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The Sentinel’s All Time All County Football Team
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Sentinel August 27. 2006
Jarrin’ John Kirby Embodied Everything You Could Ask In A Football Player, Fast, Tough, Talented. That’s Why The Santa Cruz High Star Of The 50’s Is Every Bit The Poster Child For What The Modern Player Should Be.
This guy is one of the best. All-state. All-American. He’s in your school Hall of Fame. Probably the type of football player kids dream of becoming. A legend, the type of big, fast, gritty athlete who helped put Santa Cruz High football on the map a half century ago.
As the Sentinel celebrates its 150th year in Santa Cruz County, today it honors an all-time, all-county football team highlighted by guys like Kirby. He never strayed from contact and never went down easily. Jarrin’ John was as tough as they come.
He played football in the late 1950s–the final era of flimsy, leather shoulder pads and peanut shell-looking helmets (without face masks). Kirby’s 6-foot-1, 205 pound frame was built for the grind. “The defender’s equipment was the same as yours, so no one had an advantage,” he said. “There was nothing wrong with the equipment.” Kirby turned football fields into his personal playground. “I remember them all well,” he said of his playing days. “At least I think I do.” His playful disclaimer? He was knocked unconscious in 1958 during his final prep game–the now defunct North-South Shrine Football Classic played in front of 57,989 fans at Los Angeles Coliseum. He was knocked out, but he also came back in the game and was named MVP. He also garnered all-state and fifth team Wigwam Wisemen of America All-American honors that year. He was recruited by the majority of the nation’s big-name programs–Cal, Washington, Notre Dame and Oregon to name a few–but elected to play for Cabrillo College’s first football team in ‘59 before transferring to Oregon State. He was battling for extra yards when he suffered an injury that would cut his career short as a college sophomore.
The game has evolved since Kirby became a Cardinals legend. (He was elected to Santa Cruz’s Hall of Fame as part of the school’s centennial celebration in ‘95.
He played three years of varsity football for Cardinals coach Larry Siemering, who served as an assistant to legend Amos Alonzo Stagg at Pacific. Siemering replaced Staff in Stockton and later served as Asizona State’s head coach before coming to Santa Cruz. “John was a tough player, on of the toughest I’d seen in a long, long time,” said Siemering. “He was a very smart player too.”
Kirby was knocked unconscious in the second quarter when he was kicked in the head by a tackler who fell over him. He was taken to the locker room on a stretcher, but returned in the second half and was later named the game’s outstanding player on 37 of 50 media ballots. He scored two touchdowns and returned an interception 43 yards to set up another score in the North’s 26-6 victory. Kirby was all over the field on his interception return–a stark contrast to his running style on offense. “I was a north-south runner,” said Kirby, who rushed for 641 yards on 108 carries as a senior, scoring 20 touchdowns, including four-receiving. “Back then, you went straight ahead and ran people over. And when you went down, you went down. Defenses played hard-nosed, straight up. If you had the horses you had a good battle.” Santa Cruz had the horses in ’58, guys like fellow halfback Ken Negro, end Fred McPherson and linemen Paul McDuffee, Dave Wylie and Wally Hicks. Hicks was also selected to the Shrine Classic. “It took others to do it,” Kirby said of the 122 points he scored as a senior. “It wasn’t just one person. But I had the tools, quickness, good hands–I thought, “No one is gonna get me. I mean, no matter who you are, you’re going to get beat a few times. But that was the way I thought”
Siemering left Santa Cruz High after three seasons to coach Cabrillo’s inaugural season in ‘59. Kirby followed his mentor to Aptos. There, he led all rushers with 444 yards on 85 carries. He also had 203 yards receiving. “I never fumbled,” Kirby said of his biggest strength as a player. “I had good hands.”
The game was all roughness and Kirby never let down. He was battling for extra yards at Iowa for Oregon State when he suffered a back injury in his second game as a college sophomore. Her remembers getting hit by a helmet in his back as he took on a slew of defenders. He ruptured three discs, but finished out the game and the season too.
When the pain persisted a year later, he visited specialists in Oregon and Washington and was advised not to get it operated on. His football career ended then. Instead of keeping his scholarship, he left school so that another player could gain financial aid. He obtained his teaching credential at San Jose State. Kirby never stopped loving football. He coached the sport at San Lorenzo Valley High, Junipero Serra of Monterey and later King City, where he was hired in ‘76. Kirby, who played basketball and baseball at Santa Cruz, also coach baseball and softball at King City.
Kirby said occasionally he wonders how he would fare in today’s game. The game has changed. Offenses have become more complex. Players are bigger, stronger and faster. Most players are lifting weights year-round, others are specializing in the sport.
