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*** RANDY KIRK ***

Article in the 2015 All Star Football Program
By Dick Sparrer

There were great quarterbacks and wide receivers, great running backs and offensive linemen, great linebackers, tackles and backs on the defensive side. But when head coach Dan Atencio was assembling his South team for the 1983 Silicon Valley Youth Classic, he noticed one spot where his football squad was lacking—there was no long snapper. It's an underrated skill, and certainly not the sport's most glamorous position. But having a player who does it well can literally mean the difference between winning and losing.

For the South all-star team in the summer of 1983, that player was Bellarmine's Randy Kirk.

Kirk, an all-league linebacker for the Bells in the 1982 season, had not initially been nominated for the game. But Atencio, a former long snapper himself as a college player, knew the importance of the position.

"We needed a guy who could snap the ball, and do it accurately," said Atencio, "and Randy fit the bill."

The bonus for Atencio proved to be two-fold: his South squad also benefited from Kirk's ability to play defense, and his talents as a long snapper were even better than Atencio expected so good, in fact, that Kirk went on to play the position for 13 seasons in the National Football League.

Randy Kirk is one of the nearly 20 high school all-stars who used the Silicon Valley Youth Classic—now better known as the Charlie Wedemeyer High School All-Star Game—as a springboard to an eventual career in the NFL. Two of them, Eric Howard and Dave Diaz-Infante, were his teammates during his junior season at Bellarmine and played in the summer classic in 1982.

"I've got to give thanks to Dan Atencio," said Kirk of his all-star selection in the summer of 1983. "[My coach] didn't recommend me for the game, but he said, 'I know this kid who's pretty good.' I, think he was the one who actually got me in over there."

And Atencio was glad he did.

"I know the importance of the long snapper because I did it," said Atencio, a 1969 graduate of San Francisco State where, like Kirk, he served double-duty as a linebacker and snapper.

"And Randy was a great kid," he added. "He also played noseguard for us. He was so quick and agile on defense—he was a great guy on the nose."

Kirk remembers his time playing defense in the game more than he does as a long snapper.

"It was fun," he said. "I remember playing against [quarterback] Greg Calcagno (now the head coach at his alma mater, St. Francis High School). And I remember playing against another guy. who is just a dear friend of mine today. Joe Lynam (of Blackford). He's like a brother to me now."

"It was a fun challenge," he added. "I remember there being a good camaraderie, and we all took pride in it, too."

Amidst all of the "fun," there was also the competitive desire to win the game. So did the South win? While Kirk didn't remember much about snapping in the game, he knew the answer to that question right away.

"Of course we won," said Kirk, recalling the 10-7 victory with a broad grin.

NFL memories
Memories of snapping in NFL were much easier for Kirk to recall. He played for seven te

ams in his 13-year career—the 49ers, San Diego Chargers, Phoenix Cardinals, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns. Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals.

One of his most vivid memories comes from the second game of the 1992 season when the Bengals played host to the Los Angeles Raiders.

"I was in Cincinnati, it was overtime against the Raiders and we punted," he said. "They set up a wedge and I went airborne over the guy, hit the returner, he coughed the ball up and we recovered it. The next play I go in there to snap for the field goal and we win the game."

Jim Breech's 34-yard field goal gave the Bengals an instant 24-21 victory over the Raiders.

His two years in Cincinnati followed a short stint up the road 250 miles in Cleveland playing for the Browns and getting a close-up look at the fan pack known as the Dog Pound.

"Oh, the Dog Pound is insane," he said. "I was injured and on injured reserve, but they still know who you are. They said, 'Hey, Kirk, how ya doin": They knew everything about me and I'd only played a couple of preseason games."

"Then the very next year I'm in Cincinnati uniform and I'm down in the Dog Pound area warming up — before they're wanting to send me a Christmas card and the next time they want stab my dog! They were just lighting me up."

One of his memories that maybe isn't quite as fond is of playing against all-Pro nose guard Greg Kragen of the Denver Broncos.

"He had a motor," said Kirk of Kragen. "Every time he would line up right on top of me, and he had one job to do — that was to just wipe out the center ... and he did a fine job of that."

"He exploded off the ball, he would get underneath me, lift me up — boom, boom, boom ... I had cleat marks on my legs," he added with a laugh. But he never blocked a punt, never blocked a field goal. It was great. It has all part of the game."

It was a game that came very close eluding Kirk. After playing two years at De Anza College and two more at San Diego State, Kirk was drafted by the New York Giants. But things didn't work out too well for him in the Big Apple.

"I got to the last cuts and they said, 'Coach wants to see you, and bring your playbook," said Kirk, recalling a meeting with head coach Bill Parcels. "He looked me in the eye and said, 'I saw some things I liked and I saw some things I didn't like. I don't think you gave everything you had.' He cailed me out, and he was right."

