Dinner will honor football stars

Some people have it all — athleticism, brains, drive, and initiative. Student-athletes at Laney College are in this category.

From the 3.0 GPA and on-field achievements of current players, to acceptance at four-year institutions and life’s work of the alumni, it’s clear that playing for the Eagles helps many students be able to make the best choices for themselves.

In honor of these ongoing achievements for Laney football, the annual Wall of Fame dinner will be held from 4:30–8:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 5, in the Laney Athletic Field House.

Dinner will be served at 6:15 p.m. and the cost is $30. The date to RSVP is past, but anyone who would like to attend may purchase tickets at the door.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the honorary dinner for new inductees to the Wall of Fame, which is located in the Student Center.

The tradition began in 1998, with then-head coach Stan Peter’s idea to honor outstanding players, coaches, and support staff for their acheivements at Laney.

A $10,000 gift from former Washington Redskins linebacker and Laney alum Ken Harvey made the wall possible.

This year, former defensive back Tavis Campbell (1997–98), wide receiver Lester Gill (1998–99), running back Joe Cannon (1997–98), and longtime athletic trainer Greg Smith will be honored.

Former inductees can also provide inspiration to current athletes for their larger educational and life goals.

“You’re gonna be able to pursue your future,” said head football coach and Athletic Director John Beam, who was named the 2017 Bay Valley Conference Coach of the Year.

“Everybody’s goal is to keep playing and keep going to school,” he said. “They don’t come here unless they want to transfer.”

The Laney Athletics Department boasts a 90 percent transfer rate to four-year colleges and universities, and many of the students get opportunities to go to school for free on an athletic scholarship, he said.

“If you don’t get into the school of your choice out of high school,” Beam said, “you can come to Laney and have way better chances.”

In addition, many of the student-athletes will do so for free. The athletic department helps students find scholarships, although not always to a school they have heard of.

“There’s a place, somewhere in this country, that will pay you to go to school and play football. It may not be UCLA, but it’s free.”

Two Eagles players did commit to University of California schools this year. Running back Marcel Dancy is headed to Cal Berkeley, and defensive back Je’Vari Anderson will be attending UCLA this fall.

“Football is just a blip on the radar of life,” Beam said. “We tell them to find the school that’s got the major you want and will give you an opportunity to succeed academically.”

The inductees featured in this year’s ceremony represent some of the possibilities that are available to student-athletes after their time at Laney.

Smith worked as Laney’s athletic trainer for nearly 40 years and will be inducted as a “Cornerstone” to the Wall of Fame.

Campbell played for the University of Hawai’i after Laney and is now “very involved with the community,” Beam said.

Cannon is the author of several books about personal training, nutrition, and the dangers of over-exercising, and Lester Gill is “big in the IT business,” Beam said.

At the dinner, current players will get a chance to see and hear about former Laney athletes who went on to develop their skills and careers after football.

Thanks to the hard work of Beam and the other coaches, hundreds of student-athletes come to Laney every year to train and play for the Eagles for two seasons before they transfer or go on to other achievements.

“The bulk want to continue to play football,” Beam said, “but there are some that come to transfer because they want to be a firefighter or serve in law enforcement. One came and wanted to get into digital media.”

The ongoing health and safety of the players is a huge concern to the coaches as well.

“We’ve been really lucky,” Beam said. “The college has some funding that faculty can ask for. Every time we’ve asked for safety stuff, it’s been approved.”

Getting the funds to conduct the day-to-day-business of the football team can be a struggle, however.

“With all the funding cuts, it’s harder and harder to help these guys out,” Beam said. “When we have to play a game, they’re supposed to be fed, but we don’t always have the money. We’ve had to fight for the money to feed them.”

Eva Hannan is sports editor and writer for the Laney Tower

Running back takes his talent to Cal

Watching Marcel Dancy play running back for the Laney College Eagles is like following an object caught in a rushing stream as it careens down a mountainside.

In highlight film footage, the moments, just before he is seen running down the line to the end zone, are difficult to decipher. Like Harry Houdini escaping from a suit of locks and chains, the viewer cannot determine exactly how it is done, even after closely examining the motions.

He bobs. He weaves. He runs sideways or circles back, taunting the defensive line before him. He disappears for a moment in the crush of bodies, and the play seems finished until he emerges on the other side of the field, running down the line and nimbly evading the defensive players left standing.

Dancy had 1,033 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns, 22 receptions, and 241 receiving yards in the 2017 season. He was ranked seventh in the state with 6.8 yards per rush by the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA).

CCCAA also unanimously named him to the All-Academic and First All-State Teams this year for Laney.

Dancy will graduate from Laney with high honors on May 25. He graduated in 2016 from Merrill F. West High School in Tracy.

In two seasons at Laney, he had a combined 1,994 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns, 27 receptions, and 292 receiving yards in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Along with fellow All-American running back Ahmari Davis, Dancy helped the Eagles go 9–2 in both 2016 and 2017, and in 2017 they went 5–0 in the National Valley Conference to advance to the NorCal Regional for the first time.

That year, Dancy and Davis became the first two running backs in Eagle history to rush over 1,000 yards each.

Dancy received a scholarship to UC Berkeley and will start training with the Bears May 28.

