights, took in massive amounts of calories and carefully monitored his progress. By the time his high school career was over, Knudson was another in a long line of standout linemen from Esperanza.
Naturally built, no additives included.
For the past 15 years, Bill Pendleton has been the strength coach at Esperanza. During that time, he has crafted and carved Aztec linemen, 20 of whom have received scholarships to Division I universities.
And none, including Knudson, has used steroids.
"Bill has been around weightlifting a long time. He knows what's going on," said Knudson. "He motivated us to put on weight through lifting and nutrition. I never even heard of steroids until I got to college."
Pendleton was a shotput and discus standout at the University of Idaho and has been involved in weight training for nearly 20 years. At Esperanza, he set up a program that has few equals.
Every year, Pendleton meets with the incoming freshman players and starts them on a weight training program. The Aztecs lift year-round, up to four hours a day.
"You can't just take a junior, work him for six months and make him a physical specimen," said Pendleton, who also coaches the shotput and discus athletes at Esperanza. "It takes time and a lot of dedication. But if a kid comes here as a freshman and works hard, then I guarantee he'll see results by the time he's a senior."
Esperanza was one of the first Orange County high schools to develop a strength program. Pendleton said the program is the reason Esperanza has produced more Division I linemen than any other county school.
The Aztec players don't just lift weights, they plan and chart their progress. Pendleton helps design a program for each player, one that includes nutrition and exercise.
Players are told what foods are essential to increase calorie intake. They also are warned what foods to avoid.
This way, a player can get through the strenuous workout in the weight room without losing weight. His size is increased with muscle, not fat.
"We'll get some kids who aren't gaining any weight despite all their lifting," Aztec Coach Gary Meek said. "We ask them what they eat for breakfast and they'll say, 'A piece of toast.' If they want to add the weight, they have to almost double their calorie intake."
Knudson was such a player. Not only did he spend hours in the Esperanza weight room, he also spent hours eating.
"We'd eat anything that would build us up," said Knudson, 25, now an assistant coach at Esperanza. "When I was at Esperanza, protein shakes were the thing to drink. We used to make them in the weight room. I hated them."
Knudson would do just about anything to add weight, but he drew the line at steroids.
After one year at USC and another at Fullerton College, he transferred to San Diego State. However, before his junior season, Knudson was sick and lost more than 10 pounds.
At that time, he said he nearly turned to steroids.
"The temptation was there, no doubt about it," he said. "It's there for every player. But the average NFL career lasts only 3 1/2 years, so it wasn't worth it to me."
Knudson did sign with the New Orleans Saints after his senior year at San Diego State. However, he was waived during training camp.
"I look at a guy like Mike Knudson and I see a guy who could have been a professional player if he used steroids," Pendleton said. "If he was 280-290 (pounds), he would be in the NFL. But he didn't want to hurt himself. That kind of kid makes me proud."
But Pendleton isn't naive enough to think the Esperanza program is pure. He said no high school program is completely clean.
Meek and Pendleton, though, monitor players with weekly weigh-ins. If a player is gaining too many pounds too fast and steroids are suspected, the coaches will warn the player of the drugs' harmful side effects.
"We push hard work here, but kids aren't dumb," Pendleton said. "If they see a shortcut, they may try it. If I think a kid is using steroids, I'll talk to him and explain the dangers."
While the Esperanza program continues to produce standout linemen, other schools have caught up. The Aztecs no longer are the premier lineman school in the county, but one of many--Edison, Fountain Valley and El Toro--that have produced Division I prospects.
And all the schools now use programs similar to Esperanza's.
"I don't think steroids are a major problem at most schools but they could be," Edison football Coach Dave White said. "Most of the kids get bigger and stronger because they're working their fannies off. It's easy to put on 12 pounds if you work hard for 12 months."