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Prep Football Preview

A Staff to Lean On : Loyal, Experienced Assistant Coaches Characterize the Region's Top 10 Football Teams


The components of the best high school football programs would seem obvious, like punting on fourth and long.

Top-flight kids playing for a top-notch coach. The players are showered with accolades, the coach is quoted and handed a handsome trophy. End of season. End of story.

Or is it?

Scan the preseason Top 10.

Note the familiar names.

Seven of the schools have played for Southern or City section championships in the 1990s. All 10 are consistent winners.

Who does the head coach count on for continuity? Who can he trust? Players enroll, perform, graduate. The coach himself is driven to distraction dealing with boosters, reporters and recruiters.

Scan the complete rosters of the Top 10 teams.

Note the unfamiliar names.

Wayne Ekimoto of Antelope Valley. Joe McNab of Notre Dame. Doug Dagan of Newbury Park. Darrel McIntyre of Sylmar. Rob Elliot of Thousand Oaks. Kyle Borland of Westlake. Dan Houghton of Hart. Frank Grossman of Taft. Fred Grimes of Kennedy. Ken Hetinger of Quartz Hill.

Assistant coaches all, trusty and loyal as flop-eared hounds. And there are others, just as anonymous, who form the core of the most successful programs.

Many are unpaid, most are unnoticed, all are crucial.

"Stability within a program and consistency in coaching techniques goes through the assistants," said Westlake Coach Jim Benkert, who has eight assistants, including five who have been with him his entire eight-year tenure.

"Look at those top programs. They all have top assistants, down-and-dirty type of guys who really get down with those kids."

They'd take a bow, but they're too busy. Season begins today, you know. Anyway, most assistants deflect attention the way a cornerback bats down a pass.

"I enjoy my position, working with kids exclusively day after day," said Ekimoto, an Antelope Valley assistant for 17 years. "I see things the head coach is responsible for and some of it is not worth it. This is what I want to do."


A good staff can be a magic wand, applying the delicate touch that brings out the sparkle in each player. One assistant is like a truncheon, enforcing discipline. Another is a baton, orchestrating an emotional crescendo.

"Different personalities and emotional levels create a necessary balance," said George Hurley, who along with assistants Dagan, Gary Fabricius and Greg Mattes has developed Newbury Park into a Southern Section power.

Newbury Park has a small staff by the standards of most of the Top 10 teams. Several have six to eight. Responsibilities during practice and games are delegated and precise.

For the unfortunate adversary trying to do it all, frustration mounts. Many schools, especially in the City Section, have only one or two assistants.

"When we see eight coaches across the sidelines, it's pretty scary," said Brad Ratcliff, Granada Hills' second-year coach. "We're already outnumbered four to one. I've got to work my butt off to make up for a lack of coaches."

Ratcliff previously coached at Westchester and University, where he was part of large staffs of dedicated coaches. At Granada Hills, only walk-on Richard Rigali--whom Ratcliff praises--and 18-year-old Shawn Kang help out.

"I'm gonna run the offense and the defense," Ratcliff said. "I've got my hands full. I didn't know how lucky I was at University."

As sorely as Ratcliff needs assistants, he won't take just anybody.

"You have find people with a passion for the game," he said. "And you also have to find coaches who are on the same page as you. They have to believe in your program."

Ekimoto has helped put Antelope Valley on several pages in the Southern Section record book by maintaining a close friendship as well as a working relationship with Coach Brent Newcomb. A tandem since 1980, they have reached six Southern Section finals.

Like any enduring relationship, there is occasional tension. But respect wins out.

"An assistant coach has to uphold everything the head coach wants done," Ekimoto said. "We try to show a united front on the field. If we don't agree, we talk about it afterward. You become like family."

Two Hart assistants have been telling Coach Mike Herrington what's on their minds since they were in diapers. Mike's brother, Dean, is the offensive coordinator and his brother, Rick, is the defensive coordinator.

"We are not afraid to criticize each other or hurt each other's feelings," Mike Herrington said. "We are not afraid to state our opinions. Maybe that does come from being brothers."

Houghton, in his fifth season as line coach, and Mike Halcovich, in his sixth as receiver and defensive back coach, aren't Herringtons but are just as much part of the Hart family.

And on game day, the family divides up the chores.

"They all have duties, everything falls into place," Mike Herrington said. "They are so efficient I end up doing some of the menial jobs. I just watch things and make a decision here or there."

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