STANFORD -- The grooming of college football's pre-eminent tight end began in Danville with a concerted lobbying effort.
Stanford's Zach Ertz, you see, wanted to play college basketball. But his Monte Vista High football coaches had other ideas.
"He can't shoot a free throw," Monte Vista coach Craig Bergman said. "I had to tell him, 'You've got a huge future in football, but I'm not so sure you have one in basketball.' "
Bergman asked former 49ers star Brent Jones to mentor the teen. The four-time Pro Bowl tight end also saw potential.
"Zach, I'm teaching you NFL things," he told his protégé. "All these things are going to matter at some point."
They matter now. Ertz, a redshirt
The consensus All-American has 66 receptions and 837 receiving yards this season. Both marks are team records for his position at a school that has become known as Tight End U with such recent graduates as Jim Dray, Coby Fleener and Konrad Reuland.
Last month, Ertz had a career-high 11 receptions in a victory over then-No. 1 Oregon, including the touchdown to send the game into overtime. He also had winning touchdown catches against No. 2 USC and No. 13 Oregon State.
By his junior year of high school, the 6-foot-6 Ertz finally caught on that football
Harbaugh was transforming the program into a prostyle power offense. He wanted big tight ends who could block and catch. Still the offer surprised Ertz.
"He was an unknown kid at the time," said Zach's mother, Lisa Ertz.
Other offers would come, but mom told her oldest son, "If you get into Stanford, you're going to Stanford. There will be no more discussion."
That was fine by Ertz, the oldest of four boys. He wanted to stay close to home in Alamo to help look after his brothers. Ertz, 22, has played an important role in their upbringing since his parents divorced when he was a high school freshman.
It hasn't been easy. His brother Nick had two back surgeries, leaving Lisa Ertz wondering if he would ever walk again. Nick now plays junior varsity basketball at Trinity-Pawling, a New York boarding school where Stanford's Shayne and Patrick Skov went.
Last year Shane Ertz suffered a concussion after catching a pass during a Monte Vista game. It was his second head injury and effectively ended his high school
"I don't want him to play, to be honest," Zach Ertz said. "He's knows that."
Shane understands why.
"He's always going to protect me ... it brings out the big brother in him," he said.
Their mom said it underscores how close her boys have become. That includes 13-year-old Jackson Ertz.
Even while balancing school with football, Zach returned to the East Bay whenever his siblings or mom needed him.
It's the kind of mentality Ertz hopes to bring to the NFL.
He told his mother, "I love football, but I also want to give back. I want to take care of kids and single moms, so it's not only about playing football. I want my life to matter in that way."
Ertz won't decide about entering the 2013 NFL draft until after the Rose Bowl. He needs to finish only three more classes to earn a degree in management science and technology. Ertz wants to pursue a career in venture capital after he is done playing football.
"When I came here I wanted to challenge myself," he said of his academic workload. "I didn't want to just go through the motions."
He applied the same work ethic on the field. Although he is the archetype tight end at 6-6, 252 pounds, Ertz earned accolades for following the example of hardworking Cardinal teammate Ryan Whalen, who also graduated from Monte Vista.
Each day Ertz used to catch with one hand 1,000 tennis balls thrown from a ball machine. At the same time, he religiously improved his blocking techniques.
"Being in this offense, (offensive coordinator) Pep Hamilton says if you can't play without the ball you can't play," Ertz said. "And I want to play."
He didn't feel like playing after his grandmother Dorothy (Dede) Jean Adams had died in her sleep the week of November's Pac-12 showdown at Oregon. She was 81.
Lisa Ertz insisted her son go to Eugene to play in the game and postponed the funeral service until after the weekend. Ertz scribbled Dede's name on his wrist bands and produced an inspired performance that culminated with a 10-yard touchdown catch with 1:35 left in regulation and the Cardinal's Rose Bowl aspirations hanging in the balance.
Ertz turned at the last moment, leapt over 5-10 cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu as if he were going for a rebound and caught the ball in midstride deep in the left corner of the end zone. The tight end tumbled over the Ducks defender as Stanford wide receiver Drew Terrell signaled touchdown. But the official on the spot ruled it an incomplete pass.
Ertz didn't say a word as he handed the official the ball and returned to the huddle. A video review overturned the initial ruling for a tying touchdown.
Ertz wasn't used in the winning drive in overtime, but it didn't matter.
"He just wants to win," Monte Vista's Bergman said. "He doesn't care who gets it done as long as it gets done."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.
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