After spending two seasons as Defensive Coordinator with the Piedmont Varsity football team, James Holan was named the 21st Head Football Coach at Piedmont High School. In his first season, the Highlanders currently sit at 6-2 and are poised for another play-off run.
A couple days ago I had a chance to sit down with Coach Holan to discuss the keys to gridiron success at Piedmont and formally introduce our fans to a wonderful coach, who is putting a solid football program in place that also prepares his Highlander players for future success.
Q: For our fan’s who don’t know your story, what was some of your prior coaching experience before you were named Piedmont’s new head football coach at the beginning of this season?
“For the fans who don’t know my story, or my prior coaching and playing experience and such, I’ve been here now for the last three years when we rebooted the program with coach Coats back in 2013. My first two years here I served as defensive coordinator and before that I was down in San Diego for 4 ½ years at Mission Hills High School, where I was the non-play calling Varsity offensive coordinator, offensive line and tight ends coach. I was also co-head coach and play caller on junior varsity. The year before I moved to San Diego, I coached at College of Marin for one year, which happened to be the last year they had their football program. Prior to coaching I played at Linfield College where we won the National Championship in 2004 and I played my high school ball at Tamalpias high school in Mill Valley.”
Q. It’s October 28th and while we are conducting this interview before practice, the players are in the weight room. Can you share a little bit about the work the kids put forth for this season.
“Probably one of the biggest things as far as our turnaround the last three years and trying to work to become a consistent program that is in the playoffs every year and competing for a chance to go win a section or league title, is implementing a weight training program. It’s a year round strength and conditioning program that allows our kids to get as strong as they possibly can. We aren’t telling our guys to put on weight or get bigger, we’re asking them to become more explosive and stronger regardless of what their body type is, or what position they play. We always want to be the strongest team on the field.”
Q: What do you notice about the way this team plays, that is a direct result of the strength program?
“Some of the biggest things that stick out to me about this team and the way they play. . . First off, this is a team that shows tremendous resilience. There’ve been multiple cases were we’ve been down or we’ve been out or guys have been missing due to injury or guys have gone out during the week in practice and every time something like that has happened, somebody else has stepped up and been there for their teammates and made sure they can get the job done. I think there’s a direct correlation with our weight room and our weight program, and the fact that if starter gets hurt we know the next guy going in has put in his time in the weight room, that his strength level is there that he’s a guy we can trust and count on because he’s been there all off-season with us. And obviously just over the course of the three years since I’ve been here, you’ve seen our players develop and grow in a physical manner and they look less like boys and more like men now.”
Q: Coaching a team requires good assistant coaches, what do you look for in an assistant coach?
The biggest thing I’m looking for in coaches? We want to have guys we can trust, who always can have the kids best interest in mind and who are going do their best to get the kids not only ready for football, but ready for life in general. We want them to be trustworthy guys who we know are doing the right thing and setting great examples for these young men and making them better football players every day. I firmly believe that with building staff and developing coaches it starts with the person because all the X’s and O’s and technique and all that stuff, we can teach. But being a trustworthy person, a guy with high morals that’s not necessarily something we can teach an adult, so we look for great people.
Q: What gives you the most satisfaction as a coach?
“Besides winning the most satisfaction I get as a coach is when kids have “that moment” and what I mean by that moment, is when you’ve been working on something with a kid for maybe one practice or one week or the whole season, but it’s something you been working and working and working on and at that moment it clicks for that guy. When they do it right and have that “AH-HA” moment, for me really that’s one of the most satisfying things as a coach. Also, I just love seeing the guys when they come back after they’ve graduated and been through our program. They’re off to college and growing up into fine young men and it’s great to have those guys come back, shake our hands and thank us for being hard on them or that we did know what we are talking about (laugh), really just seeing where they are going in life.”
Q: There is a ring you wear on a necklace during games, what’s the story?
“The ring I wear on my shoestring around my neck is the national championship ring from 2004 that we won at Linfield. It doesn’t really fit on my finger anymore and it’s kind of bent from the times I was wearing it, so I feel the easiest way to keep track of it is to have it tied up on a shoelace. I put my little Jim Harbaugh sharpie on there so I’m all set to go for games.
I’ve worn it for just about every game I’ve ever coached but there’s been times I forgotten it, and thank God I’m not a super superstitious guy otherwise it would’ve caused me some issues.
