Dr. X hasn’t forgotten roots


Dr X

October 2, 2012

By John Murphy 

Former Capuchino High athlete John Xerogeanes is known as “Dr. X” at the Emory University School of Medicine, but he’s technically not a superhero.

Xerogeanes operated on former President Jimmy Carter for a torn rotator cuff, but he doesn’t brag about it.

And not only is X the Chief of Sports Medicine and Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Emory University, but he’s the team physician at Georgia Tech University — though he swears he doesn’t bleed Yellow Jackets blue and gold.

“In sports medicine you can’t be a fan,” Xerogeanes said by phone from his home in Atlanta. “You can like the kids but you have to divorce yourself from being a fan, otherwise you’ll be overzealous and make a mistake.”

In fact with Xerogeanes (a Greek name pronounced zer-oy-an), little is as simple or black and white as it seems, dating back to his days as a football and basketball player at Capuchino.

“John was a good friend of mine,” said Tim Bowler, the former Menlo-Atherton High basketball coach who was a high school teammate of X (as he is known to San Brunans). “He was a senior when I was a junior and he was big from playing football and he’d set picks to free me and Dennis Chambliss up to take shots.”

In football X was more accomplished, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound wrecking ball of a linebacker who made all-league for co-coaches John Minahan and Albie Steenvoorde. Former Serra coaching legend Jesse Freitas Sr. was the Mustangs’ offensive coordinator that season.

That was the mid-1980s and the world was different then. Hazing was more tolerated and Bowler said that on “Freshmen Fridays” at Cap, ninth grades would get the business from older students.

“When I was a freshman, X and Gerald Palmer were chasing me around campus and were going to hang me over the sophomore wall by my underwear,” Bowler said. “So I ran into this open classroom and they were having a Black Student Union meeting. It was like the scene in Animal House – I sat down and nobody said a word. X and Gerald were standing at the door drooling, waiting for me to come out, but I never did.”

Bowler, who attended three different schools with X, said he’s only mildly surprised at his former teammate’s success.

“He was sort of under the radar as far as how intelligent he was,” the Menlo-Atherton teacher said. “He took A.P. (advanced placement) classes, but I wasn’t in them. I knew he wanted to be a doctor, but I didn’t know how successful he’s become.”

Added Steenvoorde: “John was an overachiever and worked hard at everything he did. I wish I had 100 Johns. He was also a winner; he didn’t like to lose. And he never gave up.”

Xerogeanes is big time these days, specializing in the care of knee and shoulder injuries. In addition to his work with Georgia Tech, he’s published research articles, written chapters of textbooks and has helped develop surgical techniques. He also travels internationally and lectures and educates other physicians.

But with X there’s always the dichotomy – the super-achiever surgeon balanced by his middle-class San Bruno roots … which probably explains his occasional use of salty language and a tendency toward self-deprecation.

“I’m the bright one who got his first paying job when he was 33,” said X, referring to his post-graduate work at Emory, his residency at Pittsburgh Medical Center and his sports medicine fellowship in Vail, Colo. “I’m 47 now and I’m finally free and clear of all my debts.”

He got the gig at Georgia Tech, partially because of his playing experience at UC Davis where he was a teammate of current Boise State coach Chris Petersen, among others.

“George O’Leary was the coach then and he wanted someone who played college football like me, not just some guy in a suit,” X said. “I think he also liked it that I knew where the Abbey Tavern in San Francisco was.”

Asked what advice he’d have for the many current prep athletes interested in medicine or athletic training, X said: “Keep your grades up, because if you get good grades and play sports, then nobody can (mess) with you. And don’t give up. With each stage of medicine, things got harder and harder, but because of my sports background, I was able to game-plan my steps and things worked out.”

X now lives comfortably with his wife of 10 years, Teri; daughter Thea (7) and son Rocco (5), whom he coaches in youth football. But this is the local-boy-makes-good story that X agrees almost didn’t happen.

When John Xerogeanes was in grade school, he was riding in a camper with his father Gus (a grade school principal), mother Jo and older brothers Dean and Jim to his grandmother’s house in Santa Rosa.

Traveling on highway 101 just past Corte Madera, the vehicle was hit by another driver, did a 360-degree spin and plowed into the center divider. John was unharmed, but middle brother Dean – a three-sport star and student body president at Parkside Junior High – died as a result of the crash.

“My parents went through an ungodly process, but I was just a little kid and didn’t understand,” X said. “What helped me was my attachment to sports. Without teams to play on, it would have been terrible.”

“(Dean) was my role model and it was hard on me when I was young, but it also focused me. I knew I couldn’t slack off because that’s not what my brother would have done.”


