Coaching great honored

Coach Bobby Garcia is hoisted in the air by former players.

Coach Bobby Garcia will tell you that Saturday’s Gavilan College
gridiron reunion and special tribute to the 1973 national
championship team in Hollister was all about his players.
The mob of former Rams in attendance for Gavilan’s home game in
Hollister will tell you otherwise. The shared respect for their
one-time coach was just as strong and clear today as it was during
their playing days under Garcia.
Coach Bobby Garcia will tell you that Saturday’s Gavilan College gridiron reunion and special tribute to the 1973 national championship team in Hollister was all about his players.

The mob of former Rams in attendance for Gavilan’s home game in Hollister will tell you otherwise. The shared respect for their one-time coach was just as strong and clear today as it was during their playing days under Garcia.

“I love Bob Garcia like my father strictly because he treated me like his son,” said All-American safety Mike Mavromatis, who played during the historic 1973 season. “He treated me like one of his sons and I was an 18-year-old kid. He taught us values. He’s a beautiful, beautiful person.”

It was a beautiful moment when Coach Garcia – who led Gavilan to a national title with an 11-0 undefeated season in 1973 to highlight his coaching career from 1972-78, 1982, and 1984-1990 – was hoisted up by his players one more time during the special halftime festivities.

Mavromatis, who set the national record with 22 interceptions at the time as a Ram and then moved on to Long Beach State, was recruited by Garcia out of Ohio. The 30-year gaming businessman made the trip all the way from his home in Memphis, Tennessee for Friday’s banquet and Saturday’s tailgate and halftime tribute.

“I came out strictly for coach and the ’73 guys,” Mavromatis said. “That was the first year (1973) that Bob Garcia brought what they call out-of-staters. I think there was maybe nine, 10 of us.”

Mavromatis was more amazed by the overwhelming hospitality of the Gilroy community from the second he arrived than the national title run his team made in 1973.

“When we got here, we were outsiders and the people, the community – there’s people like the Flores family, the Sanchez family, the Garcia family – they all brought us into their home and made us feel like family,” Mavromatis said. “That’s what started the ’73 season off – the continuity that we had, the brotherhood. The people in this community, that’s what I came back for. It was nice to see these people again. They opened up their homes to us. This was the warmest community that I ever met.”

Along with fullback Tom Heard, who was out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Mavromatis lived in Coach Garcia’s home for one year while he played at Gavilan. It was an act of kindness he will always hold dear to his heart.

“They gave up a lot. We invaded their home, their family life. They had two little kids and we came into their home. We lived upstairs. We invaded the privacy of their home and it was nothing for him. He was just helping kids out,” Mavromatis said. “They brought us in and made us feel like their family and we went on to go 11-0 and we had a great, great team.”

Gilroy-native Marshall Sanchez – who came in from Phoenix, Arizona – was the nose guard for the 1973 championship team and also played in 1972.

“There was no dissension. We worked together. We ran together,” said Sanchez, who recalled meeting at Coach Garcia’s for weekly Sunday runs after a night of celebrating from Saturday’s victory. “The amazing thing was that everybody showed up. Everybody wanted to be a part of that team. It was magic.”

Greg Zazueta, of Gilroy, was a cornerback on the 1973 team that was a perfect mix of out-of-staters and local products.

Zazueta went to Palma High School and, although he didn’t start his senior year there, was a two-year starter at Gavilan.

“The season was awesome. If there was one year of my life that I could live over again that would be the year,” Zazueta said. “It was like we were a family immediately. It wasn’t like, ‘hey, these guys are coming from out of state’ and there’s animosity. We were together from day-one.”

Together through it all, Gavilan came from behind in six of its nine regular-season wins.

The Rams went on to beat Sierra College by a 62-15 spread in their first playoff game and then defeated Mira Costa College by a 16-0 margin to claim the national championship.

But Saturday’s special reunion was not just about the 1973 national championship team. It was about bringing together all the former players of Coach Garcia like Rhett Hall – who played at Gavilan in 1987 and earned a full football scholarship to Cal-Berkeley.

“My goals were to play in the Pac-10. I could have walked on at San Jose State or walked on at Cal, but I wanted to go to school and have an opportunity to play,” said Hall, a Morgan Hillian who was recruited out of Live Oak High School. “It’s great. I think more than anything it says a lot about Coach Garcia and who he is as a person and a coach. All his former players respect him. When we get together, it’s like we’re all family. It’s fun.”

The Chapa Brothers, Juan and Jose, played for Coach Garcia at Gavilan from 1977-78. After graduating from San Benito High in 1975, Juan Chapa became a police officer in Hollister. But when his younger brother graduated two years later and was going to play football at Gavilan, Juan Chapa decided to play alongside him.

“That’s the reason I went back to school. I just really missed playing football,” Juan Chapa said. “When I decided to go back to school and play football, Gavilan was my first choice. I didn’t want to go anywhere else except Gavilan. Then I got a chance to play for Bob. He’s just a great guy to get inspired by. He was a great motivator.”

Juan Chapa’s return to the gridiron under Garcia and the Rams’ coaching staff allowed him to earn a football scholarship to play at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

“It was because of Bobby. It was because of John Garcia, Paul Latzke. Those guys made it possible for me to go out and launch into the future,” said Juan Chapa, who enjoyed seeing all his teammates. “Unfortunately we lose sight at how fast years go by and we lose sight at how time flies and getting back together with these guys was just awesome last night. I really enjoyed it and had a good time.”

So did Jose Chapa, an offensive lineman, who added: “It’s really great. Last night we had a blast telling stories, reminiscing and everything. We had a great time. It was nice seeing everybody and Coach Garcia last night. He was a crack-up.”

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