Kirk was cut by the Giants, and he was mad.

"I was angry at myself because he has right," Kirk said. "When I got my second chance — which not many peobie get — that was the fire that lit under me, the last ingredient in my recipe. And it just really, really helped me.

"I got a second chance in San Diego, and Bill Parcels had set the table for me by firing me."

The NFL player's strike of 1987 Dpened the door, and Randy Kirk didn't just walk in — he went charging in.

"[The Chargers] asked me to come out and play, and they got it all at that time; there was no holding back," said Kirk. "I didn't miss a game after that."

Early beginnings
The all-star game in the summer of 1983 marked the end of Kirk's high school career, but it was really just the beginning for the kid that grew up in the countryside in a rugged part of Morgan Hill.

He wasn't much interested in baseball as a youngster, but developed an immediate love of football when he joined the Morgan Hill Raiders to play Pop Warner as a fifth grader.

He followed his older brother, Chuck, to Bellarmine, but wasn't an instant success.

"Ironically, I barely made the freshman team," he recalled. "We had a really good team—undefeated and unscored upon. I only got in when we were up three or four touchdowns."

As a sophomore, he moved up the play junior varsity football for coach Leo Ruth.

"He was great," said Kirk of his JV coach. "That's when I started to catch my stride a little bit."

He went on to play for an undefeated Bellarmine team that won West Catholic Athletic League and Central Coast Section championships in 1981 and for a team that went 11-2 in 1982.

"There were seven of us in that core that played beyond college," said Kirk. It was a loaded team; we were tough."

No colleges were courting Kirk after his senior year, so he decided to continue his playing days at the junior college level, playing for De Anza.

"I was a late bloomer," he said. "I was just coming into my own in my senior year really, and I didn't know what I wanted to do school-wise. I was not at a maturity level to go off to school somewhere."

De Anza coaches Bob Mazola and Bob Pifferini liked what they saw in the Bellarmine linebacker, and Kirk played two seasons for the Dons.

"It was a good place for me, and we were very competitive," he said. "The level of football at the junior college level here in California, especially Northern California, is very good."

Despite his success at the Cupertino JC, no Division I school made him an offer, so he opted to walk-on at San Diego State to play both football and rugby.

"They had a phenomenal rugby program," he said. "Rugby was a great sport for me. It kept me in great shape, and we won a national championship in 1987."

After two football seasons at San Diego, finally some scouts came calling — this time from the NFL. And the first thing they said was, "We heard you can long snap."

The funny thing is that Kirk wasn't the No. 1 long snapper for San Diego.

"We had a really good one at San Diego State, and I was the back-up," he said. "Obviously, my linebacker ability [got the scouts' attention]. I had really good speed so that was what they saw; they saw speed and the ability to run and tackle.

And also the ability to snap the football. 'I didn't snap in college," he said. "I knew how because my brother used to do it [at Bellarmine]. As a kid you always emulate your older brother, and I learned how to do it by watching him."

Ticket to the pros
Snapping wasn't all Randy Kirk learned from his brother, Chuck.

"I learned how to fight at an early age ... with my brother," said Kirk. "He was my older brother and he used to beat me up just for fun. I got fast trying to get away from him, but I got tough from when he caught me."

Kirk credits his brother, two years his senior, for toughening him up, and for passing along the art of long snapping.

Chuck Kirk died in 2001.

"I owe him a ton of respect and props for prepping me," said Randy.

Kirk was listed as a linebacker on every roster through his NFL career, and to this day he considers himself a linebacker. But he knows what helped him reach the pros.

"That was my ticket," he said. "My value on an NFL roster was that I could also play linebacker. I was a legitimate back-up, so if someone got hurt I could finish a game for them. I only started one or two games my whole career, but I played the position with every team."

But while he fancied himself a 'backer, that's not how Randy Kirk made his living in professional football. He did it by snapping for special teams.

"I take a lot of pride in putting some punters in the Pro Bowl," he said. I take a lot of pride in snapping a record-breaking field goal for Gary Anderson. And nobody ever blocked a punt over me."

That's saying a lot, considering he was snapping for 13 seasons in the rugged world of the NFL.

"Long snapping was great," he added. "I loved the mental part of it. You're the colonel; you've got the ball, you've got all eyes on you and you're in control.

"One of my most valuable assets, too, was to be able to snap and move — block left or block right, so they could count me in the protection."

He was able to finish his career where it started — in the Bay Area as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. And what a career it was.

"I got to live a dream," he said. "I know I tripled the odds — the average career is 3 1/2 years. So I was very fortunate, and obviously I had a niche being a long snapper."

As it turns out, the final stop in his career was the best of them all.