They’re baaacckkk! Oak Grove prevails

Anu Tuiono

By John Murphy 

SAN JOSE – Oak Grove was little more than an afterthought entering league this season.

Mediocre. Middle-of-the packers. Yesterday’s Team.

That was before a 7-0 league season, capped Friday night by the Eagles’ impressive 14-6 victory against host Pioneer. The victory gave coach Jay Braun’s team an outright BVAL-Mt. Hamilton championship and a berth in the CCS Open Division playoffs. Not bad for a program that had lost nine of its previous 14 games over one-plus seasons before league started.

“They’re a hell of a team,” Pioneer slotback/defensive back/slotback Elijah Roberts said. “They deserve to be in the Open Division — just their personnel. They can power the ball or they can throw the ball deep and they can run outside. They have athletes.”

Too many for Pioneer, it turns out. Oak Grove (7-3, 7-0 BVAL-MH) with a sledgehammer second-half running game led by junior Anu Tuiono and a fearsome defense, simply overwhelmed a Mustang team that was averaging more than 40 points per game in league.

Despite Oak Grove’s second-half brilliance, Pioneer (8-2, 6-1) still had a chance, trailing by eight points with 4:17 left in the game. Aided by two 15-yard Oak Grove penalties, the Mustangs move to the 24-yard line where they faced a second-and-five. Quarterback Zach Silva tried to hit favorite receiver Lou Coulombe on a slant pattern but the pass was too high. Coulombe deflected it into the hands of Oak Grove back Tajhel Johsnon with 2:14 left. One first down later, Oak Grove ran out the clock and lustily celebrated its well-earned title.

“I was playing man to man coverage — actually Cover 3,” Johnson said. “He ran a slant and he tipped it up and I was just there to get it and I was just thinking ‘I got to try to score’ and I started running, but slipped up.”

It was a rare second-half misstep for Oak Grove which muddled — along with Pioneer — through an ugly 0-0 first half and then awakened after the break.

Pioneer, blown out in last season’s CCS Open first round, will now wait to see what happens with Serra and Bellarmine Saturday in the WCAL. A Serra loss could open the door for a trip to the Open Division; a Serra victory means Pioneer will likely play in Division II. The loss snapped Pioneer’s eight-game winning streak.

“We need to come out to practice (Saturday) morning ready to play and then go to CCS and hopefully get that championship,” Roberts said.

The comedy of errors that was the first half began with Oak Grove losing nine yards on its first offensive play from scrimmage and Pioneer losing 10 on its initial play. Bad center snaps and tackles for losses were frequent. That changed dramatically to start the second half as Oak Grove. operating out of its Power-I, started pounding the left side mercilessly with Tuiono (21 carries, 160 yards, two touchdowns).

Running behind the offensive line of Dillan Misaalefua, Benjamin Farias, Rushawn Jones, Deshawn Hodge and John Quezada, Oak Grove went 55 yards in seven plays and appeared to score, only the ball was fumbled on the cusp of the goal line and went through the end zone for a touchback.

It was a reprieve for Pioneer.

But the Mustangs couldn’t capitalize. Oak Grove made good on its next possession by running nine consecutive times punctuated by Tuione’s 12-yard touchdown run with 1:21 left in the third quarter for 7-0.

“We tried hitting the left side and it seemed to be working and we just went at it,” Farias said. “They couldn’t stop it, so we decided to keep running it as long as we could.”

Pioneer didn’t quit. It rallied with a 77-yard drive on its next possession, highlighted by a 29-yard Silva-to-Robert Barragan pass. That set up Adrian Cervantes’ 2-yard run for 7-6 with 10:46 left in the game (Pioneer missed the extra point).

Getting the ball at its own 47 after the kickoff, Oak Grove scored in just three plays, capped by Tuiono’s 14-yard run for 14-6.

“I just said I’m going to follow my blocks, do what my coach says and we’re going to come out with the W,” Tuiono said.

The junior was everywhere in this one. Besides his big rushing day, he had 10 tackles on defense, including four solo, three for loss and one sack.

Tuiono had plenty of help. Grady Ryan had eight tackles, Misaalaefua recorded five tackles and one sack, Hoa Furtado Eha had seven tackles including three sacks and Jelani Brown, Jaimene Ashby and Jones all had four tackles. Ray Ricks contributed a sack.

Oak Grove’s defense kept the heat on Silva and held him to a sub-.500 passing night, though he did throw for 150 yards. The Eagles’ defensive backfield of Johnson, Byers, Jacob Harvey and Tuiono was usually in the right spot and didn’t get beat long.

Now it’s onto the Open for Oak Grove, a school that has known success at the highest level of CCS multi times before.