Funny story, I was coaching in San Diego at Mission Hills and same deal, I would wear it around my neck as a necklace on one of those beaded chains. Well, after playing Vista High School we got back to our high school and I didn’t notice until after one of my offensive linemen brought it to me that my ring was missing. He and his parents we’re taking some photos after the game and they found my ring on the field. They knew it was mine because they seen me wearing it around, but I was super lucky and it’s one of those things; I’ve always had opportunities to lose it but somehow it always comes back to me. It doesn’t look as nice but I got it tied on my shoelace and its not going anywhere.”
Q: With the way the team is playing things look good for another playoff berth. How does making the playoffs year after year help build a program?
“One of the things we set out to do when got here three years ago was to start earning some respect and I think that every year we make the playoffs and continue to win games in the playoffs, we earn a little bit more respect in this community and in the Bay Area football scene. But I think the bigger thing on top of that is that this has become the expectation for these young men; that we are going to make the playoffs and make a run. That’s what playing this game is all about. We all love to go out and run, tackle, throw and catch, but at the end of the day we’re competing to be champions and be the best we can possibly be. So, making the playoffs allows us that opportunity.”
Playing before a large, enthusiastic crowd, Piedmont’s football team dominated Arroyo 48-0 in the Homecoming game at Witter Field last Friday night, October 16. The Highlanders simply played great in every phase of the game, starting with Andrew Meredith’s dramatic 63-yard kickoff return to open the game.
On the first play from scrimmage, after an Arroyo three-and-out, running back Gabe Watson broke a tackle in the backfield for 13 yards. On the next play Watson ran around right end from the 18, and circled back to score at the left pylon, giving the Highlanders a 7-0 lead at the 10:51 mark.
Kicker Josh Landheer showed off his big leg nailing the kickoff through the end zone. On Arroyo’s next play from scrimmage, Watson, as defensive back, intercepted a pass at the 43 and returned it to the Dons’ 21. Quarterback Miles Kim lofted a beautiful pass to receiver Andrew Meredith in the corner of the end zone, where Meredith outjumped two defenders in tight coverage to haul in the pass for a touchdown and 14-0 lead with 9:45 left in the quarter.
It was the first of three touchdowns he would score on the evening.
A penalty on the PAT attempt put the ball back at the 25-yard line, but Landheer nailed it through the uprights.
Piedmont ‘s interior defense led by Spencer Chan, Geoffrey Burge and Alex Robinson held Arroyo to another three-and-out, setting up more Highlander offensive highlights.
Watson led a drive, taking the ball from Kim and rushing to the 10-yard line. Arroyo held, but Landheer connected on a 21-yard field goal for a17-0 lead at the 3:03 mark. By game’s end, Landheer accounted for 12 of the Highlander points.
Linebacker Mason Willrich led Piedmont’s defense, along with Chan and linebacker Nick Pacult, who finished with seven tackles. They consistently stuffed any runs up the middle. Cornerback Brandon Lew led the team with eight tackles.
A poor Arroyo punt gave the Highlanders possession at their 48-yard line with 1:23 in the quarter. On a 3rd down, Kim found receiver Lloyd Ashton with a swing pass on the right, for the first of three consecutive receptions for first downs.
“Lloyd came up big in that 3rd and 4 situation, stepping in for Frank Kossak who’s a little banged up,” said coach James Holan.
The first play of the next quarter had Kim taking a huge hit as he released the ball, but being able to complete a 24-yard pass to Ashton, followed by another pass for 19 yards. Then Kim hit Meredith for an 18-yard TD with another well-thrown ball, allowing Meredith to run under the ball as he crossed the goal line. With 10:20 left in the half, Piedmont led 24-0.
Chan stuffed runs up the middle on two straight plays setting up a 4th and 6 for Arroyo. Another bad snap on a punt led to a 1st down for Piedmont on Arroyo’s 9-yard line. But a series of penalties precluded a touchdown. Landheer’s second FG of the half from 38 yards gave the Highlanders a 27-0 lead.
Linebacker Jacob Watson, back in action after a shoulder injury, played a strong game, with five tackles and constant pressure on the quarterback pressure. His play contributed to a pass break-up by his brother at the 6:34 mark.
Yet another bad snap by Arroyo resulted in the Highlanders gaining possession at Arroyo’s 13-yard line. After an 8-yard run by Watson, Piedmont was intercepted by the Dons.
With 1:30 to go in the half, Kim’s pass to Meredith resulted in a pass interference penalty, and on the next play Kim connected with Meredith for a 42-yard TD over the middle to put the Highlanders up 34-0.