Davis also received a scholarship, to play running back for the University of New Mexico.

Coming from East Oakland, Dancy said this opportunity fulfills a childhood dream that has been realized because of God and sacrifices his family made.

“My family always saw I had a gift to play the game,” he said. “They made sure I stayed out of trouble and just did the right things.”

Dancy played other sports, including baseball and basketball, before he started playing football as a running back.

At times, his zigzag style looks like it could be at home on the soccer field, and his multi-sport approach is no accident. He currently practices with the Eagles track team, working with coaches Kevin Craddock and Ray Stewart to improve his speed and overall game.

Craddock said Dancy’s “strong and aggressive” approach to a goal is “a recipe for greatness. He focuses on track as if he’s gonna step on and do a race this weekend.”

Stewart said that Dancy’s performance and stamina remind him of Khalfani Muhammad, a former Cal running back who was drafted by the Tennessee Titans.

Attention to detail and a commitment to fully learning his trade has made an impression on Eagles defensive coach Derrick Gardner.

“One thing I think that sets Marcel apart is his ability to see the landscape and understand a setup,” Gardner said. “He’s anticipating their reaction.”

For Dancy, it’s all about getting ahead and doing the unexpected on the football field. His versatility allows his success as an occasional receiver.

“What the game is actually about is like chess,” he said — and yes, he plays that too.

Dancy thinks about future moves for his education as well. His major is business, with a focus on sports and money management.

“I have a lot of different reasons for what I do,” he said. “Opportunity is all I need to handle my business.”

Dancy also makes a point to give back to the community. He currently serves as an assistant coach to the Oakland Dynamites, a Pop Warner football team comprised of youths ages 5–13.

Helping young players realize their dreams and stay out of trouble is important to Dancy. He said he hopes to have an impact, “not just by words, but by actions.”

Eva Hannan is the sports editor of the Laney Tower.

Clutch moves from overseas

The road to baseball glory is paved with clutch hits.

Laney’s Masayuki Eguchi, batting first in the bottom of the sixth inning against Los Medanos College on April 17, ripped a ground single into right field to start the rally that would beat the Mustangs 4–1 and knock LMC out of first place in the Bay Valley Conference.

It also brought an end to Mustang pitcher Dominic Arias’ perfect game.

After allowing the single, Arias walked Laney catcher Jesus Manzo.

LMC put in left-hander Scott Meylan to face left-fielder Kameron Proctor with nobody out and runners on first and second.

Proctor’s successful sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third.

Then, lead-off hitter Kevin Whitaker crushed a three-run homer over the left-field fence.

More stellar batting and base-running followed, with the Eagles scoring again that inning.

It all started with Eguchi’s clutch single to right.

Eguchi, 19, came 4,892 miles from snowy Aomori at the northern end of Japan to play baseball for Laney.

Yuki Kano flew even further — 5,142 miles from Tokyo, Japan.

He is a middle-inning relief pitcher for the Eagles.

“He has talent,” head coach Francisco Zapata said, “and a pretty good split-finger fastball in the low 80’s.”

Kano, 25, has appeared in 7–1/3 innings in nine games.

Hitters have a .200 batting average against him.

“It’s been up and down for him, but it’s been better as of late,” Zapata said.

Kano has also given up five walks and hit seven batters.

The American baseball emphasis on statistics was noted by Kano.

“Here, everything is data,” he said. “How many pitches, inside or outside, everything is put in the computer. We don’t do that in Japan.”

Focus on the field is different in other ways too, Eguchi said.

“In defense, Japanese coaches want certainty [that the play will be made]. Here, speed is praised,” he said.

Eguchi shows off his ability to do both at second base.

He has played 16 games with a fielding percentage of .935 while racking up 17 put outs and 26 assists.

These Japanese students aren’t the first from another country to contribute to the baseball team.

Laney baseball players have come from Columbia and The Netherlands as well, Zapata said.

There are over 500 students from other countries attending school in the Peralta district, Athletics Director John Beam said, although most of them are not athletes as well.

“I had to try out to play baseball,” Kano said, “so I went to Seattle and Oregon, and then I decided to come here. The school is a good location, close to San Francisco, and they have good coaches. I like it here.”

Both students are enrolled in ESL classes.

“They do their best and have a great attitude,” Zapata said.

The language barrier is the biggest challenge these players face, he said.

Eguchi and Kano are finishing up their freshman year, so they will be back to play for Laney in the 2019 season.

During the summer, they both plan to visit their homes in Japan.

Eva Hannan is a Tower staff writer

Track and field gets up to speed

The Laney Track and Field team burst around the track again and again over the course of the afternoon practice, pushing themselves to approach every pounding step with consistency.

Team members cheer while coaches yell pointers as the runners round the curves. After they collapse, breathing heavily at the end of their races, they are sure to get some high fives and words of encouragement.

The team practices six days a week to perfect their running form and improve personal records for best time in individual races, relays, hurdles, and jumps.

Head coach Kevin Craddock is in his second year with the Eagles. His approach focuses on maintaining proper form in order to achieve excellence during the races.

“Technique wins out every single time. When everybody else falls apart, generally you win by holding it together,” he said.

His approach is paying off. Each member of the 11-person team is consistently improving their times each week, he said. A team of new runners usually does better as a second-year team, but the season is already looking good for these freshmen.