“I could run 100 yards in 9.8 at 225 pounds,” Kirby said. “But I was an exception. It’s not like it is now-adays. Now each team has four or five guys doing that. The linemen are just as fast as the running backs.” The one thing that hasn’t changed– football is still a game for the physically and mentally tough. Kirby was dominant in those two traits and secured his sport in county history. When he tried on the modern Cardinals football uniform, he looked like he was ready to go. He gripped the football like it was an extension of his hand. If just for a brief moment, he put on his game face.
A STAR-STUDDED LINEUP
Players are listed by position, name, year graduated from high school, college attended, height, weight, notes. The players were selected from players from 1950 on.
FIRST TEAM (Post 1950)
RB, Johnny Johnson, 85, San Jose State, 6-2, 215, NFL Pro Bowler 1990, JETS MVP in 93. Played 5 seasons in the NFL
RB, Obafemi Ayanbadejo, 91, Cabrillo, San Diego State, 6-2, 235, 1 year of high school; NFL Europe; now in 8th NFL season.
RB, John Kirby, 59, Cabrillo, Oregon State, 6-1, 205, North-South Shrine MVP in ‘58; All State and All American.
WR, Al Marshall, 68, Boise State, 6-2, 190, Seven 100 yard games at Boise State; All American ‘72; 1 season in NFL
Dl, Rob Truhitte, 94, Cabrillo, Cal, 6-5, 290, Big time career stalled by injury, mysterious allergic reaction; played offensive line at University of California.
LB, Brendon Ayanbadejo, 93, 6-2, 235, All-Pac 10 as a senior at UCLA; 185 career tackles and 10 interceptions; 8 NFL seasons through 2010.
DB, Reggie Stephens, 93, Cabrillo, Rutgers, 5-10, 200. Rutgers star played in East-West Shrine game; had 4-year NFL career
DB, Bob Pederson, 63, Washington, 6-1, 190; All-Coast and Honorable Mention All-American in ‘66; 90 yd. interception return for touchdown vs. Oregon State.
|DL, Walt Edwards, 67, San Jose State, 6-4, 210.|
|DL, Wes Bergazzi, 67, Navarro JC, Naval Academy, 6-2, 210.|
|DB, Jermaine Robinson, 93, Cabrillo, Rutgers, 5-11, 205.|
|PK, Steve Seymour, 69, Cabrillo, San Francisco State, 6-2, 185.|
|KR, Mike Scott, 79, Walla Walla JC, Hawaii, 6-0, 170.|
|RB, Jack Knight, 56, Fresno State, 6-2, 195.|
|RB, Michael Frye, 03, Cabrillo, 6-2, 205|
|DL, George Barbic, 72, Cabrillo, Cal, Utah State, 6-5, 225|
|DL, Ernie Hightower, Mt. San Jacinto JC, 6-5,205|
|LB, Jared Hunter, 01, Boise State, 6-4, 225|
Leo Harris- Santa Cruz High guard and fullback went onto play for Stanford, earning letters under coach Glenn “Pop” Warner in 1925 and ‘26. He later served as head coach at Fresno State (1933-35) before becoming athletic director at the University of Oregon, a post he held for 25 years.
Anthony Valine- Ex-Holy Cross and Santa Cruz standout played for Santa Clara University. Prior to embarking on a government career that led him to the position of Director of Civil Defense, he was a Broncos star from 1925-’28, earning All-Coast and All-American.
Bradley Lynn-The ‘35 Santa Cruz graduate lettered at halfback for the ‘37 Notre Dame team, which went to 6-2-1 under coach Elmer Layden, one of the famed “Four Horsemen.” He later coached the American Legion Santa Cruz Seahawks.
Ken Gleason- After his senior season at Santa Cruz in ’33, he shined for Fresno State, lettering in 1935 and ’36. Helped the Bulldogs win the ’37 Little All-American Bowl game against Arkansas State. Served as coach of the Bulldogs in 1947-’48 seasons.
Dick Voris-An All-CCAL center and linebacker for Santa Cruz in ‘39, played for Hartnell in ‘40 and San Jose State in 1947 and ‘48, following a brief stint in the U. S. Marines. The one-time member of the semi-pro Seahawks in ‘46 went on to coach at Virginia and serve as NFL assistant coach for many years.
Eddie Dysle-After his senior season with the Cardinals in ‘44, the 5 foot 9, 215 pound offensive lineman played for Nevada for one season before returning to play for Hartnell, where he became a JC all American. Later played for S. C. Seahawls.
