The Gavilan College football team finished 4-6 overall and in the American Golden Coast Conference. The Rams are hoping to post their first winning season in over a decade. With a slew of returners combined with an influx of talented newcomers, Gavilan is
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Talk to any Gavilan College player or coach, and the message is the same: The Rams are ready for a breakthrough.
“We expect to win this year,” said Mike Dovenberg, who is entering his third season as Gavilan’s coach. “ That’s what you do in college football—you take care of business.”
The Rams plan on doing that based off of a strong recruiting class, top-notch returners and a culture they have in place, one that emphasizes true brotherhood and a family type atmosphere that thrives on developing into something greater besides football players.
“This past off-season we emphasized the type of culture we wanted for this football team,” said receiver P.J. Reichert, who is one of the team’s top returners and a former Christopher standout. “For us, it’s more than football. Coach Mike Dovenberg tells us before we leave Gavilan, he wants us to leave as great young men, brothers and fathers. It’s a great culture we’ve got here. Any time I ever think about quitting, I think about the guy next to me. That mentality is spreading throughout the team.”
Even though the Rams have been disciplined in the weight room and on the field, they would be hard-pressed to produce victories if they didn’t have legitimate talent. Fortunately for Gavilan this season, it seemingly has its most talented team in recent memory.
Offensively, the Rams should have no problem getting into the end zone. R.J. Clark returns at quarterback after making four starts a year ago. He’s a dual threat, capable of beating opponents through the air or on the ground. The former San Benito High standout said he’s excited to utilize all of the impact players around him, including a potent receiving corps featuring returning starters Austin Gomez and Reichert.
“We have a really special group of receivers this year,” said Clark, who mentioned newcomers Maliki Clay and Juwaun Hardy as playmakers.
Clark has improved his arm—he’s more accurate and can throw a nice deep ball—making the passing game all the more formidable. Reichert has great hands and runs strong routes, and yet it’s the time he spends in the film room that might give him the edge over cornerbacks.
“I think where I separate myself is the mental game,” he said. “I get in the playbook, and I study and understand different coverage schemes. I know my opponent’s tendencies and use that to my advantage.”
The run game should be effective with newcomer Devin White looking solid in practice. The offensive line has the makings of a stout one, with 6-foot-1, 300-pound center Billy Bennett and 6-5, 295-pound tackle Josh Ward leading the way. Bennett, who graduated from Live Oak, is returning after a one-year layoff.
“I expect both of them to have really good years, and Billy is probably the toughest guy I’ve ever met,” Dovenberg said.
Gavilan’s defense has struggled mightily at times in recent years, but the team expects to turn things around this season. Some of the key players include 6-1, 215-pound linebacker Anthony Ventura, 6-3, 260-pound tackle/end Phillip Vitek, lineman Joe Criado of Christopher, defensive back Duane Jones and 6-1, 300-pound lineman Eddie McCartney.
“Anthony is really athletic, can go sideline to sideline and is physical enough to mix it up in the box,” Dovenberg said. “We’re fired up about him.”
Whether he’s lined up at tackle or end, Vitek has the ability to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. In the off-season, Vitek knew he needed to improve his hand positioning to get past opposing linemen.
“I worked on my hands to be as fast as I could be off the line,” he said. “I try to use my speed to my advantage.”
Clark is one of the many Gavilan players who have worked hard and taken advantage of their opportunity. The left-hander has put on 15 to 20 pounds of muscle since arriving at Gavilan, which has made him stronger and faster.
“I can throw the ball 75 yards down the field if I have to,” he said.
Clark’s experience last year made him that much more confident going into the past off-season. Despite suffering a partial tear in his left ACL late last season, Clark didn’t need surgery and said he’s better than ever. Just as important, he senses something special from his teammates.
“We’ve got a lot of hungry guys on the team this year,” he said. “A lot of hungry guys on defense who want to kill the quarterback. I’m not too fond of that, and I’m just glad it’s not me they’ll be going after in games.”
Said Dovenberg: “I’m a guy with an offensive (coaching) background, but I firmly believe defense wins championships. And we’re going to make quarterbacks hurry to make decisions.”
The team uses the acronym EAT—effort, attitude and toughness—as its calling card.
“We want to have that type of mentality at all times,” Reichert said. “It’s part of the culture that coach Dovey has built here, and we want to do it for him because he has faith in all of us.”

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Cheeto Barrera is the sports editor for the Morgan Hill Times and Gilroy Dispatch.


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