JUCO Football: Gavilan preps for new season

Rams' offensive linemen, left to right, Mike Renteria,  Jacob Livingston, Cody Van Gelder and Ramon Guzman line up during a June 25 practice at Gavilan College.

head football coach Mike Dovenberg could easily be mistaken for one of his players. During Thursday’s practice, the fresh-faced coach was out on the field, tossing the ball and training alongside the Rams. Temperatures rose into the high 80s, but that did little to wear Dovenberg down. The newly minted head coach’s energy is infectious and it has spread to his Rams players.
“Coach Dovey brings excitement to the team,” sophomore defensive back Pat McQueen said. “That’s what we need. We need someone to bring that to us; someone to make us excited (to) get out there and explode.”
That seems to be exactly what’s happening.
Even a brief intersquad scrimmage had the Rams going wild. Gavilan players cheered as running backs tried to make it past the team’s defenders, who have grown significantly in the offseason. In fact, the whole team has added muscle in an effort to avoid two areas it fell flat in last year: size and depth.
“The weight room ma-kes a good football pla-yer a great football player,” Dovenberg said of his team. “All of these guys worked really, really hard and I love having it translate on the practice field.”
The hard work is far from over, however.
The season is a little more than two months away and the competition has already begun. The Rams are each fighting for their spots on the roster with the goal to earn a starting role for the Sept. 5 season opener at Shasta College in Redding.
Returning Gav sophomore quarterback Sterling Montgomery, for instance, is competing with two others for the starting job. Dovenberg said he’s not looking for anything flashy from his starter, whoever it ends up being. Instead, he wants someone who can protect the football and make intelligent, quick decisions on the field.
Montgomery said he’s willing to fight for his job, especially under Dovenberg’s leadership. The sophomore quarterback said he and his teammates pressed hard to have Dovenberg at the helm, and now they want to get on the field and prove he’s the right fit.
“We didn’t want to be coached by anyone else…we fought for these guys,” Montgomery said. “We all have something to prove. We can all play with a chip on our shoulder and that’s going to be a good thing this year.”
While Gavilan will see a plethora of new faces, it will have some familiar ones back this season, too.
In addition to Montgomery, wide receiver Armani Miller returns to bolster the offense. He averaged 95.7 yards per game and scored seven touchdowns through six games for Gavilan.
Joining them is Jose Manzo, a slot player who had 193 yards and a TD through nine games last year. Manzo said the changes he has seen in the offseason have him chomping at the bit to compete. The difference between this year and last year, he said, is that the 2015-16 Rams understand what it means to be a team.
“Last year we had a lot of individuals on the team, this year we’re more of a family,” Manzo said. “(We need to) stay loyal to each other and play hard every snap, just keep the gas going 100 percent, all the way (through the season).”
On defense, Gavilan looks to McQueen to lead. He racked up 37 tackles and two interceptions through 10 contests last season and said he’s ready to do even more damage for Gavilan this season.
The defense will have big shoes to fill, replacing the likes of Cody Hendricks, Dillon Babbs and Mike Pirnik—all of whom will play for four-year institutions this fall. The Rams have brought in plenty of DBs, a position they’ve been short on in recent years, and McQueen said he wants to make sure they’re ready come game time.
“Coming in here, I want to be a leader to the whole team, not just my defense,” McQueen said. “I want to make sure that everyone knows I’m here to win. I’m here to make a family.”
The Rams agree, winning is the ultimate goal. Montgomery, McQueen and Manzo all believe this team has what it takes to bring championship glory back to Gavilan, but know it must take things one step at a time.
And Dovenberg thinks his team can do it, too.
“We want to win local,” the Rams coach said.  “There’s talent here in our area from Monterey up to San Jose and east to Los Banos-Pacheco. We can win with local guys. That’s our identity. We’re a Bay Area, California team.”