Longtime Fort Bragg coach Roy Perkins missing the football field

Chopping down large trees and coaching football might not seem to have much in common, but for Fort Bragg High School’s Roy Perkins, the parallels are real.

“I was born and raised on Main Street in Fort Bragg. I have logging history in my family,” Perkins said of his past profession, which led to several injuries. “I might be an adrenaline junkie. Being a log-cutter is physically dangerous and very exciting.”

The physicality, toughness and dedication Perkins needed in the forest dodging falling timber has been fused into Fort Bragg’s football program.

“My coaching philosophy has always been to create the best possible experience for the kids. I am coaching them physically, academically and emotionally,” Perkins said. “High school football is the purest sporting event that we have in our country.”

Perkins, 65, knows his hometown like few others. He worked for local lumber mills as a timber faller for 27 years and has been a part of the Timberwolves’ gridiron program for a total of 30 years. Working in the Mendocino County forests for the first part of the day allowed Perkins to take a job as Fort Bragg’s junior varsity head coach in the afternoons. He started coaching in 1981 and has never looked back.

“I have actually been a JV or varsity head coach in five different decades. I take some pride in that. Not a lot of guys can say that,” said Perkins, who has coached for 39 years, not all in Fort Bragg. “I became a football coach because I saw some things that I didn’t like, so instead of complaining about it I decided to get involved.”

For 22 years, Perkins coached the JV squad and assisted with the varsity program under the mentorship of storied Fort Bragg coach Jack Moyer. The varsity team won North Coast Section championships from 1993-96 and in 1999.

Since the 2012 season, the Timberwolves under Perkins have a stellar 56-34 overall record and a 40-17 mark in the North Coast League I. Fort Bragg won 21 consecutive games against league opponents between 2014 and 2016. The Timberwolves won the league title four of those eight seasons (2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016) and the 2016 team lost in the NCS Division V playoffs 49-35 after a controversial decision by the NCS to move the game from Fort Bragg to a field close to opponent Alhambra in Martinez. The Fort Bragg field was deemed too muddy by section officials, leading to a long road journey for the Timberwolves.

“I feel that our 2016 team should have been a section championship team if we truly played at a neutral site.” Perkins said. “I would have been OK playing in Santa Rosa, but the NCS wouldn’t consider it. We had to play on turf and that affected us. Alhambra was a very fast team.”

Even without the NCS title, Perkins said the goal every season is to win the league championship.

“I could care less about the playoffs. My only focus is on winning league championships,” Perkins said. “My philosophy is that my kids and I are in control of the 10 league games. Whatever happens after that is up to non-football experts at the NCS office.”

Perkins, who was 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds in high school, played football, baseball, and basketball at Fort Bragg High and graduated in 1973. He played football and baseball at Butte Community College and went on to earn a BA in History from Chico State in 1981.

In 2002, Perkins earned his teaching credential and had to leave Fort Bragg to land a teaching job. For the next decade, he taught and coached in several communities north of Sacramento before returning to his hometown in 2012. He is currently a history teacher at Fort Bragg Middle School but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he is teaching remotely in the subjects of English, math, history and science.

“Teachers who are coaches know it is about education first, then athletics. We are trying to develop successful adults,” Perkins said. “It has to be about the education experience first.”

When it comes to football, Perkins said he is not tied to any offensive or defensive game plan but rather adapts his strategy around the players he has and their skill sets. Over the years, the Timberwolves have had wildly different offensive attacks, including well-known approaches like the veer, air raid and spread zone-read.

“I have to adjust things year-to-year based on the players we have. You try and design something to get your best players in space,” Perkins said. “The key to coaching is to see when things aren’t correct and make changes in the middle of the season or game. Halftime adjustments are critical.”

Perkins ― who coached the Fort Bragg varsity baseball team for three seasons from 2016 to 2018 (56-20 overall record, 34-8 in league) before deciding to focus only on football ― said Fort Bragg stresses conditioning and has an advantage due to the cool weather in August and September.

Fort Bragg needs every edge it can get in a competitive league with perennial power Middletown and up-and-coming programs at St. Helena and Kelseyville, he said.

“Our league coaches are a cut above ― they are extremely well-grounded and realistic. They do what is best for the kids,” Perkins said. “Bill Foltmer (Middletown), Brandon Farrell (St. Helena) and Eric Larsen (Kelseyville) ― I really admire them. We compete like hell and do everything we can to beat each other, but when the game is over, we are friends.”

The Timberwolves had a subpar season in 2019 (1-7 overall) and are in a rebuilding mode.

“Last year we were down and had a very poor season. We had a lot of different issues,” Perkins said. “The last two or three years have been bizarre because of the fire situation. It’s hard to get continuity. This year is a rebound year; we should be very competitive.”

Of course, that all depends on whether there is a season due to the coronavirus situation. The NCS set Dec. 7 as the date that high school practices can begin. Fort Bragg is scheduled to open play at Healdsburg Jan. 8, but Perkins said he is skeptical.

“At this point, nobody has told us whether we will have a season. I am hoping the school district will make the call before I have to. If they give me the green light, I have to make the best decision for my players, assistant coaches and program in general,” Perkins said. “There are so many questions people haven’t addressed: How do you get your kids to games? How do you get kids tested? Are there enough referees? Will small schools have enough kids to play? There are a lot of questions here.”

Perkins, along with every other high school coach the state, is waiting and wondering. He said this is the first fall since he has started coaching that he’s stopped and noticed the weather.

“To be a football coach you have to be an optimist ― glass half full ― but with each passing week the odds of a season are getting worse,” Perkins said. “These kids have been through such terrible times and they don’t need people to tell them there is a season and then it’s canceled.”

Perkins also said he worries about his health amid the pandemic, as he is someone deemed high risk with preexisting conditions. He had a heart attack in 2010 and has had two stents inserted in his arteries. While he said his health is fine and he plans on coaching if there is indeed a season, Perkins added, “I probably don’t want the coronavirus to kill me.”

Over his years in football, Perkins has seen the game evolve, he said.

“Football has changed a bit to reflect the changes in society. Physically, kids might not be as tough as in the ’90s, but the athletes are better now,” Perkins said. “The focus has gone a little bit more to the individual than the team, but good coaches can overcome that.”

Fort Bragg High School helps foster a winning program, he said, with support from the administration, eight assistant coaches that are committed to the program and the “best small school sports stadium in Northern California.”

“We have had some excellent athletes over the years,” Perkins said. “Our teams are going to be competitive and very disciplined. Our kids adapt very well.”

Perkins, who lives in the coastal town with his wife, Dori, said he has no idea when he might retire.

“I have no idea what I am going to do in retirement. I’ve done coaching for so long I don’t have any other hobbies,” Perkins said. “Football is therapy for us older guys. It’s where we really feel like we know what we are doing.”

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