Healdsburg coach credits defensive line for success

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Healdsburg coach Tom Kirkpatrick likes to stress that his defense is built on teamwork and coordination, not star power. But even he must admit that his three-man defensive line is largely responsible for the Greyhounds’ impressive 6-1 start.

Healdsburg defensive lineman Gary Randolph (50) makes a tackle with help from linebacker Adam Hendrickson (5).

Starting at defensive end for the Hounds this year are seniors Gary Randolph and Matt Spillane.

Randolph was a beast in Healdsburg’s 39-7 victory over Sonoma Valley on Friday night, leading his team with 11 tackles and two sacks. He missed most of the 2009 season after damaging the meniscus in one of his knees, but is back with a vengeance. “He’s playing now like there’s no issue there,” Kirkpatrick said.

At the other end – the two kids flop sides depending on the particular scheme – is 6-foot-5, 215-pound Matt Spillane. He’s a rarity for Healdsburg: a transfer athlete who moved from another district.

And serving as fulcrum for the whole operation is nose tackle Eric Chavez, a 5-8, 240-pound junior whom Kirkpatrick likens to a bowling ball. Chavez has his weight down from 285 pounds, where he was as a top-10 North Coast heavyweight wrestler last year, and it has increased his effectiveness on the football field.

No opponent has scored more than 17 points on the Greyhounds this year. Healdsburg has pitched two shutouts, against Piedmont and Petaluma, and has held two other opponents to 6 and 7 points.

“I hate to say this, because it can come back to bite you on the butt, but we’ve really been able to control the line of scrimmage so far,” Kirkpatrick said.

Now comes what Kirkpatrick refers to as “the really tough part of the schedule” – consecutive games against Windsor, El Molino and Casa Grande. Those teams are a combined 15-4 right now.

Kirkpatrick has reason for optimism, though. After a 16-14 loss at Analy, his team bounced back with a fundamentally sound performance against Sonoma. As always, the Greyhounds got together for a Saturday-morning film session this weekend, and their coach was delighted to note that everyone was following assignments.

“We finished,” Kirkpatrick said. “Instead of just initiating contact, our offensive linemen were blocking 5 to 10 yards downfield. It makes you feel like they’re actually doing what you’ve been telling ’em to do.”