Tornado linebacking tandem wreak havoc on opponents
In an early-season track workout last spring, Matt Havniear tripped over a hurdle and did a face plant.
In his first meet, Tyler Graham forgot his spiked shoes and had to run the 100-meter dash in flats.
The two incidents drew some laughs from their North Medford High teammates, but it wasn't long before Havniear and Graham earned everyone's respect.
No one outworked them, and no one improved more.
Now the pair are the starting inside linebackers for a Black Tornado defense that is running roughshod over the rest of the Southern Oregon Conference.
We sold them on the idea of running track and they both bought into it, says Mark Hodges, the Tornado's head track coach and an assistant in football. They're both so much quicker now than they were last year they don't even look like the same players.
Head football coach Rod Rumrey, whose 7-0, No. 3-ranked Tornado travels to Grants Pass Friday night, says the tandem are playing as well as any inside linebackers he's coached since he took over the North Medford program 13 years ago.
We expected a lot out of them but they're exceeding our expectations, Rumrey says. They're both flying to the football very well, they're both good hitters and neither of them gets fooled very often.
We think we have one of the best offensive lines in the conference, but our linemen have a tough time blocking Tyler and Matt.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Graham and the 5-11, 198-pound Havniear are a bit undersized for inside linebackers, but they compensate for it with their speed and aggressiveness. And it's not like they're weaklings: Havniear can bench-press 265 pounds and squat 370, while Graham can bench-press 255 pounds and squat 325.
The linebacking clones, who also happen to be best friends, headline a North Medford defense that has given up just 67 yards rushing, 180 yards in total offense and seven points per game — the stingiest numbers in the SOC.
They are major cogs in a scheme concocted by defensive coordinator John Beck that uses four down linemen, four linebackers and employs a myriad of blitz packages.
Tackles Norris Bier, Scott Myers and Justin Baehmann, outside linebackers Shad Thomas and Alan Borelli and defensive ends Curtis Stout and Shawn Backstrom have also put heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season. The Tornado has registered 28 sacks as a team with Graham's five leading the way.
The blitzes are the funnest part of what we do, Graham says. We do a lot of different things and sometimes no one blocks me when I take off for the quarterback.
Graham had his best game during North Medford's biggest victory to date — a 31-0 romp over Roseburg on Oct. 6 in which he registered three sacks and was in on 10 tackles.
I remember coming out on defense in that game and thinking, ?Wow, these guys are huge,? Graham says. But we stuffed them the first series and kept getting more confident as the game went along.
Along with his linebacking duties, Havniear also lines up in North Medford's backfield as a blocker when the Tornado goes to its power-I, triangle set.
Graham and Havniear have been friends since they helped the Hedrick Middle School eighth-grade team to an unbeaten season four years ago. They became even closer when Havniear joined Graham at the Harvest Baptist Temple a couple years later.
They are both leaders in the church's youth group and have been known to sing songs to youngsters at bible study.
Graham and Havniear also went on a five-day wilderness hike with a church group last June, causing them to miss the first few days of summer workouts.
But they practically lived in the North Medford weight room and on the track the remainder of the summer.
I remember coaching the Junior Olympic kids in track, Hodges says, and more than once here comes Havniear, looking for another workout.
He had already lifted and done some running, but he wanted more.
Since tripping over that hurdle last spring, Havniear has rarely been off his feet, on or off the football field. In the coming weeks, he and Graham hope to make their biggest run yet — — the one to the state championship.