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Tragedy, Trials and Triumph

Placer High’s Louis Fudge perseveres through crushing loss at a young age
By: Nick Pecoraro
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A 16-year-old Louis Fudge walks into the tattoo shop. Even though he’s a sizeable kid for his age, he’s pretty intimidated at the buzzing of tattoo guns and the men with cranial ink who operate them.

He lays back in the chair, ready for the needle to dig into his chiseled left pectoral. But the pain inflicted from this ink session is nothing compared to the anguish he’s had to overcome.

The finished chest piece is a verse from Psalms 23:4.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me… 1966–2013.”

The difference in years at the end of the quote is 47. Not only is it the number that Fudge wears on his green and gold jersey each Friday night for the Placer Hillmen football team, it’s the exact age his mother was when she tragically took her own life when Fudge was just 13 years old.

Fudge, now an 18-year-old, 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound man-child of a tight end for the Hillmen, says his mother, Bernadette, suffered from bipolar disorder, severe anxiety and depression.

Fudge and his sister, Kalina, were on the tail end of a short family trip in Santa Cruz when his father received a call from the sheriff’s department on July 20, 2013. That’s when the news of his mother’s suicide broke – along with Fudge’s heart.

“Shocked,” says Fudge of his adolescent reaction. “I was in denial about it for a while.”

What is difficult to deny is that these types of tragedy, although incomprehensibly devastating, can sometimes be blessings in disguise. Fudge played baseball, basketball and soccer growing up but was never allowed to play with the pigskin.

“My parents would never let me play football,” Fudge says. “Every year, I’d say I want to play football… When my mom died, I brought it up to my dad jokingly; ‘I want to play football.’”

This time, the answer was different.

Fudge says his father thought it would be good for him to focus on something. Not only did football turn out to be therapeutic for Fudge, it’s opened up a number of doors for his future.

During his senior season, Fudge has been in talks with the University of San Diego, Harvard and Columbia and has a football offer on the table from Rice University with more likely to come.

“(Fudge) is a next-level guy for sure. If someone doesn’t take a chance on him, they’re crazy,” said Placer head coach Joey Montoya, who’s coached Fudge on varsity since his sophomore season. “He’s one of the most relentless players I’ve ever coached. He’s exactly what you want in a player. He plays all the way to the edge of the whistle. He’s a fierce blocker… He’s one of our premier offensive players.”

In the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinal round Nov. 9 against Yuba City, Fudge helped Placer jump out to a 21-0 lead with two quick first-quarter touchdown grabs from 66 and 16 yards away.

When he’s not catching passes and bulldozing opposing linebackers, the All-Foothill Valley League tight end is opening up holes for Placer’s prolific ground attack, which has produced one of prep football’s top backfields. According to Maxpreps, at the end of the regular season, Placer’s 445 rushing yards-per-game was the fifth highest average in the nation.

During Fudge’s junior season, the Hillmen fell just three points shy of winning the school’s third state championship. With an unbeaten regular season and a No. 2 seed in this year’s postseason, Placer has intentions of finishing what it started last year.

“We knew we had the opportunity to go back,” says Fudge. “The group of guys that I’m with are great. It’s been really nice to have a group of people – your teammates – on the same mission… It’s a pretty tight bond.”

Not only does Fudge excel on the football field – his Placer teams have won league championships in each of his four years – he also takes pride in the classroom, where he currently sports a 3.93 GPA.

“He definitely doesn’t waste a day of life,” says Noah Richardson, 18, who’s known Fudge since the time his mother died. “He’s always working toward his future… He’s one of the strongest people mentally I know. He just wants to do great things.”

Wherever the combination of GPA and work ethic on the gridiron takes Fudge, he wants to pursue business administration.

“I want to be successful,” Fudge says. “It’s just something I want for myself, but to get to that point, for the longest time I wanted to get good grades to impress my mom.”

Surely, Bernadette would be impressed with his schoolwork, but what about this idea of football she once forbade?

“I think she’d be OK with it,” says Fudge with a smile. “It helped me a lot at the time. I think she’d be happy I pursued it. Football is my therapy. I play pretty mean.”

Although mean on the field, Fudge carries a warm-hearted demeanor off of it. He says he’s gained great perspective on life and is at peace with his mother’s choice more than five years later.

“To see that a kid his age could have that kind of perspective – the love and the grace to give his mom the benefit of the doubt – it just blows me away,” recalls Montoya on learning of Fudge’s loss. “My respect for him grew immensely.”

After the final whistle blows and the fourth-quarter buzzer sounds, the relentlessness is shed along with Fudge’s shoulder pads. And underneath is the permanent ink reminder of the inspiration on his chest.

“In the Bible, it’s supposed to mean that God is watching over you,” Fudge says, “but in my eyes, it’s her watching over me.”