After Homecoming festivities at halftime, with Meredith selected as Homecoming Prince, Arroyo took possession for a quick three-and-out, giving Piedmont the ball at their own 48. Watson took a handoff for 13 yards, and then Kim’s hard count drew an encroachment penalty for a 1st and 5. A series of short-yardage plays set up Watson’s second rushing TD, giving the Highlanders a 41-0 lead with 5:05 to go in the game. Exactly one minute later, and after another bad snap, linebacker Jake Mura, picked up an Arroyo fumble and returned it for a touchdown for the final score of 48-0.
Watson led Piedmont with 115 yards of Piedmont’s 141 yards total, and scored 2 TD’s, and Kim was efficient as always, completing 8 for 11 passes for and 129 yards and three touchdowns, all to Meredith. Meredith caught 3 passes for 81 yards, Ashton caught 3 passes for 50 yards.
Arroyo was held to 86 yards rushing and 61 passing and only six first downs in the game. The game was Piedmont’s first shutout victory of the season, with the 2nd team contributing to the win. Cornerbacks Willis Bird and Everett Ellis also had timely interceptions in the 2nd half.
After the game, Defensive Coordinator Nick Safir praised the 2nd team for their role in the shutout.
“You guys all stepped up and showed you can play varsity football tonight,” singling out sophomore Cole Kingston.
Home field crowd
Despite the Homecoming festivities, it was a typical late-arriving crowd.
“I want to issue a challenge to the community to show up for our last home game on Senior Night (Friday, October 30 vs. San Lorenzo),” said coach Holan. “We’ve come so far from where we were a few years ago, but we can’t be satisfied. If every kid at the rally [Friday afternoon on campus] had come to the Homecoming game, it would have been unique. Hopefully they’ll show up for Senior Night.”
Piedmont (5-2) travels to Hayward this Saturday, October 26, for a rare day game, a 1:45 p.m. kickoff against Mt. Eden. The JV game is at 11:00 a.m.
Piedmont rebounded strongly from its stinging 2-point loss a week earlier to McClymonds, beating Hayward 28-14 in its opening game of the league season on Friday, October 9 at Witter Field. Piedmont sophomore Sylvia Sibal¬ warmed up the crowd with a stirring rendition of the national anthem.
And then came football.
Nick Pacult put the Highlanders on the scoreboard at 8:31 with a 19-yard inside handoff into the end zone. Though designed as a sweep to the right, he cut upfield behind a trap block between tackle and end for the score.
At cornerback, Andrew Meredith began the 2nd quarter in dramatic fashion, intercepting a Hayward pass. Piedmont’s offense went to work immediately, with Kim launching a 40-yard TD pass to Meredith for a 14-0 lead.
Meredith scored a second touchdown after breaking up a Hayward pass late in the second half. With 1:24 left in the 2nd quarter, Kim connected once again to Meredith for a 43-yard touchdown catch and a comfortable 21-0 lead at the half.
Linebacker Pacult came up with a timely interception to stop Hayward’s first drive in the second half. Jacob Watson set up Pacult’s interception with a hit on the Hayward quarterback as he released the ball.
“It was a weird play because when the quarterback started rolling out I wasn’t sure which coverage, but when I saw Jacob about to hit him I hung back and it came right to me,” Pacult said. But after a nearly flawless 1st half, costly mistakes characterized the game after intermission. The 2nd half brought showed glimpses of a Piedmont team that had given up touchdowns on turnovers to Moreau and McClymonds. Suddenly there were two consecutive lost fumbles on first downs, both leading to Hayward scores and only 50 seconds apart, narrowing the score to 21-14 with 6:06 left in the 3rd quarter.
Holan had Gabe Watson run the offense from the wildcat in the last quarter.
Watson showed leadership on offense and defense. He gained 159 yards on 17 carries with a TD, and caught a beautiful 38-yard pass from Kim.
One of the game’s most unusual plays occurred in the 4th quarter when Watson gained 15 yards on a strong carry, only to have the ball jarred loose into the hands of center Willrich, who gained another 10 yards. Watson carried the team on offense and defense in the final quarter, flawlessly running the wildcat, and ending the Farmers’ last drive with a dazzling interception return that ended with a classic hook slide.
Prior to that Watson put the game out of reach for Hayward with a dazzling 36-yard TD run, in which he broke two tackles while changing directions.
Kim was a picture of efficiency, throwing only five passes and completing all for 182 yards and two touchdowns. He showed versatility playing under center and rolling out in both directions.
The kicking and punting of Josh Landheer played a big role in the game. He consistently sent his kickoffs into the end zone for a touchback, he had a punt over 50 yards, and narrowly missed a 43-yard field goal. Holan and defensive coordinator Nick Safir frequently shift lineman before the snap to set up stunts and take advantage of mismatches.