“They’re well on their way to hitting qualifying numbers to state championships,” Craddock said. “They all get to come back next year, and with our track record, the second is the year of domination for the girls.”

One reason the team may have an edge on the competition is because their schedule pits them against many Division I University teams.

“They’ve been getting a lot more exposure than previous teams,” said former hurdler Nia Vance. “When they do run against junior colleges, it will be a lot easier because they’ve been running against those bigger schools.”

The fierce competition provides motivation for the team to work their hardest.

“Six days a week, rain or shine, tired or not, broken leg or not, you’re practicing,” said Stephanie Blackmore, who runs the 200-meter and 400-meter races for Laney.

The team focuses on their core strength as well as running technique. They incorporate yoga stretches into their routine on the field, Craddock said.

Last year was a small team, former team member Mariama Hilburn, who ran individual and relay races, said.

“We had five people on the team. Two hurdlers and jumpers, one 400-meter runner, one 800-meter runner, and a 100-meter runner. We all had a good year,” she said.

The year went so well that all five received a full scholarship to a four-year institution.

Some of those who have moved on to other schools regularly return to Laney’s campus to catch up and encourage their former teammates, said Blackmore.

The camaraderie and team atmosphere helps the runners stay focused in their studies as well, she said.

“Even when we’re not at practice we’re usually together.”

Eva Hannan is a writer and sports editor for The Laney Tower

Herd TE Armani Levias is more comfortable this spring

HUNTINGTON - Last year, Marshall University tight end Armani Levias arrived in Huntington as a junior college football prospect from Laney Community College in his hometown of Pittsburg, Calif.

Levias knew he was going to be in new territory - literally and figuratively - when he joined the Thundering Herd football program as a mid-year enrollee in Jan. 2017. The 6-foot-4, 246-pound tight end was more than 2,500 miles from home and, at the time, he didn't exactly know what it took to be a football player at the NCAA Division I level.

As is the case with many junior college players, the increase in speed of the game consumed Levias at times last spring as he made the adjustment.

"Last year, I was the new kid on the block and I couldn't get the plays down," Levias said. "My head was hurting, my eyes were big. I just had to learn how to practice."

For Levias, it was about listening and taking in everything around him, which included hearing the coaching of former position coach Bill Legg and especially learning on the field from senior leader Ryan Yurachek.

Levias credited Yurachek for getting him through when times became tough last season.

"If I didn't know my assignment on my job, I asked him and he pointed out what I needed to do," Levias said. "When you have a good example, it's easy to just do what he does. He might not have been as vocal as some, but he was a great leader for us. He made sure we stayed on our game if we messed up. I appreciate him for that."

Now, the charge of Levias and the other Marshall tight ends is to step in to fill the role of Yurachek, who contributed 490 yards while leading the team with 10 touchdown receptions.

Yurachek was the latest in a long lineage of successful tight ends at Marshall, meaning the onus is on Levias, Cody Mitchell, Xavier Gaines and Devin Miller to continue the trend beginning with this spring's practice sessions.

"From the Cody Slates and Lee Smiths, all the way through the Gator Hoskins to Emanuel Byrds to Ryan Yuracheks and the Eric Frohnapfels, there is a great history and tradition here," Marshall tight ends coach Todd Goebbel said. "You've got four great, young men that are willing to step up to the challenge and meet the standard and expectation of the position. From what I've seen in four practices, I think we've got a chance."

With Yurachek a three-year starter, there weren't many other players who got in two-deep repetitions last season.

And we're not just talking games, either.

"Not one guy in my (position) room, other than Cody Mitchell, has had a live practice rep, a meaningful rep - before this week," Goebbel said.

Levias said while there aren't many repetitions between them, there is a confidence about each guy, thanks to the work put in during offseason conditioning with head strength coach Luke Day and his staff.

"It means a lot because if I'm not 100 percent in shape, that means I can't give it my all," Levias said. "All the strength coaches, they've done a great job with me. There's a big improvement from since I came here and I'm just enjoying the process of getting better as a player."

The proof has been in Levias' execution and tempo on the field.

Last season at this time, Levias was slowed as he was trying to process what he was supposed to do before reacting on a particular play.

Now, he's moving at a better pace, which is vital for the offense under new coordinator Tim Cramsey.

"When we come out here, I'm not trying to focus on being perfect because I know when I start thinking a lot I don't go 100 percent," Levias said. "Now, I'm trying to think fast and go 100 miles per hour. It's my second go-round so I'm more comfortable and more relaxed. I don't have to think as much. I'm ready to play."

Levias and the Herd take part in their fifth practice of spring Thursday afternoon before getting set for Saturday's practice, which will feature live-ball situations.

Sophomores honored at last game

The Laney Eagles women’s basketball team, led by head coach Ron Williams, played their last game of the season at home on Feb. 16 against Solano College, losing 65–44. The Eagles ended their season with a winning record of 10–6 in the Bay Valley Conference. Overall, their record was 12–13.

“It was hard for us to buy into everything we’re supposed to do. And it was hard for us to not lose focus,” Laney guard Jassemine Johnson said, reflecting on the season.

