By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Friday night begins a new era for Healdsburg football — a new head coach, a re-tooled team stacked with juniors, and a season-opening opponent that wants payback against the Greyhounds.
Longtime Healdsburg assistant Todd Beth takes over for the retired Tom Kirkpatrick, a legend in the Redwood Empire who began coaching at Healdsburg in 1988.
“It’s always tough to follow someone like Tom,” Beth said. “He left a tradition of success at the program.”
Beth, who played for Kirkpatrick in 1991 and keeps in touch with him, said he doesn’t want to coach in his mentor’s shadow. Beth added that some aspects of the program will continue as Kirkpatrick ran them and others will change, such as adjustments to the defense.
“We (internally) are just talking about the team, we aren’t talking about me,” Beth said.
Beth, who took the previous two years off for family reasons, will be in charge of a team that had a successful 2011 campaign, going 10-4 overall and 4-2 in the Sonoma County League. The Greyhounds gave undefeated league champ Windsor its closest game (27-15 Jaguars’ victory) and went three games deep into the NCS Division IV playoffs, losing to Salesian (Richmond) 35-6 in the semifinals.
“I’m looking to add to the success we have had in the past,” Beth said.
The challenges will be stiff from the get-go for Healdsburg, one of the favorites to win the SCL. The Greyhounds lost 24 seniors from last year’s team and have an unusually low percentage of seniors on this year’s squad (11 of 32 players). The senior exodus leaves Healdsburg only one returning starter on offense and one on defense. On paper, a lack of experience and leadership could be issues for the Greyhounds.
“Leadership is not with words but with your play,” Beth said. “A lot of these guys are silent leaders. They are not rah-rah.”
Beth said that if the starters stay healthy, the team should be fine; but if the Greyhounds suffer a couple of key injuries, there could be trouble. Even so, he said the team has more depth than in the past at the skill positions.
“Some of the juniors that were here last year had the talent to start on many teams but were behind our seniors (as backups),” Beth said.
One key returning starter is experienced senior kicker Danny Dillion, who leads a strong special-teams unit.
Healdsburg’s offense is multi-formational and runs approximately 60 percent of the time. Two new starters will be featured in the offense, Jared Walker at running back and Scott Reynolds at quarterback.
The defense will be a 3-4-4 design, with more slanting and blitzing. Walker, a returning starter at linebacker, will anchor the defense.
Healdsburg opens the season Friday at Piedmont, a team looking to avenge a 49-26 loss to the Greyhounds in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. The following Friday the Greyhounds look to settle their own score at Fortuna, a team Healdsburg was leading 31-6 at halftime before losing 34-31 last season.
The Healdsburg at Analy game on Oct. 5 is a key SCL matchup between two heavyweights that may ultimately decide who wins the league title. The host Greyhounds won the matchup last season, 47-20.
“The Healdsburg-Analy game will be big,” Beth said. “Analy will be a formidable opponent, and it is at their place.”
Highlight your calendars SCL fans.
Coach: Todd Beth (first year varsity head coach, eight years with the program)
2011 record: 10-4, 4-2 in SCL (tied for second)
2011 JV record: 4-6
OFFENSE (1): WR Andrew Kozel
DEFENSE (1): LB Jared Walker
PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB Scott Reynolds — JV starter last season. Has a strong arm, good speed, and is mobile enough to move around the pocket to avoid pressure. Learning curve at the start of the season could be an issue.
RB, LB Jared Walker — Versatility includes the toughness to play fullback and the speed to play tailback on offense. Defensively has a nose for the football and is a hard hitter.
WR, CB Andrew Kozel — Senior won the Redwood Empire 100 meters competition in track last year. Blazing closing speed makes him a vertical threat at receiver and allows him to be on an island in solo pass coverage in the secondary.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH
TE, LB Tanner Cristando — Played JV last season. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound sophomore will be a starter on offense and rotate on defense. Good size and speed complement good hands and solid blocking ability.
OL, DL Conner McKay — The 6-3, 230-pound two-way lineman is a converted tight end. Has quick feet and good footwork. Defensively is a good pass rusher and can stuff a run gap with his size. Handles long-snapping duties.
8/24 at Piedmont, 7 p.m.
8/31 at Fortuna, 7:30 p.m.
9/7 vs. Del Norte (Crescent City), 7:30 p.m.
9/14 vs. Castlemont (Oakland), 7:30 p.m.
9/21 at Elsie Allen, 7:30 p.m.
9/28 vs. Petaluma, 7:30 p.m.
10/5 at Analy, 7:30 p.m.
10/12 vs. Sonoma Valley, 7:30 p.m.
10/20 at Piner, 1:15 p.m.
11/02 vs. El Molino, 7:30 p.m.