Head coach Dylan Leach talks a lot about how his Vintage football team needs to be tougher and more physical than its opponents.

But when asked who his best defensive players are, he offered two of the smartest – senior cornerback/wide receiver Harrison Barrett and junior inside linebacker/fullback Ian Avalos.

Barrett, one of five team captains, carries a 4.56 GPA and is one of the team’s tutors. The 5-foot-10, 160-pounder played last year in the shadow of his now-graduated brother, Caymus, a cornerback, wide receiver and punter, but made his own presence known with an interception in a season-opening, 41-0 shutout of Wood two weeks ago.

“Harry’s doing a great job and making his own legacy here,” Leach said Monday. “He’s good in class and he personifies what we’re looking for in a student-athlete. He’s very encouraging vocally. He doesn’t put people down or anything like that. He’s much more of an encouraging, technical guy.

“He’s got a lot of moxie to him. He competes in the classroom with the best of them and he competes on the field. So he’s very confident in his ability to play.”

Like Barrett, Avalos is soft-spoken and an ace in the classroom, with a 4.2 GPA.

“That’s the beauty of sports like football – you get to be a different person inside the white lines for seven seconds, from snap to whistle,” Leach said. “You can play with an aggression and a vengeance that isn’t really allowed in society. After the whistle blows, you get 30 seconds to breathe, get back to a normal state, and go again.”

But at 5-foot-9, 220 pounds, Avalos probably surprises ball carriers with his mobility.

“Ian is just one of those kids who is starting to earn his leadership status,” said Leach. “He’s the leader of the defense. He calls all the checks and he’s the one that we’ve entrusted to become that next guy in the middle to be the quarterback of the defense. So we’re really excited about what he brings to the table, and the fact that that will happen for two years is really exciting.”

Avalos also played first and third base for the varsity baseball team this past spring.

“The thing about Ian that I don’t think he gets enough credit for being an athlete, an athlete who is great even in pass coverage. He’s smart, he’s got good hips, he’s able to rotate and do things that I think a lot of people don’t think that someone who weighs 220 pounds would do,” Leach said. “From the first day he stepped on this campus, I knew he would end up being my ‘Mike’ linebacker for two years as soon as he got the opportunity.”

As a fullback, Avalos had several long touchdown runs for the 9-0-1 junior varsity team last year, before getting pulled up to the varsity defense for the playoffs. With several running backs available already, he’s played mostly defense so far this season.

“We make the best runners, best athletes and most aggressive guys play defense before they play offense,” Leach explained. “I’m not worried about our offense. If we shore up our defense and hold people to a reasonable amount of points, we feel we have a chance to win.

“Ian was a great fullback for the JV and he’s a great fullback for us. He’s one of our best at kick-out blocking, driving guys to the outside. But last year in the James Logan game (in a playoff-opening win), he started at linebacker and played the majority of the game, and he also played at Antioch (in the quarterfinals). He’s a very bright kid, a one-time learner. When we go through the opposing offense and the checks we need to make, I feel confident that by Friday night he’s gonna have them all memorized.”

Barrett played basketball from age 7 until last winter, after playing baseball and running track as well. But now a job and AP classes will keep him from being a multi-sport athlete for Vintage.

Like Avalos, his offensive contributions have most been as a blocker.

“I like blocking,” said Barrett, who started playing football in the fourth grade with the Napa Saints. “It’s kind of a fun thing, and you get to catch a couple of balls every once in a while.”

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With Acalanes coming to town again, a year after the Crushers’ heartbreaking 28-27 loss to the Dons, there’s little chance Vintage will be blindsided.

“We learn from our mistakes and to never underestimate your opponent. Our coaches really preach that,” Barrett said. “Just do your jobs, execute them properly and see how it goes.

“I think now we have an idea of like how (the Dons’) schemes work and stuff like that. But our coaches are doing everything they can to put us in the right position for every single play, but we never know. They could pull any tricks out of the bag that they want, so you just gotta stay dialed into the game, stay focused and see what you can do.”

Acalanes won its opener 75-6 over Armijo.

“That’s a lot of points, against any team, so we definitely know they’re going to be a tough unit,” Barrett said. “It looks like they’re pretty disciplined and they seem like us, where they can give it to a lot of people, run the ball or catch the ball. We’ve just got to do what we’re taught.”

Barrett said last week’s El Cerrito touchdown caught the Crushers off guard.

“They were hitting us with the screen passes all night and then they went for the end zone,” he explained.

Avalos said Vintage looks to improve even though it’s allowed only nine points so far.

“We’re just trying to get better every game,” he said. “Our coaches are coaching us up, giving us good schemes to run off of it. They have two good wide receivers and a good running back, so we’ve got to cover those receivers and have our front guys do their jobs.”

Avalos spends more time on baseball, playing not only for Vintage but also for the Sacramento-based California Club Baseball team in the summer, competing out of state in some tournaments.

Barrett said assistant coach Chris Yepson keeps the team in shape.

“Coach Yepson has been pushing us in the weight room,” he said. “If he sees anyone slacking, it’s bad news. He’s really serious about it. It’s not like we see him as a mean guy at all. He just has his priorities.

“I think the biggest prize is on Friday nights when we’re not tired in the fourth quarter.”

Added Avalos, “Chris is nice, but when it comes to the weight room and our conditioning and strength are his ordeal, so you’ve got to be the best. Sometimes he makes it fun by having us play tic-tac-toe in running form, or capturing the flag.”

Avalos said football provides a good balance to classes.

“It’s fun to have an outlet, but at the same time it teaches you discipline and helps you like focus more,” he said. “If I’ve got to focus out here, I’m going to focus in class.”

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Sports Reporter

Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.