"Playing for the 49ers ... that was the best place, no question," he said. "The culture was much different in San Francisco — the expectations were much higher."

And a highlight for him was playing for owner Eddie DeBartolo.

"Eddie D was waiting for me in the locker room after a preseason game," Kirk recalls. "We beat Denver, and we went in the locker room all pumped up, and he grabs me and hugs me."

"He was just like that," he added. "Eddie was able to have that mentality permeate throughout the entire locker room — from the staff and the administration, all the way to the guys who cleaned the lockers. Guys that cleaned the lockers got the same respect that we got."

It was a culture that stuck with Kirk.

"There was so much parody, so it's all the little things that make the difference," he said. "And that was not such a little thing. It was a key part of our ingredient. For me, I learned a lot about how to treat people in my business world—how to treat people with equal respect."

Kirk is now a general contractor and framing contractor with an office in San Martin and lives in Morgan Hill with his wife of 21 years, Donna, and their six children — Hunter, Rylee, Kendall, Raegen, Chandler and Brady.

Coming full circle
Randy Kirk's football life has certainly come full circle — in no small part because of his 18-year-old son, Hunter.

Randy got his start in football as a fifth grader playing for coach Ernie Hill and the Morgan Hill Raiders, and his most recent football experience was serving on the coaching staff for a Morgan Hill Raiders team that won the Western Region Championship and played in the Pop Warner National Championships in Florida.

"I've had a lot of great football memories, and this one ranks way up there," said Kirk. "We took a group of kids to Florida, and they finished third in the nation. It was great. We had such a tough, tough group of kids.

"They did such a great job at that level of respecting the game, they played their tails off, and they represented themselves, their families and Morgan hill. They did a great job."

Live Oak's Brandon Sorce, a strong safety for that team, will be in the defensive secondary for the South team in the Aug. 1 all-star classic.

Hunter Kirk, who followed in his father's footstep as a player for the Raiders and also at Bellarmine, will also now play for his dad's former all-star coach as a member of the squad at De Anza College.

Atencio will begin his eighth season as the head coach at De Anza, and his 46th season as a football coach, and he knows the summer all-star game very well — having coached for the South three times, twice as the head coach and once as an assistant.

"It's a great game," said Atencio of the all-star classic. "The Almaden Rotary does a great job as the sponsor, and it's a real plus for these kids."

Of course, it was Atencio — the former college long snapper — who sought out Randy Kirk for his special talent to play in the all-star game back in the summer of 1983.

Now Kirk looks ahead to the 41st Silicon Valley Youth Classic with some words of advice for the 2015 all-stars.

"[Football] is the greatest game in the world, and the opportunity to compete with the best players at your level and go out there and perform on the biggest stage is something special," he said. "You've got to respect the game, and the only way to play the game is with everything you have ... and it starts in practice."

That's exactly the way Randy Kirk did it.

Former All-Stars in professional football

  • 1974 Doug Cosbie, St. Francis — Dallas Cowboys
  • 1974 Don Schwartz, Archbishop Mitty - St. Louis Cardinals, New Orleans Saints
  • 1975 Jeff Toews, Del Mar — Miami Dolphins
  • 1977 Rich Campbell, Santa Teresa — Green Bay Packers
  • 1978 Greg Woodard, Silver Creek — Oakland Raiders, CFL
  • 1978 Carl Monroe, Overfelt — San Francisco 49ers
  • 1979 John Tuggle, Independence — New York Giants
  • 1979 George Achica, Andrew Hill — Chicago Bears
  • 1980 Ben Bennett, Peterson — Chicago Bears, USFL, Arena Football
  • 1981 John Hendy, Wilcox — San Diego Chargers
  • 1981 John Faylor, Archbishop Mitty - San Francisco 49ers
  • 1982 Erik Howard, Bellarmine — New York Giants, New York Jets
  • 1982 Dave Diaz-Infante, Bellarmine — San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles
  • 1983 Randy Kirk, Bellarmine — San Francisco 49ers, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals
  • 1986 Tim Ryan, Oak Grove — Chicago Bears
  • 1988 Jeff Garcia, Gilroy — San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans
  • 1994 Pat Tillman, Leland — Arizona Cardinals
  • 1995 Jeff Ulbrich, Live Oak - San Francisco 49ers
  • 1997 Nathan Jackson, Pioneer— Denver Broncos
  • 1998 Tully Banta-Cain, Fremont — New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers
  • 2000 Jared Allen, Los Gatos — Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears
  • 2000 David Machi, Willow Glen — European Football League
  • 2002 Trent Edwards, Los Gatos — Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles
  • 2002 James Jones, Gunderson — Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders
  • 2008 Kiko Alonso, Los Gatos — Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles* *Still active