All-Empire large schools football defensive player of the year: Alex Netherda

Alex Netherda. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Alex Netherda. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

By PHIL BARBER

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Casual followers of Redwood Empire football may think they’ve stumbled on a misprint. Yes, Maria Carrillo’s Alex Netherda was a great high school player. But he was a halfback, the bread and butter of the Pumas’ rushing attack. How could he be our Large School Defensive Player of the Year?

Because Netherda was equally important on both sides of the ball. In a different year, he might have been honored for his running. This year, with his good friend Ja’Narrick James in the mix, it’s his tackling. And Netherda is just fine with that.

“It’s not always as glamorous as scoring a 50-yard touchdown,” he said. “I’d say people understand less about defense, because offense is pretty clear cut — you get the ball in the end zone and score. But I love defense. When it’s fourth down or it’s third-and-long, it’s a critical play, and you’re able to come together with your brothers on the field and make a stop, and it’s a big momentum shift — it’s like a shot of adrenaline when you get the job done that way.”

On offense, Netherda ran for 1,330 yards and 20 touchdowns. On defense, he had 50 solo tackles, 20 assisted stops and four interceptions.

“To me, an MVP is not impacting one side of the ball. They’re everywhere,” Maria Carrillo coach Jay Higgins said. “Alex was a force in all three phases, as a punt returner, a defensive back — he was our best defensive player from the strong safety position — and of course he did what he did on offense.”

It was sometimes hard to guess where Netherda’s talents would manifest next. In a loss to Cardinal Newman on Oct. 3, he had a season-high nine solo tackles. The next week, he caught three passes for 123 yards and a pair of receiving touchdowns against Santa Rosa. The week after that, he ran for 200 yards in the Pumas’ best game of the season, a 34-28 victory against Rancho Cotate.

Netherda alternated between two roles in Maria Carrillo’s defense. In “blue,” a Cover 3 scheme, he would walk up and fill an inside linebacker position alongside teammate Jared Brazis. In “red,” a Cover 2 scheme, Netherda would drop back to strong safety.

He worked hard on his pass defense last offseason and wound up liking the two roles equally, though for different reasons.

“Being back at safety you can see the whole field,” Netherda said. “You feel kind of like an assassin. As soon as the ball goes somewhere, you run full speed and make decisions as you go. At linebacker, it’s not as good of a view, but you’re always in the mix. You can read the flow of the offense more, instead of just the ball.”

Netherda can be a flashy football player, just as he is a flashy runner in the springtime. This year, he will attempt to become a four-time North Bay League champion in the 300-meter hurdles. He has been known to wear custom-made track tights, and his smile can light up a stadium.

But Netherda is relentlessly polite in conversation, and a supportive teammate. He seemed more interested in talking about the Pumas’ season, which included a 4-3 NBL record and a home playoff win, than his own accomplishments.

And despite what you may picture in a hurdler-turned-halfback, this is not a guy who shies away from contact.

“If football was meant to be contact-free, we’d all go play flag football,” Netherda said. “It’s fun to run away from people, make them miss. But if you could establish pure physical dominance over another player and put him on his back, that’s a great feeling. It can give you a rush.”

  • Reginald Farnsworth

    I’m glad he’s doing well at safety. That’s his only legitimate, college position–and he will do very well at it. He has the speed and athleticism to be a D1 safety somewhere; I hope he shoots for that.