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Former Hollister players look to play key roles in Gavilan’s turnaround

Former Hollister High standout Ricky Navarro is healthy again and looks to have a key role playing on the defensive line this season for Gavilan. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

From strictly a won-loss standpoint, the Gavilan College football program has been mired in mediocrity for nearly two decades. 

The last time the Rams had a winning season—either overall or in conference play—was in 2006, when they finished 4-6 overall but 3-1 with two other teams to share what was then the Coast Conference championship. 

But one has to go back a couple of more years, to 2004, to find the last time Gavilan had an above .500 mark in both overall and in conference play. That season the Rams went 6-4 overall and 3-2 in conference, one of the high-water marks of their program in the last quarter century. 

Coming off a 1-6 season, can the Rams engineer a 180-degree turnaround in 2022? They most certainly can, Tyler Davis said. The 5-foot-8, 175-pound sophomore running back/safety believes added talent along with a greater work ethic and belief will carry the team to success this season. 

“We’re trying to turn Gavilan around,” Davis said. “It can happen. We’re tired of people saying ‘Gav sucks’ and this or that. You have to dream big. You can change everything in one year. That’s what we believe.”

A 2019 Christopher High graduate, the 21-year-old Davis has reunited with former teammate and best friend Jason Scirigione along with childhood friend and former Gilroy High standout Brandon Weiler. All three, barring injury, should have impactful roles. 

Davis and Weiler both played at Gavilan in 2019 before taking a couple of years off from the game. Davis was set to return for the 2020 season until Covid canceled the season. By spring 2021, Davis said he had already completed all of his “necessary units” at Gavilan. 

“I wasn’t going to take classes just to play football (in fall 2021),” he said. 

Davis, who has a goal to become a firefighter, took an EMT class at Mission College in Santa Clara before moving into his dad’s house in Concord. Davis returned to Gilroy in March to live with his mom and his twin brother, Christian, which set everything in motion for a return to the gridiron. 

Davis is part of a 50-plus player roster that features dozens of athletes who prepped locally. He is optimistic because of players like 24-year-old Isaac Eboa Nfon, a former Live Oak High standout who had a breakout 2021 season. 

“Isaac is a monster and savage,” Davis said. “I went to work out with that guy because I wanted to be as strong as him. He pushed me and made me work harder than I ever have my whole life. I never thought I could get as strong as I am now, but when you work out with a monster, you’ll become a monster.”

Davis and Rams coach John Lango said Nfon is a tremendous leader, displaying tremendous athleticism and playmaking ability last season. 

“You need a guy like Isaac on your team,” Davis said. “He came out of the military and has a heart like no other. You can see how bad he wants it and it makes you want it. He brings the juice and pushes everyone to be their best. He is something else.”

In addition to Nfon, Davis, Scirigione and Weiler, several other players who played their high school ball locally figure to make an impact, including wide receiver Nathan Ortiz (Sobrato), offensive lineman Mateo Pulido (CHS), defensive lineman Ricky Navarro (Hollister), center Nathan Zavaleta (Live Oak), offensive lineman Adrian Martinez (Hollister) and two-way lineman Santana Ortiz (Gilroy). 

The team returns nine starters from the offense, which should serve as the strength of the team. Left guard Maxx Todden returns after suffering a season-ending knee injury weeks before the start of the 2021 season. 

Returning standout quarterback Justin Munday showed flashes of brilliance a year ago, building a rapport with Nfon and Scirigione which led to some big plays throughout the season. Nfon, Scirigione and Zavaleta are returning all-conference players, but expect players like middle linebacker Jason Briones to excel as well.

“We’re not going to see a better linebacker than the one we have in our practice in Jason,” Davis said. “He is the guy and he’ll be turning heads this year.” 

The Rams look to do the same. They went 1-5 a year ago, their season undone by a lack of numbers, injuries and things that were simply out of their control. Gavilan had three games canceled due to Covid protocols and another game canceled due to one of the wildfires that ravaged the state last summer and fall. 

The Rams open the season at home against Los Medanos on Sept. 3. Kickoff is 1pm and the game will be played at CHS, the location of all of their home contests in 2022. Gavilan has changed uniforms, helmets, colors and decals. 

“We wanted to flush 2021 so we changed everything,” Lango said. “We wanted to start fresh, start new. We had good people in 2021—we just didn’t have enough.”

Davis has marveled at how everything has lined up for him to get one final season of competitive football. 

“It’s like my biggest non-regret to come back here,” he said. “I’m more mature, and my body has had more time to develop to prepare for this moment.”

Former Hollister High product Adrian Martinez will be a key member on the offensive line. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Ricky Navarro is back after suffering a torn labrum in the 1st game of the 2021 season. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at elee@weeklys.com