Big Ben's Hour As Lineman--or Back --St. Francis' Kadletz Cleans Foes' Clocks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One of the buildings at St. Francis High is moving this way, or Ben Kadletz is about to introduce himself.

Kadletz, 6-feet-4 and 270 solid pounds, extends his hand, which could engulf and crush a normal-sized appendage without much effort. Not to worry, though. The senior lineman is in his usual good mood.

Even when he's throwing some opposing player around like a rag doll, he does it with a smile.

"When I'm out there, I have adrenaline going," Kadletz said, "but it's not like I want to kill someone. Just to play hard and get a tackle or a sack."

Or a first down.

Now that Kadletz has established himself as one of the area's top two-way linemen, the St. Francis coaching staff has taken to the idea that he could do some damage if he carried the ball, a la William (the Refrigerator) Perry.

"I just find the hole in the middle," Kadletz said. "It's kind of a lineman's dream."

Kadletz has gained 39 yards in 16 carries, all in short-yardage situations, and he scored a touchdown against Loyola. But that is just the icing. Kadletz's play without the ball earned him the Mission League's lineman-of-the-year award last season.

Coach Bill Redell describes Kadletz as "the best (high school) lineman that I've coached.".

And Redell has coached many talented linemen. In five seasons at Crespi, Redell tutored Division I linemen John Kidder (UCLA), Pat Doyle (Washington), Bob Ferguson (Arizona) and Steve Puryear (Arizona) among others.

"What sets (Kadletz) apart is his speed," said Redell, who is in his first season at St. Francis.

Kadletz, an offensive tackle and defensive end, is a large reason--a really large reason--St. Francis is a respectable 2-2 after going 3-6 last season. The Golden Knights, who have posted two shutouts, will try to equal last season's victory total with a victory Friday night against Pasadena.

Pasadena is a place Kadletz would love to return to one day for a Rose Bowl game. He has been to the past three as a spectator because he is a die-hard Washington fan. His dream, NCAA sanctions notwithstanding, is to play for the Huskies, for whom his father, Jon, played in the late 1960s, and for whom his brother, Ryan, now plays.

Jon Kadletz was a 6-1, 217-pound linebacker for the Huskies, but jokes that he "could have kicked Ben's butt." Ryan, who played quarterback at Crescenta Valley, is a sophomore defensive back at Washington.

Ben's recent ballcarrying has helped him earn acceptance among his football-playing family, which also includes a grandfather who played at Utah State and several uncles who played in high school. Curiously, Ben is the first lineman.

The others played "skill positions as they call it," Kadletz said. "But I kind of think playing lineman takes skill too."

It also takes size. And that's why Kadletz was destined for the line. He was always the biggest kid in his class, he said. In the eighth grade, he grew about four inches, shooting to 6-1, 215.

The added muscle came from weightlifting. The summer before his junior year, he lifted every day. Upper body one day, lower the next. He has bench-pressed 335 pounds but figures he can probably do 350 now.

Kadletz also has a healthy appetite, although he's not one of those seven-meal-a-day guys. He said he usually limits himself to second helpings, but "I take a lot the first time so I don't have to go back too much."

The food goes straight to his muscles. He is a lean 270 pounds, with an upper body that stretches the fibers of his shirts to their limit. His legs are like tree trunks. Even his feet are huge; he wears size 16 shoes.

"He's a load," said St. Francis lineman Albert Carillo, who has to face Kadletz in practice. "He's the strongest guy I go up against."

Most who have seen Kadletz have a story about him locking on to an opponent and driving him well beyond the line of scrimmage. Against Mary Star, Kadletz pushed a defensive lineman 20 yards downfield, where running back Ben Collins ran into him and fumbled.

Can't blame Collins for running directly at Kadletz's numbers, though. It's usually the best way to find where the hole is going to be.

"Most of the time he just dominates," said Collins, who has 444 yards in 88 carries. "I just try to follow his blocks."

That is Kadletz on the offensive line. On defense, he typically faces two blockers. His tackle total has dropped, he said, because teams run the ball away from his side of the field.

No matter. Kadletz has no desire to rack up big numbers in sacks or tackles. He is happy to do his job on both sides of the ball.

"I like offense because your job is to destroy the guy in front of you," Kadletz said, "and I like defense because you get to hit somebody hard, maybe get a good shot in on the running back or quarterback."

Kadletz sounds angry, but he's really not. Despite his size, he has never seriously injured an opponent on the field. None that he knows of, anyway.

"I've never just gone out and murdered someone," he said, "but we still have six games left."

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