The team’s roster was comprised of six freshmen and only two sophomores. For many on the team, the season was a learning experience. “When we first came in, we were all a group of strong personalities, so it took us a minute to really click,” guard Sydney Hills said. Over the course of the season, the players got to know one another and value the relationships that formed, she said.

The Solano game was also Sophomore Night. Xaria Thompson and Sydney Hills were honored in a ceremony at halftime for their achievements on and off the court.

During the game, Williams was not afraid to be vocal to the referees. He shouted and cajoled, yelled encouragement, or groaned his displeasure whenever he thought the referees missed a call. His self-expression has been costly at times.

On Nov. 12, 2017 Laney was forced to forfeit a game in the first quarter when Williams was assessed two technical fouls and ejected for arguing with the referees. To some players, Williams’ commentary was evidence of the coach’s dedication to them.

“Not a lot of coaches will fight for you like they should. You can seriously get hurt out there,” Hills said. “He’s looking out for our health and our best interests.”

Eva Hannan sports editor of the Laney Tower.

Eagles’ Anderson is Bruin-bound

In the Laney athletics field house, nobody knows where he is right now, but everybody knows who he is and where he’ll be next month.

The assignment: find Je’Vari Anderson, Laney College’s standout defensive back. He’s heading to UCLA to play for the Bruins in the 2018 season.

In his career as an Eagles safety he played in 21 games with 32 solo tackles, 10 assisted tackles, and three interceptions. Last season, Anderson was named a Region I All-Conference and All-National Valley Conference player.

He signed on to UCLA Feb. 6 with a scholarship to play as a linebacker. This is the first time a Laney student has gone on to play football for UCLA, Anderson said.

“He’s violent,” head coach John Beam said. “He understands the game. He’s explosive when he comes to make a play. People like that.”

Anderson is “football smart,” as Beam puts it, and he’s capable of much more than an impressive approach to playing the sport.

“They see this football player but he’s actually much deeper than that off the field. He’s introspective, he thinks things through and he’s a good human being,” Beam said.

Strength and conditioning coach Antuan Webb broke down what he saw as the story of Anderson’s success. “He came into the Laney program and has been a great citizen,” Webb said.

“Hard work in the classroom, hard work in the weight room, and on Friday and Saturday nights, he received an ‘A’ on the football field.”

After a false start out of football powerhouse De la Salle High School, Anderson now feels as though he knows how to stay focused. “I took school really seriously this time,” he said. “Laney’s been a great experience. The teachers and staff are great, and the coaches here are very organized.”

The shift from linebacker at Laney to safety at UCLA should be an easy one for Anderson. “He’s a bigger, thicker guy than he was,” Beam said, “so he’s changing into more of what we call a ‘down-the-box player’. He’s moving to the front end, and he’ll start five yards closer to the ball.”

Anderson’s versatility on the field is an advantage, and one that is still relatively new to football.

“Right now it’s not as common as it should be, but it’s definitely moving that way. Kids are built differently, and they can compete in multiple positions,” Anderson said.

He is aiming to get his graduate degree in neuropsychology, but he isn’t looking too far ahead. “I’m concentrating on my undergrad and excelling in my football season,” he said.

Anderson feels as though he learned the skills at Laney that he needed to make the grade at UCLA. “[Coach] Beam took academics really seriously here,” he said. “He makes time for it cause that’s what we’re here for anyway, right? A second chance.”

Anderson will be leaving behind many friends and admirers at Laney College. “The other day I programmed him in my phone as Mr. Anderson, because when I think of ‘mister’, I think of someone I really respect,” Webb said.

Goodbye, Mr. Anderson, you’ll be missed.

Eva Hannan is sports editor for the Laney Tower.

Swim team focuses more on growth than competition

The Laney Women’s Swimming and Diving team’s competitive season began in January. Unlike past years, the team’s focus is more on individual swimmer’s growth than winning competitions, said coach Sarah Stretch.

The team is operating at half-strength after several members quit early in the semester. Swimming and diving teams usually have 12 or more members. This season, Laney’s current roster of seven includes two second-year students.

Stretch recognizes that student-athletes can face challenges that limit their ability to compete. “Sometimes life gets in the way,” she said. “We lost more than usual this year.”

For some, she said, work schedules conflicted with practice and swim meets, where swimmers race individually and as a team over two or more days. The competitions take place one weekend per month during the season and can involve several hours of travel time.

The meets are run in an invitational format and typically feature five schools competing in timed individual and team relay races. Times are then ranked and points are awarded to each swimmer or team. Having a larger team is beneficial, since everyone who competes earns points.

“The more people you have, generally the more points you’re gonna score whether they’re [swimming] strong or not,” Stretch said.

Laney will probably not be able to amass enough points to compete with other schools for overall score, in the Bay Valley Conference Championship she said, especially since the relays count for twice as many points as the individual races.

“It won’t be as strong of a showing for the team but the girls will still be improving and progressing and having their individual goals,” Stretch said.

In the individual races, each swimmer races for best time, and the top 24 swimmers continue to the second round.

“A lot of our girls will get a second swim even if they’re at beginner level or intermediate level,” Stretch said. The extra time in the water should help each swimmer hone her competitive skills.

Some swimmers, such as Amanda Chai, also compete with the Laney women’s water polo team in fall semester.

