YOUNTVILLE — DeMarcus Van Dyke is a rookie cornerback who played with the first-team defense for the Oakland Raiders in a preseason game Saturday night. He was matched up against the 49ers’ Braylon Edwards, Ted Ginn Jr., and Josh Morgan at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
On Sunday, Van Dyke and 11 of his Raiders’ teammates visited with residents of the Veterans Home of California in Yountville during the dinner hour in the main dining room. It was a chance for Raiders players to leave their Napa training camp, to give their eyes a rest from studying the playbook and sit down with veterans to talk football.
“It meant a lot, just to have the coaches believe in me, to put me with the starting group,” said Van Dyke, who was selected in the third round out of Miami (Fla.) by Oakland in the 2011 NFL Draft. “I think I did pretty good. I played more comfortable, played fast. I’m trying to get better every day in camp by going against guys like Denarius Moore and all the other guys. I try to get better every day.”
Van Dyke and other players filled the hour by signing autographs, having their photos taken and getting to know some of the Home residents on a more personal level. Founded in 1884, the Veterans Home of California in Yountville is the largest veterans’ home in the United States, offering residential accommodations with a wealth of recreational, social, and therapeutic activities for independent living. Some 1,100 veterans (both men and women) of World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom currently live at the Veterans Home.
“It’s such a thrill for the vets here to actually meet some of these team members,” said Jaime Arteaga, public information manager for the state of California’s Department of Veterans Affairs. “They just love the idea of being able to see them on a 1 on 1 basis. They can ask them any questions they want. For the Raiders, this is a great opportunity, because I always think that whenever you have two generations come together, there’s a lot of mutual sharing and respect.”
Players went around the large room, introducing themselves and spending time at different tables. Other players who made the trip were Chimdi Chekwa, a rookie cornerback from Ohio State; Bryson Kelly, a rookie fullback out of Central Washington; Darryl Blackstock, a fifth-year linebacker out of Virginia; Stefen Wisniewski, a rookie center-guard from Penn State; Lou Eliades, a rookie tackle from Penn State; Alex Parsons, a first-year offensive lineman out of USC; Roy Schuening, a second-year guard out of Oregon State; Alan Pelc, a rookie guard from North Carolina; Seth Wand, a sixth-year tackle from Northwest Missouri State; Damola Adeniji, a first-year wide receiver from Oregon State; and Mason Brodine, a rookie defensive end from Nebraska-Kearney.
“It’s an honor to sit with these people,” said Eliades. “I’m sitting with these people and they feel privileged to be with me. But in reality, I’m honored to be with them right now on a day off.”
Said Wisniewski: “It was a lot of fun, met a lot of good people here. It was nice to get out of camp and do something for somebody else for a little while. It was a good time. A lot of Raider fans out here, which is cool.”
Van Dyke said he was honored to be at the Veterans Home, “to pay respect to the guys that fought for us to have the freedom that we have.”
Van Dyke played the first quarter, lining up at right cornerback, and was on special teams during the second and third quarter in Saturday’s game. The Raiders are in their final week of camp, which takes place at Redwood Middle School.
“This is a really big week just to keep grinding and get better every day at what I do,” said Van Dyke.
Veterans Home residents have long been big baseball fans, attending American Legion and Joe DiMaggio League games at Cleve Borman Field throughout the summer months for years and years. But they are also into football.
“They are football fans like nobody’s a football fan,” said Marcella McCormack, administrator of the Veterans Home. “Some of them like the Oakland Raiders, some of them like the 49ers.”
McCormack said the interaction between the professional players, who have been in camp since late July, and the Vets Home residents is a good thing.
“Whenever you can get them talking and working together, it’s great,” said McCormack, a retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. “We know the preseason’s on, they’re busy, they’re in training (camp). For them to take the time out to see our vets is great.”
The Raiders return to the Oakland Coliseum on Aug. 28 for a nationally televised Week 3 preseason game against the New Orleans Saints. In the preseason finale, the Raiders travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks in Week 4.
The Raiders open the 2011 NFL regular season in prime-time for the fifth time in seven seasons when the Silver and Black travel to Denver to face the AFC West Broncos on Sept. 12 in the second half of the ESPN Monday night doubleheader. The Raiders then travel to Buffalo to face the Bills on Sept. 18.
Wisniewski played center on the Oakland offensive line Saturday, but the Raiders are also taking a look at him at guard.
“Played pretty well, but still a lot to work on,” said Wisniewski. “Just trying to help the team wherever I can, no matter what position it’s at.
“I’ve had a lot to learn, certainly got a lot to work to do. But I’m happy with how it’s going — still trying to fight and get a starting job.”
Blackstock played from second quarter to the end of the game Saturday. He doesn’t grade himself personally on his play.
“I think that I did what I could to help the team, doing my job and playing physical and tough and intelligent,” said Blackstock. “I think as a group, we take this as a lesson and just really learn from it, be critical with the film and critical with our craft. As far as the learning process, you learn something new every day in football. The thing is to grasp the information and let it stick and keep rolling, because football is a craft. It takes time.”