“Christian Turner has been playing at a high level and has gotten better, so has Jacob Watson. Spencer Chan has stepped up his leadership on defense. Having all these guys enables us to rotate guys to keep fresh bodies in,” explained Holan.
These schemes helped set up linebacker Goyo Prospero’s pass break up near the end of the first quarter. Prospero finished with eight tackles.
In anticipation of Piedmont’s Homecoming game this Friday, Holan said, “We’re looking forward to having the stands full.”
Piedmont (4-2) faces Arroyo this Friday, October 16 in Piedmont’s Homecoming game at Witter Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m., with a JV game at 4:00 p.m.
In a game displaying a handful of heroics by the Highlanders, Piedmont lost by two points, 23-21, on Friday night at Witter Field to McClymonds, which remains undefeated at 5-0.
The loss seemed improbable, given the fact that:
• Gabe Watson had his biggest game of the season with 215 yards running, including a dazzling 80-yard breakaway and another for 74 yards, plus two touchdowns. and scored 2 TDs
• Andrew Meredith returned the opening kickoff for a 98-yeard touchdown and returned a fumble recovery 60 yards
• Sam Williamson got far behind the defender and caught a 68-yard pass from Watson on a halfback option play.
Those alone would suggest stats from the winning team. Unfortunately, mistakes on both sides of the ball doomed the effort.
Watson had over 100 yards by the end of the 1st quarter, and his 80-yarder made it 14-7 with 8:33 to go in the opening quarter, giving fans the expectation of a shoot-out. McClymonds made adjustments, while Highlander defenders had their hands full with the Warrior’s two multi-talented quarterbacks, Emoreea Fountain, who left in the 2nd quarter with a broken foot, and his replacement, Derrick Purvis.
Watson opened the 2nd quarter with a 20-yard run up the middle followed by 16 yards to the 33. He then had another 1st down to the 9, before a bad snap and a series of miscues left the Highlanders with a 4th and 30. They did not score.
On defense, linebackers Nick Pacult and Mason Willrich led Piedmont with 13 and 12 tackles respectively, while defensive end Christian Turner, Meredith and Watson each recovered fumbles.
“Our defense played inspired football against some of the most explosive offensive players we will face. We’ve been giving up a lot of yards, but we don’t want to give up points,” he said.
Center-QB exchanges have been troublesome for Piedmont all year. Of the five miscues that occurred, the most disastrous was at the 3:24 mark of the 3rd quarter when a Piedmont drive was undone by a snap over the head of quarterback Miles Kim.
The Warriors’ speedy Dyllon Louis raced in, scoped up the ball and ran 72 yards for a touchdown.
Piedmont played without several key contributors, most notably linebacker Jacob Watson, who hopes to be back next week. Lineman Connor Addiego is out for the year with a broken toe.
Another heartbreak came at the end of the 3rd quarter as Kim led a methodical, time-consuming drive. With a chance to score and go up 21-10, a snap over Kim’s head led to a 14-point turnaround when McClymonds’ speedy Louis scooped up the ball again and raced unimpeded for a touchdown for a 16-14 lead.
McClymonds pushed ahead 23-14 on a 5-yard run at the 5:24 mark of the 3rd quarter. But less than 30 seconds later, Watson scored on a dramatic 74-yard run. Meredith returned a Warriors’ fumble 60 yards, leading to another impressive Highlander drive, only to be doomed by yet another bad snap.
Josh Landheer had a career-long 60-yard punt in the 4th quarter, but missed tackles
allowed McClymonds to run down the time on a long possession. Piedmont’s last gasp began at the 1:09 mark at their own 22-yard line, but ended with an interception.
Coach Holan took his share of blame after the game telling his players, “This one’s on me, guys. You played well enough to win, but I fell short. I promise to be a better coach the rest of the way.”
Holan second-guessed himself on the decision not to try for a field goal late in the game when the Highlanders were within McClymonds’ 10-yard line and trailed by two points.
Defensive Coordinator Nick Safer praised his players. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we were the better football team tonight. We had a few bounces not go our way and that’s football. Last year we had all the bounces go our way. You can all be proud about the way you played tonight, we’re going to leave the results behind and learn what we can from this,” he said.
He took time to remind the Highlanders about how they’ve helped build a competitive program. “Two years ago, we couldn’t get 50 people in here for a game. You guys have built this up since then. To look up and see the stands packed, that’s something you can be proud of.”
Piedmont (3-2) opens league play next week with a home game against Hayward on Friday, October 9 at 7 p.m.