Chai was “an outstanding water polo player this year,” Stretch said. “I’d like to see her drop some time and do well and maybe score in the top eight.”

Stretch hopes to see everyone on the team score as many points as they can and improve their times as the season progresses.

Many members of the team come from a background in competitive swimming, but unlike most community college sports, beginners without competitive experience can join the team and learn to race.

Beginners learn how to pace themselves and improve their speed. People of a wide range of ages and experience have joined the team in years past.

“Some of the girls come in swimming for schools or recreationally,” Stretch said. “There’s others who know the basics but we develop and work on technique, turns, and even diving.”

The team is hoping to talk more to local high schools to get the word out about the available summer concurrent enrollment in their water polo and swimming classes for potential participants.

Laney’s next meet is March 31-April 1, at the Solano College Swimming and Diving Invitational. The start time each day is 10 a.m. The San Mateo meet on March 14 has been cancelled.

Eva Hannan is sports editor for the Laney Tower.

Eagles have high hopes for a title

The Laney College baseball team has high hopes for the 2018 season. Coaches and players are training their eyes on the state championship tournament.

The team’s first step is to have the best or second-best record in the Bay Valley Conference. Otherwise, nabbing a spot can be tricky.

“Whoever wins conference goes to the playoffs but then you have wildcards, and those go with best record overall. Also the toughness of your schedule goes into it,” starting pitcher Sonny Brandwood said.

The 2018 season started Jan. 26, and the first 20 games are against teams from other conferences. On Feb. 8, Laney beat the Santa Rosa Junior College Bearcubs, 7–6. They were ranked second in the state last year and are ranked first in Northern California this year.

Laney got an early lead in the top of the first inning. By the seventh, the game was tied, 5–5, when third baseman Armando Tungui scored from third on a wild pitch. “It felt good,” Brandwood said. “It was a tough game but we got it. Just a grind the whole time.”

Starting center fielder Kevin Whitaker got two RBI, one on a sacrifice bunt and another on a single to right field in the eighth inning that tied the game at 6–6. “We don’t need to hit the ball out of the park all the time,” head coach Francisco Zapata said.

“If we can play baseball correctly, use our strengths, we can win the games.”
After nine games this season the Eagles’ record is 5–4. They have a three-game winning streak.

Liam Knowles, who plays first and third base for Laney, is batting .423, second-best in the BVC. Relief pitcher Galen Manhard is tied for first in the state for most saves, with three. Starting March 13, the Eagles will play within the BVC exclusively, which is comprised of 10 teams.

A strength for the team this season “is the discipline,” said Eagles fan Orlando Gaitan, who is also the father of Laney outfielder Jerry Gaitan. “They need to work a little more to get the rhythm, but they’re on it.”

Zapata, known to players as “Coach Z,” said the team can find that rhythm. “We’re pretty balanced,” he said. “I think pitching is a strength, and we can do some things offensively.”

Ryan Gibson, Ricardo Hernandez, Robert Busch, and Brandwood are the Eagles starting pitchers — so far. Gibson has a fastball that’s been clocked at 91 mph. Hernandez and Brandwood throw fastballs that reach 88 mph, but simple speed isn’t everything. “My change-up probably is my best pitch,” Brandwood said. “It keeps them off balance. It’s about a 10 mph difference from my fastball.”

Zapata said he sees signs that the team is “starting to jell.” The game at home against the Modesto Junior College Pirates on Feb. 10 is an example.

The fourth inning involved a contentious call at home that left the Eagles without a run they deserved. Shortstop Ryan Jenkins hit a single and wound up at third base. He broke for home when Modesto’s catcher dropped the ball, but he was called out at the plate for the final out. “We got it on film, and he was safe,” Zapata said.

“That’s a run you can use to win. Psychologically, it can mess up the flow when it’s a close game. They know that it’s unfair, but they didn’t get down and they pulled it out.” The Eagles won the game 4–2.

In the 2016 season, Laney had the best record in the BVC, winning 20 games and losing only four. Last year they didn’t make it to the playoffs, but they came close to clinching one of the top spots in the conference.

“It was between us and Los Medanos College [for second place]. We beat them two games out of three that last series, but they had a better Rating Percentage Index (RPI) so they went to the playoffs in front of us,” Zapata said.

RPI is a team’s win-loss record, with additional factors that consider the difficulty of the teams’ schedules. It is used for ranking in college sports where each team has opponents that may not be ranked equally.

The Eagles hope their RPI won’t have much of an impact this season. “First things first,” Zapata said. “You want to win the league and that automatically qualifies you for state playoffs. And when you hit the playoffs, of course you want to win state as well.”

The Eagles play their next home game against Feather River College on Sunday, Feb. 18, at 1 p.m.

by Eva Hannan is a Tower staff writer.

End game: Lobos hope Sellers, Austin provide pass rush

Who’s going to be that pass rusher off the edge?

Trent Sellers and Erin Austin are auditioning three times a week.

Austin, from Brentwood, Calif., in the Bay Area, and Sellers, from Tyrone, Ga., southwest of Atlanta, came to the University of New Mexico with impressive résumés as defensive ends adept at getting into the other team’s backfield.

Last fall at Laney College in Oakland, Calif., Austin was in on 47 tackles with five sacks and 16½ tackles for loss. At Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, Sellers led the team’s defensive linemen with 40 tackles and 8½ tackles for loss.

