Great Expectations

The story of a new team, new coach, new quarterback and new era of the Palo Alto High School football program.

Great Expectations

November 23, 2013; the Vikings are minutes away from half time against the Leland Chargers in its first game of the Central Coast Sections (CCS) playoffs and are winning 35-17. Keller Chryst (‘14) runs to the sideline to get the play call from head coach Earl Hansen. Before jogging back out onto the field. After the ball is snapped Chryst hands it off to Malcolm Davis (‘14) who runs the ball in for a touchdown, and secures a 25-point lead and an eventual victory. A win is a team effort, but is truly orchestrated by a coach and his quarterback. The win against Leland, along with many others, was led by Hansen and Chryst, but that era has ended.

Standing at six feet and 175 pounds, Oliver Svirsky (‘16)  is four inches and 55 pounds smaller than Chryst, the figure fans are used to seeing in the quarterback position. However, make no mistake that his size does not deter the level of play expected from Palo Alto High Schools new starting quarterback. With the loss of several star Paly athletes in the class of 2014, Svirsky, his teammates and the new head coach Jake Halas are looking to build chemistry over the next few years.

“That is probably the number one goal of our season: to improve the camaraderie of our squad,” Halas said. “We don’t know each other yet. We will find out when things go bad, when the chips are down, that’s how we find out about each other.”

The team is not looking to replicate past years, but instead is trying to start a new era with this young team. Halas has great hopes for Svirsky and where he will lead the team over the next two years.

“He’s his own guy, he’s fallen into the starting position now and we’ll see where it goes,” Halas said. “He’s got two years. Svirsky understands that that is a rare situation. I think he has done a good job of not really thinking about it.”

Nearly 5.8% of high school football players get recruited to play in college; Chryst is one of them. Even though Svirsky may not be on his way to becoming a Stanford Cardinal, he still possesses key attributes to being a successful quarterback.

“First of all, [Svirsky is] a natural athlete, and him being a basketball player as well as a football player shows a lot about what kind of an athlete he is,” Chryst said. “He has an underrated arm and he’s throwing it at the same velocity as I am and he’s making all the big time throws you need to make.”

Chryst comments on the relationship Svirsky and him have had over the years and the future that Svirsky has in football.

“He acted like my brother and I kind of mentored him,” Chryst said. “He will be one hell of a football player once he cleans up a few things.”

The guidance of Chryst has carried over to this season in the way that Svirsky leads the team with his work ethic and intense mentality.

Halas has also seen the determination that Svirsky displays at practice and in games. He notes that these attributes coincide with what made Chryst such a force to be reckoned with.

“[Svirsky] is here in film every day,” Halas said. “I am a defensive coach by trait, and I show film at lunch the quarterback is here watching defensive film trying to see what the defense does, how they think. That’s admirable. That’s a similarity to Chryst. As far as his work ethic, you don’t argue one bit with what he does. He does everything we ask, he’s the first guy in the weight room, and stays late after practice.”

Svirsky inspires the team with his hard-working attitude and is a leader on the field. Justin Hull (‘16) has been playing sports with Svirsky since elementary school and recognizes Svirsky’s work ethic.

“[Svirsky] is a good teammate; he helps us out a lot,” Hull said. “He works hard in practice.  He’s definitely a vocal leader and talks a lot during practice. He’ll stay after practice with us and help us with our routes.”

Along with being a vocal leader, he brings the game day mentality to practice and is constantly playing with a high level of intensity. Teammate and close friend Eli Givens (‘16) notes how Svirsky’s focus on success is his key to improvement.

“During practice, he’s very competitive and that’s good,” Givens said. “When he focuses a lot he tends to do really well. He gets stuff done and once he knows how to do it, he’ll tend to be really good.”

The intensity Svirsky shows on the field could be a result of the high expectations Halas puts on his players as head coach. Halas was announced as the program’s new head coach last year, despite not having been in the program in the 2013-2014 season.

During the 2008-2012 seasons, Halas worked as the team’s defensive coordinator. In these seasons, the team was league champions three times and had its undefeated season that led it to win state. Through these years, Halas coached some of Paly’s most accomplished football players including Kevin Anderson (‘11) and B.J. Boyd (‘12).

Many of the players that he coached during the 2010-2011 season, in which the team beat Centennial High of Corona, Calif. 15-13 to bring home the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) State Championship, note Halas as being a key reason why the team performed so well.

“He is the genius behind the defense,” Anderson said.  “To come in and stop the best offense in the history of California is all on him. He gave us a game plan and we were able to go out there and execute it. Without him, I guarantee they would have been able to score more points.”

By experience he is a defense oriented, but has offensive knowledge from his training under Hansen. Stepping into the role as head coach for such an elite program can be difficult, and Halas could benefit from having Hansen around to help.

“I’m in the mold of Hansen as far as his belief system; what he did was great,” Halas said. “I want Hansen around. He wants to make sure that they know who the leader is and all of that, but me, personally, I want him around.”

However, Halas’s players think that he has stepped in to the role as their leader gracefully and understands what must be asked of the team in order to succeed.

“He has done a great job taking over the role of head coach,” Hull said. “He’s a very hard working coach who wants to win as badly as we do.”

Halas has designed his philosophy around the idea that he is here to help his players succeed, but they have to want to improve first. A team is built on the foundation of a respect for each others time and actions.

“I am really on our guys; they have to be held accountable for their actions,” Halas said. “They have to abide by the rules or they will not play. If they are not at practice they will get the opportunity to make up what they missed the next day. If they are late they get the opportunity to make it up after practice.”

As the weeks go by and more Friday nights approach the team, Svirsky and his teammates continue to build their chemistry. Halas and the young team he is coaching hope to establish themselves and grow over these next few years.

“The team’s belief in Svirsky and Svirsky’s confidence in the system is just going to grow,” Halas said. “We’re all new; this is like a new relationship for everybody. So these guys don’t know me and I don’t know them, but we’re working on it.” <<<