“I feel very confident now,” Farias said. “We’re just going to wait and see who we’re going to play in the first round and then we’ll practice and see if we can win the CCS Open Division title.”

Quirky, endearing Larsen leads Menlo

Keith Larsen

ATHERTON, CA – Keith Larsen was always a quick study on the basketball court. It was off the court where letters and numbers on chalkboards were a hopeless jumble and the world refused to move at his hummingbird-like pace.

Nobody knew it back at St. Robert’s School in San Bruno, but Larsen was afflicted with not only dyslexia which makes some letters and numbers appear transposed, but the mysterious attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some of it still bothers him.

“It’s not an issue,” the Menlo School basketball coach insists. “I just told the kids that if I superimpose something to call me on it. I don’t do it on purpose.”

The Knights, 9-3 heading into tonight’s 7:30 game against visiting Woodside Priory, are more amused than anything by their colorful new coach.

Asked about Larsen’s faulty grasp of spelling, junior center Charlie Roth said “There have been some good mistakes on the board. ‘Scissors’ — that was tough. There have been others. Oh ‘Thumbs down’ without the “b” — that’s been just about every other time.”

None of this has hindered Larsen, 58, who has taken a team that went 12-14 last season and has nobody taller than his own 6-foot-2 frame, and won 75 percent of his games. The Knights are tied for first place with Sacred Heart Prep and Pinewood in with the West Bay league with a 3-0 record.

“I just told the kids that they don’t have the smartest coach in the world, but that nobody will try harder or out-work me,” Larsen said. “Thank God for spell check on computers. I just need to write down everything ahead of time on the board and even then I might have three or four misspelled words. We just joke about it.”

If anyone back in San Bruno during Larsen’s formative years of the 1960s knew about such things, all of the clues were there. The inventive spelling, the constantly moving body limbs, the fluttering from one activity to the next — they were all apparent to anyone paying attention.

A perpetual-motion machine, Larsen and his pals thought nothing of playing 4-5 games of hoops at the San Bruno Rec Center followed by a few games of pool downstairs and then a bike ride down to Capuchino High to kick some field goals. After that of course he needed a double cone and a Coke at Shaw’s Ice Cream — because isn’t a severe infusion of pure sugar just what every hyperactive kid needs?

“I never thought of it as anything bad,” Larsen said of his frenetic pace. “I like it. My mom and dad always told me that you’re given things you can do well and things you can’t do well. In my case I was given a body that was suited to playing sports and an ability to talk. I always knew in school if I was having trouble to ask questions and then I just worked as hard as I could.”

Larsen, after surviving the nuns and lay teachers at St. Robert’s, played basketball for two years at Serra and then transferred to the now-defunct Crestmoor High in San Bruno where he started for two seasons under former coach Pete Pontacq. He also played under the late, great Lyle Newcomer at Skyline College and graduated from San Francisco State in 1985.

His impressive coaching resume includes tenures as a head coach at Woodside High, Menlo College and Cal State Stanislaus and a stint as an assistant under Mike Montgomery at Stanford.

Always flexible, Larsen while at Stanford was once assigned to scout a Cal game at Berkeley. But he got stuck in traffic on the San Mateo bridge, pulled over in Hayward and watched the game on TV and then bluffed his way through his scouting report to the coaching staff. Now that takes moxie.

And, oh, did we mention Larsen if left-handed?

Whatever his shortcomings and peccadilloes, the Knights have taken to Larsen’s up-tempo offense, intense man defense and array of endearing quirks.

“Coach Larsen has definitely changed the program around,” Roth said. “So far it’s for the better. It’s a new style of offense and getting quick buckets is more fun.”

Said Menlo star Liam Dunn: “He always says the ends don’t justify the means. He always wants us to do things the right way, regardless of whether we make the shot or not. He wants us to do things his way.”

Larsen also thinks the refs should dance to his crazy samba beat, as his teen-age daughter Victoria explained.

“He makes me laugh so hard,” she said. “When he coached at Stanislaus he would get so fired up that he was funny to watch. He’d get on the refs and you could see the look of confusion on their faces.”

Led by players such as David Nahm, Jack Hammond, Jared Lucian, Tench Coxe, Will Richardson, Dunn and Roth, Menlo has followed the lead of its off-beat coach in overachieving. Just as Larsen’s myriad personal obstacles didn’t handcuff him, a lack of height nor overwhelming talent haven’t stopped them.

“Our kids play so hard,” Larsen said. “They’re great kids. We have a small team so if the ball goes in, we win. If not, we have a dogfight.”