Stats are merely stats, and a great many things can affect those numbers. But, last season, the Lobos did not have a productive pass rusher at defensive end.

Garrett Hughes, who in 2016 had 7½ tackles for loss and 6½ sacks, had corresponding numbers of four and two last fall as a senior. Cody Baker and Emmanuel Joseph, who return this year, combined for 4½ and four.

As a team, the Lobos finished with 21 sacks, ranked 95th in the nation (among 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams). They had 59 tackles for loss, ranked 99th.

Expectations for Sellers and Austin are high, but not sky-high just yet — not even their own.

“I’m taking it one step at a time,” Austin said after Wednesday’s spring practice session. “I’ve got to get better now. I’ve got to get bigger, stronger, faster.

“… I’m taking it gradually, but by Sept. 1 I’ll be ready.”

The Lobos open the 2018 season on that date against Incarnate Word, an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision school in San Antonio, Texas.

Sellers is a “bounce-back,” having spent two seasons at Georgia Tech — the first as a redshirt — in 2015-16.

“At the time, I felt like it was a good fit for me, somewhere I could go and thrive,” he said. “… Some things changed, and I decided it was best for me to open up my options and go somewhere else.”

One of his fellow Georgia Tech D-lineman was Desmond Branch, the former Cleveland Storm all-stater who signed with UNM out of high school. Branch redshirted in 2014, found the UNM program not to his liking and transferred to Trinity Valley College in Athens, Texas. He signed with Tech in 2016.

Branch is a good friend, Sellers said, and the two discussed Branch’s UNM experience before Sellers signed in December.

Junior college transfer Trent Sellers works out during practice. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“Everything’s a different fit for everybody,” Sellers said. “Everybody goes through things differently, has different situations. (Branch) told me to go wherever I feel like I could go and be successful, and that was my mindset, too.”

Sellers chose UNM over offers from Memphis, New Mexico State and Southern Mississippi.

Austin had offers from San Diego State and UNLV, New Mexico’s Mountain West Conference rivals. Two factors, he said, combined to bring him to Albuquerque.

First, running back Ahmari Davis, a Laney teammate, decided to sign with UNM.

“We wanted to go to school together,” Austin said, “because it’s always good to have somebody that you’re familiar with to go through this process with.”

Second, but equally important, UNM defensive line coach Stan Eggen challenged him.

“It was just his determination, the things he was saying about being great, not being average,” Austin said. “It wasn’t just winning games. …It was winning conference (championships), winning bowl games.”

The year before Austin’s arrival at Laney, the Eagles had gone 4-6. They went 9-2 in both of his two seasons there.

Last year, the Lobos went 3-9.

“I wanted to come here and help (rebuild), put the pieces together,” he said.

Eggen said that, through 10 of 15 spring workouts, he has been pleased with his group. Baker, who started 11 games last fall as a junior, leads the way.

“I think we’ve got more depth right now (than in the past),” Eggen said. “We’ve still got a long way to go before we’re ready to play, but I really believe that when I come into that meeting room I see guys, all of them, that can help us.”

Of Austin and Sellers, he said, “They’ve been a very pleasant surprise. I knew they were gonna be good, but they’ve exceeded (expectations). They don’t flinch, and I’m excited about their progress and what they’ll bring to us next fall.”

INJURY REPORT: Senior quarterback Coltin Gerhart has missed practice time with an ankle injury, defensive coordinator and acting head coach Kevin Cosgrove said.

“We’re working him (back in) slowly but surely,” Cosgrove said. “He’ll be fine going into the fall.”

Saturday: UNM football “Spring Showcase,” 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Dreamstyle Stadium

UCLA lands JUCO DB Je’Vari Anderson commitment

UCLA plucked another prospect from high school powerhouse De La Salle on Wednesday as safety/linebacker Je’Vari Anderson announced his verbal commitment to the Bruins for the 2018 recruiting class.

Anderson went to Laney College out of De La Salle, the Bay Area school that also produced UCLA defensive lineman Boss Tagaloa and tight end Devin Asiasi. The 6-foot, 220-pound recruit is head coach Chip Kelly’s 14th known verbal commit for the 2018 class with two weeks left until National Signing Day.

During two seasons at Laney, Anderson had 32 tackles and three interceptions. He was also considering Kansas State, Cincinnati and UNLV.

Anderson is the second defensive back commit for the Bruins during the past week and third overall. He joins fellow three-star prospect Patrick Jolly, who pledged to UCLA on Sunday, and St. John Bosco High safety Stephan Blaylock, who signed his national letter of intent last month.

Anderson’s versatility could also allow him to bolster UCLA’s thin linebacker group that struggled with injuries last season. The Bruins were so shorthanded at linebacker that they made a midseason move to convert Keisean Lucier-South from defensive line. UCLA’s old coaching staff frequently converted defensive backs to linebackers as three of the team’s linebackers last season — DeChaun Holiday, Brandon Burton and Leni Toailoa — were recruited to play in the secondary.

Kelly’s recruiting class ranks 31st in the country and fourth in the Pac-12, according to 247 Sports’ composite rankings. With eight commits already signed, the Bruins can ink the remainder of their recruiting class on Feb. 7, the first day of the traditional signing period.

