A pair of returning Gavilan College football players sauntered into head coach Spencer Gilford’s office Friday afternoon after a volunteer weightlifting session. Sweating profusely, the duo took an empty seat and stared straight ahead at some summer practice film.
“There is a huge difference already between this year and last year, just in terms of the quality of play – even without pads on,” Gilford said, forwarding and rewinding through a few examples. “It’s like night and day. The players feel good about what we are doing. There is excitement and these are guys who I’m used to coaching.”
The two players, seated behind Gilford, nodded in agreement.
“We are going to be ready,” said one of them, running back Jakari Johnson, who garnered All-Coast Conference and All-California Region III first-team offense last season.
Johnson was one of the few bright spots during a tumultuous 2011 season, in which off-the-field issues overshadowed anything that occurred on the field, and what happened on the field (0-10) wasn’t much to brag about either.
Behind the scenes, however, the Gilford effect began to take shape. Steady progress is what he wanted to see as the season came to a close. It’s what he thinks he has, too. Gilford has a succinct method of reconciling with the rocky, and to his standards disappointing, first-year at the helm.
“Not forget it, but learn from it,” he said.
In year two, the time is now for Gilford. And it started with landing the high-caliber local athletes.
The work unfolded long before this first week of training camp prior to the 2012 season. Gilford appeared on the sidelines of local high school games nearly every Friday night last fall. He curiously stalked the South County talent pool. He threw the Rams name in as bait. It wasn't easy, but the waiting worked as Gilford and the Rams booked one of the better freshman classes in a number of years.
“We want to give guys a viable place to play so we can create this program where guys feel like they can come here and can get everything with their best interests in mind,” said Gilford, who noted that most of the local athletes had never been to the Gavilan campus and merely shrugged off the idea of playing for the school based on hearsay.
“It's been a long process, and it will always be that way. You have get people familiar with you and your program, and we know it's just a matter of time.”
“We got some local guys to decide to stay and play for us. And probably the biggest name for the city of Gilroy is Marcus Harrell. It was us versus De Anza. Getting the offensive MVP of the area to stay at home is a feather in our cap for sure,” Gilford said.
Harrell, a Christopher High product, was named the Monterey Bay League's Most Valuable Player, and racked up a team-high 1,066 receiving yards, completed 4-of-4 passes for 138 yards, ran for 100 yards, and he was second on the team with four interceptions.
Former Live Oak lineman Nick Perry, who played in the Charlie Wedemeyer All-Star Football Game last month, Sobrato High's starting quarterback from a year ago, Jerry Jacob, who led the Bulldogs to their first Santa Teresa Division title in football this fall, Gilroy High 2012 graduate Christian Goldstein (34 catches, 403 yards, 6 TDs), and offensive lineman Christian Galvan out of San Benito, were a few other key pick-ups for Gilford and the Rams. More are expected to show up as camp opens this week.
“The largest group of kids from our area are from Hollister,” Gilford said. “But we have kids coming in from Gilroy High, Christopher, Sobrato. And we may get 10 or so more guys coming out.”
The mix between the fresh batch of players, which may reach upwards of 55, with roughly 13, who played in 2011, has provided extra offseason excitement and created a newfound pride in Rams football.
“We do two testing sessions, one in the spring and one in the summer. We just finished our summer sessions. We take a look at where they were right before we started spring football, and pretty much across the board these guys made huge strides. People are going to be surprised by the talent we are going to put out on the field,” Gilford added.
When it comes to prognosticating in early August, optimism is abound. Aiming high is acceptable. But words mean nothing without the actions that should follow, Gilford said.
“People say a lot of things and they don't follow through. And I'm not one of those persons. I've never been one of those persons. Everybody who knows me expects me to do all these things, because everything that I have said I've done. And it is no different here,” Gilford said. “I'd much rather have people judge us by what we are doing and not on what's being said. But in that same mind, I'm going to say exactly what we are going to do – we are going to keep competing and getting better.”
NOTES: The Rams open the 2012 season Sept. 1 vs. Yuba City... Gilford announced that former Anchorpoint Christian football head coach KC Adams has joined the Rams' coaching staff and will guide the defensive backs.