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Whitworth-Saint John's football playoff game boasts local flavor

Whitworth-Saint John's football playoff game boasts local flavor
Posted: Friday, Nov 24, 2006 - 11:34:58 pm PST
Sports editor

John Giesen and his wife Helen won't have to hop on a plane this week.

Neither will Will and Mary Havercroft.

To watch their sons play college football today, all they'll have to do is make the short drive west to Whitworth College in Spokane, where the host Pirates take on storied Saint John's University of Collegeville, Minn., in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.

Kickoff is scheduled for noon at the Pine Bowl.

Phil Giesen, a 2003 Coeur d'Alene High graduate, is a senior starting at tight end for Saint John's (10-1).

Kyle Havercroft, a 2003 Lakeland High grad, is a junior running back at Whitworth (11-0).

Giesen, who has played mostly on special teams until this year, has been starting at tight end since the fourth game. Coming into the season he had six career catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. This year, he has 11 receptions for 187 yards and three TDs.

Dad John, 68, who retired three months ago after 35 years as an orthopedic surgeon in Coeur d'Alene, played for the Johnnies for four seasons as a tight end/defensive end, graduating in 1960.

"Both Phil and I started our senior year, and not before," John said. "I want to make this clear -- he's eclipsed his dad's athletic prowess on the football field by a ton. There's no question who's the better football player. Phil got all his athletic talent from his mom."

Havercroft redshirted his first season at Whitworth, and when not battling ankle and Achilles injuries, has been a starter most of the time since. This year he's rushed for 444 yards and six touchdowns. In the two seasons prior to this one, he totaled 918 rushing yards and 16 TDs. He was an honorable mention all-Northwest Conference selection last season.

""I'm very proud," said Will Havercroft, athletic director at Lakeland High and defensive line coach for the Hawks' football team. "He's stepping up and doing the things we tried to raise him to do. It's real gratifying."

Saint John's is the winningest football program in Division III history. Coach John Gagliardi is college football's all-time winningest coach with a record of 442-119-11 in 58 seasons -- the last 54 at Saint John's. The Johnnies have won four national titles -- the first two in NAIA.

John Giesen was raised back there, then came to Coeur d'Alene in 1971 to begin his practice.

"I tried to get Phil to go back there, and once he spent some time with coach Gagliardi, he was hooked," John said. "He really cares about you as a person."

Phil Giesen wasn't on the travel squad in 2003, when Saint John's won the Division III title.

Kyle Havercroft also considered playing at Linfield, Willamette, Lewis and Clark and St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minn.

His major is in athletic training -- he served an internship last summer with the Spokane Shock arena football team.

John and Helen Giesen have been back to the Midwest five times this season to watch their son play -- including last week's first-round playoff game against Central Iowa in Pella, Iowa.

Likewise, Will and Mary Havercroft are on a first-name basis with the airlines. According to Will, they've only missed three of Kyle's games with Whitworth over the years, as most of the Pirates' games are in the northwest, or California.

Most weeks, Will goes from football coach on Friday night to just another dad on a 7 a.m. flight Saturday morning to watch their kid play.

"It's nerve-wracking, watching from the stands," Will said. "I'm always coaching."