Laney Football Early Signings 2017

Six Laney College football players have signed letters-of-intent to attend four-year schools during the early signing period that ended in December.

All-American running back Ahmari Davis (James Logan HS) and All-American defensive lineman Erin Austin (Heritage HS) have signed letters to attend the University of New Mexico.

Two offensive linemen, Brian Robinson (Moreau Catholic HS) and Bruce Burns (Arroyo HS) both signed LOIs with the University of Idaho.

Defensive back Zach Zimmerman (Monroe HS-Monroe, WA) signed with the University of North Dakota and linebacker Joseph Butler (Sam Houston HS-San Antonio) signed with Texas A&M-Commerce.

Burns (as were Davis and Austin) was named to both the All-America Football Team and the All-California Region I Football Team. Butler was also named to the Region I team.

By Scott A. Strain

Laney College Sports Information

Laney Football All-America

The Laney College football team placed seven players on two community college All-America teams, including University of New Mexico commit running back Ahmari Davis (James Logan HS), University of Idaho commit offensive lineman Bruce Burns (Arroyo HS) and University of New Mexico commit defensive lineman Erin Austin (Heritage HS), who were named to both teams.

The three Eagles players were named to the 2017 All-America Community College Team and the 2017 All-California Community College Region I Team.

Also named to the Region I team were running back Marcel Dancy (West HS-Oakland); Texas A&M – Commerce commit linebackers Joseph Butler (Sam Houston HS-San Antonio), Cameron Nathan (Antioch HS) and defensive back Je’Vari Anderson (De La Salle HS)

Davis rushed for 1,359 yards and scored 17 touchdowns as Laney went 9-2, won the National Valley Conference championship and went to the Northern California playoffs.

Dancy rushed for 1,033 yards and scored 15 touchdowns, three of them on receptions. The one-two punch of Davis and Dancy gave the Eagles two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time in the school’s 52-year football history.

Butler led the NVC in sacks with eight and Nathan was fifth in the conference in tackles-per-game with 5.8.

All players, except for Nathan, are sophomores.

By Scott A. Strain

Laney College Sports Information

Broncos’ C.J. Anderson planning sports and academic complex for youth in hometown

Broncos running back C.J. Anderson has grand plans — and not just on the field.

Anderson’s “Dreams Never Die Foundation” launched Thursday and announced plans to transform an old recreation center in his hometown of Vallejo, Calif., into a community center for academic mentorship and athletic training for local youth.

The plans call for a complete remodel of the current complex, plus the installation of two basketball courts, a batting cage, a 19,000-square-foot academic center and, down the road, a football field that will be home to a Pop Warner football team.

By 2020, Anderson’s foundation hopes to launch its academic and athletic programs to provide tutoring and college preparation, as well access to its training facility and guidance in NCAA scholarships and eligibility.

The academic program will be geared to students from grade school to high school in nearby districts and will require each to submit bi-weekly reports to monitor their standing in school. SAT and ACT prep courses, as well as help in targeting prospective colleges and applying schools, will be provided to upperclassmen.

By 2022, the foundation hopes to have 10 of its students in college, while it continues to expand the sports complex and the program’s capacity.

Laney College @ American River College

The Laney College football team scored four touchdowns in the second half but came up short in a 41-35 loss to No.2 American River College in Sacramento on Nov. 18 in the first round of the Northern California playoffs.

The Eagles the No.4 seed in NorCal and champions of the National Valley Conference finished the season 9-2.

Statistically Laney dominated the game, outgaining the Beavers (10-1) 365 yards to 180 and the defense held ARC to just five yards rushing. The Eagles also had twice as many first downs (24) as the Beavers (12). ARC had no first downs in the second half.

Laney tied the game at 6-6 when Ahmari Davis (James Logan HS) scored on a 17-yard run with 3:31 left to play in the first quarter. Davis’ score capped a 12-play, 87-yard drive that took almost six minutes off the clock.

Down 27-6 at half, Laney started its comeback in the third quarter when Davis scored his second touchdown, this one coming on an 8-yard run with 7:03 left in the period.

The Eagles got the benefit of a safety when defensive lineman Erin Austin (Heritage HS) sacked the ARC quarterback, who recovered his own fumble in his own end zone with 2:37 left in the third quarter.

Laney scored three times in the fourth quarter to make it close. Davis scored his third touchdown on a 5-yard run with 10:01 left and Marcel Dancy (Merrill F. West HS) scored 4-yard run with 4:02 remaining.

The Eagles closed out the scoring when quarterback Noah Suszckiewicz (Berkeley HS) threw a 9-yard scoring pass to Dancy with 1:09 left.

Davis and Susckiewicz were the two leading rushers for Laney, Davis gaining 96 yards on 18 carries and Susckiewicz 71 yards on 13 carries.

Susckiewicz was 23 for 34 for 182 yards passing. Jared Smart (Dublin HS) caught seven passes for 57 yards and Devond Blair Jr. (Bunche HS-Oakland) had six catches for 54 yards.

On defense, linebacker Armani Turner-Jenkins (Berkeley HS) had eight tackles (four solo) and linebacker Cameron Nathan (Antioch HS) finished with seven (five solo).

