Donny Torres has been proving people wrong his entire life. That’s what happens when you’re an athlete who isn’t particularly big or tall (Torres is 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds). Torres, who graduated from San Benito High in 2017 and played at Gavilan College last season, has heard it all ever since he started playing the sport.
First, it was that he would never be able to play at the two- or four-year college level. Then people told him he would have to switch from his preferred position of safety/linebacker to receiver in college because he wasn’t physical or big enough. Any time Torres heard someone doubt him, he used that as fuel to overcome any challenge that came his way.
“They said I wasn’t cut out to play on defense at the next level,” Torres said. “I kept that in the back of my mind and kept grinding.”
On July 30, Torres realized his dream to play at the four-year level when he signed a letter of intent to play at the University of La Verne, a strong Division III program in Southern California.
“It’s been an emotional journey from where I started to where I am now,” he said. “La Verne is the best choice for me.”
Torres said he had offers from three other schools, including Kentucky Christian, which sent their offer to Torres on April 2. Torres thought long and hard about the offer and probably would’ve ended up there had La Verne not come on late in the recruiting process. Greg Sherwood, who is the defensive backs coach at La Verne, texted Torres on June 20 letting Torres know they were interested in him playing at La Verne.
“He said they were looking for a player to play the position I played at Gavilan, the nickel,” Torres said. “At Gavilan, I played the willy/nickel, a drop safety and outside linebacker. Coach said he liked how I played physical and was not afraid to stick my head in the pile, and he liked the way I covered slot receivers because that’s what they really needed. I had other options, but I feel La Verne is the best fit for me.”
When Torres made his final decision, it was equal parts relief and nirvana, mostly because of the journey he’s been on to get to this point. Torres lost most of his junior season at San Benito High after suffering a broken femur while returning a punt. Far from putting him on a path of no return, Torres’ level of resiliency only grew from that incident.
“He was as dedicated as any player I had ever been around to get back to the game,” longtime Haybalers coach Bryan Smith said. “He broke his femur junior year and was squatting in the weight room by April.”
Torres had a solid senior season and elected to play at Monterey Peninsula College in the fall of 2017. However, Torres only played a couple of games at MPC and decided to transfer to Gavilan for his sophomore season. During his two years playing at the community college level, Torres has made tremendous strides in every phase of the game.
“I’m way more physical and play a lot smarter,” he said. “I can tell things by looking at the QB’s eyes, or when I look at the linemen’s hands and can tell if he is going to run block or pass block. I read the field better and feel like I play smarter and faster with a chip on my shoulder basically. I have a little more swagger on the field and a little more fun with it while still taking it seriously.”
When Torres decided to transfer to Gavilan, even he didn’t know if it was the right decision at the time.
“I wondered if there would be enough film for recruiters to see,” he said. “I thought about that and doing this for family and friends.”
Southwestern University in Texas was the first four-year program to express interest in Torres shortly after the completion of the 2018 season. Additional offers from other schools followed, and Torres would eventually realize his dream of playing football at the four-year level.
“It was a relief after everything I had been through,” he said. “To know people still wanted me and that I would have a chance to play at the next level was huge.”
Other schools came in with offers in the months that ensued, but it was La Verne that captured Torres’ heart.
“I was holding out a little bit (for a school like La Verne), and it probably wasn’t the best idea (given I had offers waiting),” he said. “But it worked out in the long run.”