The Obit For Russ Orrick

Russ Orrick, 1961-2009

Coaches, teammates remember former Vintage High standout as great athlete, friend

Saturday, September 19, 2009

By MARTY JAMES
Executive Sports Editor


The word got around town quickly in the summer of 1978 that there was a pretty good athlete enrolling at Vintage High School for his sophomore year.

You didn’t have to tell Burl Autry. The Crushers’ head football coach already knew about Russ Orrick and the way that he played the game at the youth football level.
“We didn’t have to look at him,” said Autry. “We knew what he was going to be.”

Orrick didn’t even have to go so far as to put the pads on or engage in full contact, tackle-to-the-ground practices to convince Autry and his assistants that he had a future with the Crushers. The staff was so impressed with what they saw out of him early on that he went straight to the varsity.
“We sure as heck weren’t wrong,” said Autry.

Orrick had three outstanding years with the Crushers, starting and dominating opponents as a hard-hitting inside linebacker on defense and delivering equally punishing blows as a fullback who was not just on offense for his blocking, but also ball-carrying abilities.
He was also a leader, motivating and inspiring teammates around him, both on the practice field and during games.

“He was varsity from Day 1,” said Autry. “He was just a born leader. People followed him. He was just that type of a person. I just loved him.”

As a senior in 1980, Orrick ran for 1,173 yards and 17 touchdowns as Vintage went 13-0 overall and won its first CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title. Hampered by a bruised left ankle, he still rushed for 71 yards on 15 carries and scored two TDs in Vintage’s 25-6 win over Highlands-North Highlands in the section title game at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento.

“The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Russ is that he was a warrior in everything that he did in his pursuit of his objectives,” said Glen Loban, a former Vintage assistant. “You couldn’t derail him, you couldn’t stop him. Maybe you could slow him down, but rarely.”

Orrick, the Monticello Empire League’s Back of the Year as a junior and Player of the Year as a senior, died Friday morning at Queen of the Valley Medical Center. The 1981 Vintage graduate had been hospitalized since late August with kidney failure and other complications.

He was 47.

He had been receiving dialysis three days a week and had been in and out of the hospital over the last few months. Orrick, who had worked in the garage door business, had also been on the kidney transplant list for over three years.

Orrick’s family was by his side when he passed away early Friday morning.

“I wish that every football coach could experience the joy of coaching Russ Orrick,” said Bob Tedesco, a former Vintage assistant. “Russ was the type of player that every coach dreams of coaching.

“He was the most intense, biggest-hearted, toughest athlete that I ever coached, bar none.”

Orrick was honored in 1980 as the Vallejo Times-Herald’s Male Athlete of the Year, as he was also the MEL’s 178-pound champion in wrestling and led the league in RBIs in baseball as an outfielder.

He was drafted by the New York Mets in the 25th round of the 1981 major league draft and spent three years in the Mets’ minor league organization.

“His coaches talk about how, whether it was practice or a game, when he walked on the field he gave it everything he had,” said Todd Maday, a friend of Orrick’s since high school. “His heart was unbelievable.”

Football was Orrick’s first love, and he returned to the game, playing his freshman year of college for UC Davis.

“Russell was such an outstanding all-around athlete,” said Dick Yoxall, who along with his wife, Meryl, became legal guardians for Orrick when he was in high school. “I think he could have been a starting point guard for a couple of years for either one of the high schools. In wrestling, if he had concentrated on that, I have no doubt that he would have been a state champ. He was that good.

“He was truly outstanding and just very competitive,” added Dick Yoxall, who played two years of baseball at the University of Southern California as an outfielder and was a teammate of Don Drysdale’s at Van Nuys High School.

Vintage athletic director Dave Shipp was an assistant on Autry’s staff in 1978 and remembers Orrick getting the call to varsity, joining one of the top programs in Northern California at the time.

“Sophomores didn’t play (varsity) unless you were really, really good,” said Shipp, a former Vintage head football coach. “Burl said, ‘We’ve got this kid down there who can play for us. Why do we want to keep him down?’ Burl was always pretty good at spotting talent. He said, ‘This kid’s got to play.’ (Defensive coordinator) Jim Franco said, ‘This kid’s got to play.’

“They brought him up and it was instant impact. He was a leader as a sophomore. He stepped in and started right away (at inside linebacker). He immediately set the tone. Practices became a lot more livelier. Russ knew one speed and that was full. He practiced like he played and that’s why he was such a great athlete.”

Orrick became one of the very best to wear the burgundy and gold by the time he graduated. Wearing No. 43, he combined power, strength and explosion as a fullback, running over people that came in his direction. As a linebacker, he directed the Vintage defense and got after running backs, receivers and quarterbacks.

“That Vintage High School team in 1980 set the standard for football in the Napa Valley,” said Craig Lundeen, a former Napa High star. “They were undefeated. I still think that is the best team that’s ever come out of the Napa Valley, and Russ was a big part of that.

“On the field, he was all business and he was one of a kind. He was a great athlete. But off the field, he was even a nicer person, down to earth, never boastful. He always made me feel like I was one of his good friends.”

Coaches also talk about how smart of a player Orrick was, how much he understood the game. He was All-MEL in each of his three varsity seasons.

“He was a guy who loved sports and loved life,” said Shipp. “He was the type of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. He cared for people.

“He could have started on the basketball team, too. He was that good of a basketball player.”

During an interview with the Napa Valley Register on Sunday, Orrick said he was never a quitter.

“Once you’re on the board and you have your position established, I was never going to let anyone beat me out,” Russ said.

“You weren’t going to get my position.”

In July of 2008, Russ had his leg amputated below the knee due to circulation and clotting problems.

Ted Cavagnaro, who played on the title-winning 1980 team as a cornerback, remembered Orrick as a great athlete and great friend.

“He would do anything for his friends,” said Cavagnaro. “He was tough as nails on the outside and as sensitive of a guy as I’ve ever known on the inside.”

Loban played softball and rugby with Orrick for several years. He said everyone knew who No. 43 was at the end of a game.

“Russ was one of those types of guys that you get once maybe every 20 or 30 years that comes through,” said Loban. “He played with class. He was just a ferocious football player. He didn’t jaw, he didn’t cheap shot.”

Maday said Orrick was touched by a visit Thursday from two of his former coaches, Tedesco and Mike Koontz.

“When they came in, he looked up and saw Coach Koontz and Coach Tedesco. I’m telling you, the guy lit up so much. I thought he was going to get out of his bed to give those guys a hug. That was awesome — the love there from player to coach.”

Orrick’s two sons — Matt, a senior tailback, and Clayton, a sophomore fullback-linebacker — play in the Vintage football program.

A celebration of life service will be held next week at Tulocay Cemetery and Funeral Home. A date and time has not been set.