Gavilan tries to avenge last year
’s 49-7 loss in Merced
From the beginning, head football coach John Lango knew that the pre-Coast Conference portion of the 2003 schedule would be grueling, a a rigorous test to prepare for the four-game conference sprint beginning in late October.
The Merced Blue Devils present the first strong opponent as the Rams open the 10-game season at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mustang Stadium.
Since Sierra College and College of San Mateo remain on the Rams’ schedule, Lango might suggest that the Blue Devils, though a talented member of the rugged Valley Conference, are not among the biggest obstacles awaiting this year.
“This is an important one,” the fourth-year Gavilan mentor offered prior to a recent practice. “Merced’s a good test for us. “We’ll be okay. We’re going to be better than last year (a 49-7 loss in Merced).”
Indeed, the last two years of the Gavilan-Merced rivalry have left little to cheer Ram fans. Gavilan failed to score at all against the Blue Devils in the 2001 lidlifter in Gilroy, allowing Merced to escape with a 25-0 victory. Gavilan did lead 7-6 after one quarter last year on a Danny Gallo run, but Merced scored four touchdowns in a nine-minute span of the second quarter. Tight end Will Lawrence, back for a sophomore campaign at tight end for Gavilan, managed five grabs for 68 yards in his collegiate debut.
While Lango is still working on a starting line-up, he has decided on the kicking game. Brandon Zertuche out of San Jose’s Lincoln High will handle the punting. Gustavo Valdovinos, a frosh linebacker out of Yerba Buena, should be the place-kicker. Wide-out A.J. Garbin, who prepped in Hawaii, offers relief potential at place-kicking.
Tony Lewis begins his 15th season as the head coach of the Blue Devils, an indication that the Rams can expect a familiar Merced offensive and defensive alignment this weekend.
“Merced’s well-coached,” said Lango. “They’ll sit in more two-back offense than we will, and they like to run. They’ll run some option at us.”
As with most community college coaches, Lewis welcomes back very few returning starters. The Blue Devils are more experienced than the Gavilan eleven, since many lettermen return from a club that went 4-6 in 2002.
Lewis rates Ralph Sanders, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound left tackle, and receiver JImmy Howard as the top returning offensive players. Leland Hutton, who played several series in the Gavilan game last September, is the Merced starting quarterback.
“We’ve got an interesting situation at running back,” said Lewis.
Corey Jones, a 6-2, 220-pound transfer from the University of Washington, is a top running threat.
Lewis can also call on speedster Joshua Russell, scatback Jesus Ramirez, or red-shirt sophomore Freddie Bland, a Merced High graduate.
After a successful freshman season at Modesto College in 1995, Bland, at 26, has shown Lewis enough potential to have the head coach insert Bland into the first-team mix.
Lewis mentioned corner Greg Alexander, a returning starter, and linebacker Antoine Barlow (6-3, 210), among defensive keys.
“It’s hard to tell how we’ll do,” said Lewis. “We have two actual returning starters on offense, three on defense. I do know we have lots of experience back. We are a better team athletically.”