COUNTY TOP MARKS
RUSHING Season , 1,000 yards minimum SC only. Listed by the place. name of individual, year and yards
|RECEIVING YARDS season minimum of 600 yards|
|SCORING season minimum of 100 points|
|3 Johnny Johnnson 1985 180|
|11 tie Jermaine Robinsom 1993 128|
|11 tie Reggie Stephens 1993 126|
|14 John Kirby 1958 122|
|16 tie Adrian Corcoran 1993 116|
|16 tie Jermaine Robinson 1992 116|
|19 Michael Frye 2003 102|
Back In The Day, They Played Without Facemaskes. Old Timers Remember Community Pride, An Evolving Sport…And A Couple Shots To The Head
The play was signaled dead before SC’s Mal Macaulay, SC Hall of Famer, suffered what he believed was a deliberate late hit in a football game against Salinas. Playing in an era of loose officiating, where after-the-whistle gang tackling, dog-pile punches and other dirty tactics were commonplace. Macaulay took off his helmet and swung it at the player who hit him. Macaulay was ejected from the game. Sixth years after the action, Macaulay giggled as he tells the story, like it happened yesterday.
More than anything, the all time Sentinel team is a celebration of the game, the bone-jarring hits, last-second scores, monumental upsets and heartbreaking losses. It’s about the friendships built and retained and memories saved for a life time.
Santa Cruz County’s earliest football roots, which began with ruby at the outset of the 1900’s. The sport was as dangerous as it was athletic. SC rugby player Russell Pease died in 1914 after being kicked in the head at the Hollister game. SC canceled the rest of the season.
In the early 90’s the only two high schools in the county were Santa Cruz and Watsonville, who became big rivals.
At the Pogonip golf course, Fresno State held their fall camp there in the mid 30’s, with the team using the first fairway as its practice field. Santa Cruz high hosted the Oakland Raiders from 1960-1962 for training camp. This was the beginning of the Raiders. That durable field wasn’t always suitable for practice or games throughout the years.
“If you wanted to play, you showed up to practice with a shovel, rake or hoe and chopped down the weeds and filled the gopher holes,” said 105 year-old Harold Van Gorder, an end and tackle on Santa Cruz’s 1919 team. “It was a primitive field.”
When Van Gorder played, Santa Cruz’s field was named Bush League Park. It’s now known as Memorial Field, a tribute to Santa Cruz’s fallen war veterans. At the early games, Model-T Fords lined the sideline. Players weren’t the monstrosities they are today. They looked like every-day folk. Their helmets were equally primitive. They looked like leather salad bowls with ear flaps.
Since the inception of the sport, player safety has been a national concern. In 1905, when 18 players died, President Roosevelt summoned representatives from three prestigious East Coast universities to the White House and convinced them that the rules needed to be changed to eliminate the foul play and brutality. The American Football Rules Committee was formed in 1906.
“Sure, there was pinching and biting that went on in dog piles, punching too,” said ’58 Cardinals star John Kirby. “It probably still happens a little bit. The officiating is better. I also think the players nowadays probably police it a little bit too.” The implementation of rules and better equipment has kept football’s fatality total in single digits all but one year since 1977.
“There was nothing wrong with the equipment,” Kirby said. “It was the rules. The running back could keep going until he was literally stopped. There were more hits and more people piling onto you. You could keep crawling forward. The rules changed by the time I played.”
In the early 1900’s, sandlot or high school rugby were the only forms of organized ball. State-wide American Legion football play evolved in the late 1920’s, featuring ex-high school and college standouts. Every major city locally was represented, including Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Monterey and Hollister. Leo Harris, an ex-Cardinal football star who lettered under coach Glenn “Pop” Warner at Stanford in 1925-26, played fullback and guard for the local team.
Brad Lynn, an ex-Santa Cruz star who lettered at Notre Dame in ’37, would return to the area and serve briefly as coach of the semi-pro Seahawks. The team existed from 1946-58 and won a national championship in ‘55. Players were paid between $5 and $20, depending on gate receipts.
The team was an impressive assembly of hard-nosed talent. Players like Cal quarterback, Paul Larson and lineman Buck Dahlman, grandfather to ex-49ers star Chris Dahlman, played spirited contests at Harvey West Park. During poorly lit night games, Lynn’s team used yellow footballs.
“I remember I’d climb the fence to watch,” said 66-year old Santa Cruz resident Angelo Ross, a longtime assistant to Norm Costa at Palm in Salinas. “It would be packed. It was quite an outing on the weekend.”
Most games were low-scoring affairs. Offensive playbooks were small and personnel was sometimes limited. In Macaulay’s era, it wasn’t a complicated game.
Van Gorder had a slender 6-2 frame. Still, he was a big guy back then. Players just seemed to be shorter, he said. “I only knew one student who was taller than I was,” Van Gorder said. “He was 6-7. He was considered a giant. Nowadays, you look at these fellows and wonder what they’re eating.”
Today’s players are big and strong. And when the Sentinel next features an all-time football team, this generation of players is going to have stories to share. They’ll have played a part in history, like Van Gorder, Leibbrandt, Macaulay, and Kirby. Perhaps today’s players will talk of a game that–in the year 2006–seemed so different, so crude, so alive and so memorable.
I enjoyed this outstanding story because I know (or knew) many of the football players and coaches.