No team has been affected by Covid more than the Gavilan College football program. The Rams (1-4 overall, 1-2 conference) have had three games cancelled this season due to Covid protocols. They also had their season-opener at Feather River in Quincy canceled due to poor air quality from the wildfires.
All of which means Gavilan has taken the field just five times out of a possible nine contests, one of the fewest among the 100 programs in the state. After losses to De Anza, Los Medanos and Hartnell, the Rams recorded their first win of the season, 39-23, over San Jose City on Oct. 23. Coach John Lango had plenty of reasons to be proud of his group.
“I told the players they were so damn resilient,” he said. “I couldn’t be prouder of these young men.”
Gavilan racked up 535 yards of total offense, 443 through the air. Quarterback Justin Munday had a hand in four of the team’s five touchdowns, including TD throws of 10, 79 and 2 yards and a 1-yard TD run. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound freshman completed 32-of-52 passes for 443 yards and three TDs with three interceptions.
Isaac Nfon, a 2016 Live Oak High graduate, had 11 receptions for 146 yards and Gabe Elliott had six catches for 122 yards, including a 79-yard TD. Christopher product Freddy Mireles added five receptions for 96 yards. Jake Barbeau took care of all the punting and kickoff duties and converted a 28-yard field goal.
Barbeau has also played receiver, both safety positions, and running back, leading the charge of players who play multiple positions. Though not ideal at the college level, the Rams must employ players at different positions because of their thin 33-man roster.
“Jake Barbeau is our Swiss Army Knife,” Lango said. “He does everything for us and even has returned punts. He’s a lot like Isaac in that we have to put our best athletes on the field and if that means they have to learn a second position, they’ll do that.”
In addition to Barbeau, Elliott, Nfon, Laronn Chapman, and Kobe Lampley—who plays offensive and defensive line—are prominent multi-position players. Lango has focused his recruiting locally and is proud to assemble a team that area fans can recognize. Players who start or receive significant playing time and are from the area include receiver Jason Scirigione (Christopher); offensive linemen Mateo Pulido (CHS), Daniel Solano (San Benito), Nathan Zavaleta (Live Oak), and Caleb Cueba (Sobrato); running back Aiden Gustaveson (Live Oak); defensive lineman Kyle Venegas (Live Oak); and defensive back Domanick De Leon (Gilroy).
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Nfon is one of the senior members of the team at 23 years old. After graduating from Live Oak in 2016, Nfon said he played for a local rugby team before enlisting in the Army in 2017. Three years later, in March 2020—right at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic—Nfon returned to the area after he took a “honorable discharge/medical retirement.”
Even though Nfon didn’t have a clear-cut plan before and after his return from military service, he was crystal clear on one aspect of his life.
“I just wanted to get away from a lot of trouble here and the Army was the best fit for me at the time to get away and set the foundation for my future,” he said. “When I came back, I had already made that decision that I wasn’t going to be doing the same things I was doing, that I wasn’t going to be hanging around the same bad influences.”
Nfon reached out to Lango earlier this year and enrolled for the fall semester. Knowing it had been five years since he had last played organized football, Nfon didn’t know what to expect before the season started.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting to put up the numbers I’m doing right now if I’m being honest,” said Nfon, who had 11 receptions for 146 yards against San Jose City a week after a seven-catch, 186-yard, three-TD performance against Hartnell. “My expectations of myself is to go all out and help the team win.”
Nfon leads the team in receptions (28), receiving yards (448), and touchdowns (five). He’s averaging 17 yards per catch, a testament to his ability to gain yards after the catch and get open on the deep ball. He credits receivers coach Karon Reid for literally taking his game to another level.
“My physicality was there, my strength was there, my route running was sort of there, but I just needed some practice in the fundamentals,” said Nfon, who has also taken snaps at linebacker and special teams. “And he’s the one who definitely instilled those fundamentals in me that’s helped me get open.”
Nfon said before he arrived at Gavilan, all of his routes looked the same. But Kay has taught him the finer points of route running where Nfon can make an out route look like a streak and be able to control his speed to keep defensive backs guessing as to what he’s running.
“The biggest difference now is my ability to change speeds and being able to control my change of speed and balance,” Nfon said. “Before, it was all over the place.”
Lango has been impressed with several of his players, including Nfon.
“He’s strong and hard to bring down,” Lango said. “He’s fast, physical and he’s got a relentless motor that just keeps going.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]