Reach John Murphy at jmurphy@prep2prep.com. Follow him on twitter at @PrepCat

MURPH’S PLACE: Menlo plenty inspired

Michael Harris


WEST HILLS, CA — It was Monday night at the non-league Chaminade Christmas Tournament and Menlo School coach Keith Larsen was already in mid-season form

His team trailing by 23 points in the second quarter to Taft-Woodland Hills, Larsen calls time out, plants a chair in front of the Knight bench — he has an artificial hip — and forcefully reminds the players about making bounce passes to the post, going up strong to the basket and using good judgment.

“Just because you’re wide open in the corner, doesn’t mean you just launch it,” Larsen tells a young Knight. “We’ve got to make some shots, but we’re not making any shots so the next best thing is to try to get to the basket.”

Close your eyes for a moment and it could be last year, same tournament and the same time of year. Except that something – someone – is missing. It is Michael Harris, the 26-year-old Knight assistant coach and newly hired Menlo counselor who was killed Sept. 6 in a boating collision off Catalina Island in Southern California.

Harris was the son of former president and CEO of the San Francisco 49ers Peter Harris and his wife Jan. He was also a 2008 Menlo grad who helped the Knights to the section Division IV title as a senior, wearing No. 11.

Monday night a Navy blue shirt emblazoned with “HARRIS 11” in white letters was draped over a folding chair at the end of the bench next to Larsen as he endured a 65-41 defeat.

“We think about him all the time,” Larsen said. “Even when it comes to just the little things. I have my bag and in it is my book and whiteboard, cards for the plays we call out, marking pens, gum and mints. At the end of the game that stuff would be all over the place and he’d gather it all up for me. When I’d look in my bag it would all be there. Saturday night I was joking that it takes three guys now to (keep me organized).”

Pressed about the gum and breath-mint combo, Larsen said his mints of choice (Mentos) “perk up the gum when it starts to lose its flavor.”

“I’m not a nervous guy,” Larsen said, “but when I coach a game I’ve got all this gum and Mentos in my pockets and sometimes I’ll reach for a marking pen to draw up a play and I’ll pull out the Mentos. Then the kids are like ‘Coach, that’s not a pen.’”

Larsen was joking as is his wont, but the returning Menlo players were serious as a tax audit when describing the impact Harris had last year in helping the Knights to the section Division IV title game.

“We’ve dedicated the whole season to him,” Menlo junior forward Charlie Roth said. “Every time I step on the court I think of him, especially since I wear the same number he did. It’s just a reminder that the season is for him and the season is bigger than us and it’s really for the whole Menlo community.”

Harris was a gritty player while at Menlo, the kind of guy Larsen with his blue-collar San Bruno roots loves.

“When we’re playing or making the hustle plays we think of coach Harris,” Menlo reserve forward John Guiragossian said. “He meant so much to the team. In high school and throughout his whole basketball career he was a hustle player. We just kind of want to emulate what he did on the court and take it to the next level.”

As a Knight assistant coach, Harris acted as a buffer between the rough-around-the-edges, direct Larsen and the players. He’d pull them aside at the gym and soothe them or chase them down in the parking lot for a one-on-one chat. He made such an impact on Guiragossian that the Menlo player heaped praise on the Knight assistant at the senior retreat, roughly a week before the coach’s death.

“We do this thing on the senior retreat where everyone talks about someone specific,” Guiragossian said. “Coach Harris was in the room and I decided to let him know how special he was to me and the basketball team. Although it was very tragic for him to pass so soon, I’m at least happy that my last words to him were something positive. I’ll never forget it.”

So far the season dedicated so lovingly to Harris is not going as planned. Menlo (2-6) has played a killer schedule with losses to such respectable programs as Burlingame, Mills, Sequoia, Menlo-Atherton and Half Moon Bay piling up. They defeated Woodside 68-52 before heading to West Hills and took down Reseda on Saturday in the Chaminade opener, but then were no match for dripping-with-talent Taft which wasn’t even at full strength.

“They didn’t have the same talent as us,” Taft senior 6-foot-9 center Travis Patrick said of Menlo. “They played hard, but skill-wise they weren’t there.”

Menlo, like Taft, is short-handed. Starting senior point guard Ben Simon is out indefinitely with mononucleosis. Three big men Larsen was counting on are missing for a variety of reasons.

“This team is still getting together – we’ve only had about a month-and-a-half together,” Guiragossian said. “I think when league comes around we’ll have it figured out and it will show how hard we’re playing for (Harris).”

Said Larsen: “There’s a method to my madness. We’re playing up (in competition) a little bit this year. The teams we’re playing are as good or better than what we’ll see in conference. We’ll be fine once we get there.”

So the veteran coach forges ahead, pushing his players to their limits, cracking wise to the press and trying desperately to keep his coaching bag in order.

And if it’s inspiration he desires, he knows exactly where to find it – draped over a chair at the end of the bench.