Last year was a season to forget for Gavilan College. Amid violations and an 0-10 record, stability is what the program needed. John Lango stepped in, back in charge of a team he led from 2000 to 2010. If Lango is going to bring back wins for the Rams, he’ll need big seasons from two local players in particular.
Sobrato High product and quarterback John Bell and former San Benito High defensive tackle Richard ‘Big Chief’ Justo, will need to anchor the offense and defense. Incidentally, both are pretty large—Bell, at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, and Justo at 6-3 and 320 pounds. It’s a big job for some big boys.
Bell has big dreams. As an Alabama Crimson Tide football fan, a call from coach Nick Saban would be a dream. But, he’d settle for a shot to play for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, too.
“Alabama would be amazing, but it’s not a quarterback pipeline; the position dream would be Michigan,” Bell said.
Going from Gavilan to the NFL would be a meteoric jump for Bell, but it’s not unprecedented. Once upon a time, there was a Gilroy High quarterback named Jeff Garcia, who parlayed two years at Gavilan and a transfer to San Jose State, into a 17-year career in pro football, including four pro bowls as quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
College football is the same sport but a different game than high school ball. The players are bigger and faster. The X’s and O’s are more complicated, the competition is better, and the stakes are higher.
Bell, who like a lot of players watches Last Chance U, a Netflix documentary series that chronicles junior college football, sees similarities between Lango and the Independence College coach Jason Brown. They’re both intense, but Lango’s approach is far more civil.
“They baby you a lot in high school, they yell, but it’s not very direct; here, they get on you,” Bell said shortly after running suicides. “It’s hot, and the coaches are yelling at you, and if you’re behind a few seconds, the coaches are on you.”
Offensive line health is crucial for the Rams because as it is, the numbers are thin. As of Aug. 12, they had five or six full-time offensive linemen in freshman Daniel Pasillas (San Benito), Luis López (Sobrato), Jose Torres (Gilroy), and sophomores Joe Criado and Victor Sevillano, both Christopher grads. Reluctantly, Lango will need some defensive linemen to play on offense.
“I need to get them healthy, and we’re still recruiting; we’re always recruiting,” Lango said.
Lopez twisted an ankle during a Saturday practice and had just come back from an injured hamstring before getting hurt again. A few linemen missed practice because of work. Without the missing players, putting together a full offensive line for practice was difficult. In all, the Rams have 50 players on the roster.
That number will surely rise in the coming years as Lango puts his stamp on the program. Regardless of numbers, their first game, Sept.1 against Los Medanos College, is near. On offense, the Rams will go with a run-first spread offense.
“Our goal is to run the ball,” Lango said. “We’ll do the play action, and if the running game isn’t working, we’ll adjust.”
At running back freshman Kyree Harbin (Santa Teresa) has the inside track against another freshman and Santa Teresa product, Devon Day. Javier Molano, an out-of-state player from Washington state, is also in the mix.
“Kyree is a big boy,” Lango said.
Sophomore receiver Juwaun Hardy, one of the team’s few returning sophomores, figures to be a starter.
“Hardy has good speed, hands and he runs crisp routes,” Lango said. “Corey Garcia (sophomore), and freshman Andrew Richelle, are Julian Edelman type players who are good in open space.”
Justo took a year off from football following his senior year at Hollister High School. Lango’s son Mike Lango, now an assistant coach at Gavilan, coached Justo during his junior and senior years of high school and the personal connection and opportunity to play football again convinced Justo to commit to Gavilan.
“I was working odd jobs, but I missed the sport,” Justo said. “Coach Lango is a great guy. He’s awesome. He works with us individually, and he makes sure we get everything we need. We’re never afraid to ask him questions. He’s an open guy.”
Justo will be the anchor of the defensive line at nose tackle with freshman Zach Maxey, another Santa Teresa grad, at defensive end and sophomore Cameron Castro at defensive tackle. Freshman Brandon Garcia, a seven-year Army veteran, returns to the football field at 24-years old to play defensive end and offensive line.
“We’re a 4-3 team right now, but that could change,” Lango said. “We’ll do whatever we need to be successful. We don’t have a lot of blitz packages right now, but if we need to, we will. We’ll do what suits our guys.”
Sophomore Anthony Navarro and freshman Neyantez Langston are in the mix at outside linebacker. Gilroy High product Marco Hernandez and freshman Carlos Lopez will compete at middle linebacker.
Sophomore Matt Wiitanen is back for his second year, and freshman Nathan Aguayo joins him at cornerback. Sophomore Cecil Murphy will compete with Donny Torres, a San Benito grad and transfer from Monterey Peninsula College at rover. Freshman Alex Calderon is at free safety.
Since some players will need to play offense and defense, depth will be crucial. Lango believes that freshman Jaime Garcia (San Benito), sophomore Noah Munoz and Manny Dominguez will see plenty of time on the field.
Gavilan isn’t Florida State, Ohio State, or any other powerhouse school. It’s a community college football team. Players don’t get a food allowance, and some need to work to pay rent. At the end of Saturday’s practice, Lango asked his guys to wash their jerseys when they got home. But if they want to make it to the big time, washing jerseys is a small job.
Thankfully, football is still fun. Maybe not during conditioning though.
“It’s a great day,” said a smiling Lango as his team ran gassers. “You guys get to go eat Lucky Charms. I need to do chores!”
9/1 at Los Medanos-Pittsburg, 2 p.m.
9/8 vs. Redwoods, 1 p.m.
9/15 at De Anza, 1 p.m.
9/22 vs. Monterey Peninsula, 2 p.m.
9/29 at Hartnell, 6 p.m.
10/6 vs. Foothill, 2 p.m.
10/13 vs. Reedley, 2 p.m.
10/20 at Cabrillo, 2 p.m.
11/3 vs. San Jose City, 2 p.m.
11/10 at Merced, 1 p.m.
Note: all home games at Gilroy High