After finishing the 2017 season 0-10, Gavilan football is brand-new. Well, mostly. John Lango, who coached the Rams from 2000 to 2010, is back for a second go-around, but for the coaching veteran, this is a new era for Gavilan football. And there’s no looking back.
“We say there’s a reason why the windshield is bigger than the rearview window on a car; you got to look forward,” Lango said.
Last season was one to forget at Gavilan. Before the season got off the ground, 17 out-of-state players were booted from the team because of what Gavilan claimed was improper recruiting and prohibited housing, transportation and food benefits. Head coach Mike Dovenberg stepped down at the end of the year, and save for assistant coach Rowen Tupuivao, the staff is all new.
“I got the job on Feb. 13 at 3:30 pm, and five minutes later I was calling coaches and started to get a start on recruiting,” Lango said. “Recruiting is the lifeblood of a team, and you need to recruit every day.”
While recruiting is an everyday task, Lango got off to a late start. National Signing Day, the first day players can sign with colleges, was Feb. 8. By the time Lango got started five days later, many players had already committed to other schools.
Lango has made transparency a priority for out-of-state players interested in playing for Gavilan. Since the actual recruitment of out-of-state players is illegal, interested players must reach out to the school first. When out-of-state players inquire about the program, Lango sends them a fact sheet detailing the cost of living in California.
“It’s expensive to live in California,” Lango said. “It’s not that we don’t want them, but I put the cost out right away to see if they can afford it.”
Because of the late start, Lango was unable to take advantage of last year’s Gilroy football champs. One player from Gilroy High, linebacker Marco Hernandez, will join Gavilan this year. No players are from Christopher High.
“It is what it is,” Lango said. “We don’t have the answer, but we’re working diligently. When these young players decide to go elsewhere, it’s no hard feelings. We’re always here if they need us. They are good players; they just decided to go elsewhere. We don’t ever want to lose local kids. We must do a better job this off-season. We also need to win some games and produce on the field.”
On Monday, June 25, Lango was out with his players on the practice field at Gavilan. It was a hot, if not blazing, summer day. As the players lined up on the goal line, Lango led them through a no-pads summer warm up.
“Run all the way through!” Lango shouted. “Pick ’em up! Nobody’s walking!”
Creating a disciplined team for Lango starts well before player put on pads. Players are never allowed to walk at practice; they must always jog. Shorts and shirts must be school colors. For any player who shows up late, the punishment is running from a blue shed next to the end zone about 100 yards uphill to a pine tree, and back, three times.
In between coaching stints at Gavilan, Lango was the defensive-back coach for Foothill College for two years and assistant head coach as well as linebackers, special teams and defensive backs coach for De Anza College. For Lango, losing the job at Gavilan the first time forced him to grow as a coach.
“In the end, it was one of the best things to happen to me; it made me a better coach,” he said.
Pinning down what the Rams will look like is difficult at the moment. While Lango is determined to run the ball, how his team will effectively do so depends on the players who eventually take the field.
“We want to be a physical football team, and I want physical and mentally tough players,” the coach said. “You can run the ball out of the spread, or we’ll use tight ends if we have them. It will depend on the personnel; we can’t be stupid. You can’t run the option if you don’t have an option quarterback, and you can’t run a zone read offense if you don’t have an athlete.”
As of this week, six quarterbacks were vying for the starting job. Quantity doesn’t always equate to quality, however, and there are only a finite number of reps to go around.
“I need a leader,” Lango said. “They don’t need to be vocal, but he needs to lead the team. … We need a guy to run this program; it can’t just be the coaches.”
Since eligibility in junior college is limited to two years, coaches have a short time to work with their players. Still, legacies can be built.
“A year from now they’ll know how to act and know what to do,” Lango said. “When the new kids come in, the older ones will teach them. It goes, and it goes.”
Along with sprints and agility drills Monday afternoon, Lango’s players hit the Gavilan weight room. It’s small, about the size of two classrooms put together, with equipment old enough to have seen Gavilan great Jeff Garcia in the early ’90s. But help is on the way.
“Our weight room is not great, but we’re putting $45,000 in it by the end of the summer, and that’s a huge plus for us,” Lango said.
With social media, recruiting has become an all-day, everyday job. To keep rolling with the times, Lango has asked all of his coaches to create accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep an eye on players.
“I always tell them to think before they post,” Lango said. “I shared a tweet from Nebraska coach Scott Frost who said they’d go back 10 years to see what players tweet.”
Lango is hoping for positive tweets from his future former players.
“It’s about making these young men to be the best versions of themselves they can be,” Lango said. “I want them to come back in 10 years and say this was the best time of their lives.”