Jonathan Whittley (Castlemont HS) had five tackles, which included three sacks for 25 yards in losses. Nathan had the other sack.

By Scott A. Strain

Laney College Sports Information

The Laney College football team has won the National Valley Conference and qualified for the Northern California state playoffs for the first time.

The Laney College football team has won the National Valley Conference and qualified for the Northern California state playoffs for the first time.

The Eagles (9-1, 5-0 NVC) won the title outright with a 34-8 victory over Chabot College in Hayward on Nov.  11.

Laney, fifth in the State Coaches poll and seeded No.4 in the NorCal playoffs, will travel to Sacramento to play top-seeded American River College (9-1) in a first-round game on Saturday, Nov. 18. Game time is 6 p.m.

If the Eagles prevail against the Beavers, they will play the winner of No. 3 College of the Siskiyous vs. No. 2 College of San Mateo the following weekend.

The current format for state playoffs has been in existence for four years and the Eagles have never qualified for it, but they have gone to bowl games, including last year’s 49-35 victory over City College of San Francisco in its own San Francisco Community College Bowl.

The victory over Chabot solidified Laney’s NVC championship. The Eagles defense turned in its best statistical performance of the season, holding the home Gladiators (2-8, 0-5) to just 57 yards of total offense.

Chabot had just three net yards rushing.

Noah Davis (Pleasant Valley HS) and Bishop Apodaka (Fremont HS-Oakland) each totaled had five tackles (Davis five solo; Apodaka four) and Jonathan Whittley (Castlemont HS) had three of Laney’s four sacks. Brandon Hill (Oakland Tech HS) had the other.

Offensively, the Eagles were led by running back Marcel Dancy, who had 142 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns.

Laney scored twice in the first quarter to take a 10-0 lead. Dancy scored on an 18-yard run and KC Onwuemeka (Hercules HS) kicked a 33-yard field goal.

The Eagles upped the lead to 24-0 when quarterback Noah Suszckiewicz scored on a 35-yard run and Dancy scored on a 10-yard run.

Laney capped an 11-play, 84-yard drive in the third quarter when Suszckiewicz threw a 3-yard scoring pass to Jake Ramsey (Dougherty Valley HS) with 5:57 left in the third quarter.

Onwuemeka’s 20-yard field goal in the fourth quarter completed the Eagles’ scoring.

By Scott A. Strain

Laney College Sports Information

All-Conference Selections

The Laney Eagles finished Valley Conference play with a perfect 5-0 record, while earning 13 All-Conference selections, Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, and Coach of the Year! Congrats to the Laney Eagles football team and awards winners!

Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year - RB Ahmari Davis

Ahmari Davis - Offensive Player of the Year.jpeg

Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year - LB Joseph Butler

Joseph Butler - Defensive Player of the Year.jpeg

Valley Conference Coach of the Year - John Beam

John Beam - Coach of the Year.jpeg

All-Conference Selections:

RB Ahmari Davis

RB Marcel Dancy

OL Bruce Burns

OL Brian Robinson

OL Andres Guzman

OL George Vehikite

DL Erin Austin

DL Malik McPherson

LB Joseph Butler

LB Cameron Nathan
LB Jonathan Whittely

DB Je'Vari Anderson

DB Da'Meak Brandon

The Laney College football team won the National Valley Conference championship with a 40-33 victory over Modesto Junior College on Nov. 3 in Oakland.

The Laney College football team won the National Valley Conference championship with a 40-33 victory over Modesto Junior College on Nov.  3 in Oakland.

The Eagles (8-1, 4-0 NVC) finish their regular season on Saturday, Nov.  11 against Chabot College in Hayward. Game time is 6 p.m.

The Northern California playoff pairings won’t be decided until after this weekend’s slate of games are concluded.

But Laney, for the first time, is included.

The Eagles currently ranked No. 5 in the JC Athletic Bureau Coaches poll, pulled away from the Pirates (2-2, 4-5) after leading only 21-20 at the end of the first half.

Laney was held to 58 yards rushing in the first two quarters, but finished with 236 yards on the ground and a total of 469 for the game.

Marcel Dancy (West-Oakland HS) took charge in the first half, scoring the Eagles’ first two touchdowns. He ran 28 yards for Laney’s first score, then caught a pass from quarterback Noah Suszckiewicz and went 84 yards for a 14-7 lead with 13:21 left in the second quarter.

Suszckiewicz threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Robert Stern (De Anza HS) that gave Laney that 21-20 halftime lead.

Then it was Ahmari Davis’ turn. Davis (James Logan HS) scored Laney’s next two touchdowns, the first coming on a 21-yard run in the third quarter ad then a 51-yarder to start the fourth quarter as the Eagles took a 35-20 lead.

Modesto score the next touchdown, but Joseph Butler (Houston HS-San Antonio) picked up a blocked PAT attempt and ran the length of the field to give the Eagles two points and a 37-26 lead with 12:36 left in the game.

Laney’s final points came on KC Onwuemeka’s (Hercules HS) 18-yard field goal with 7:02 left.

Davis finished with 147 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns. Dancy had 94 yards on 11 carries and one score. He also caught three passes for 149 yards and a touchdown.

Suszckiewicz completed nine of 18 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns.

Defensively, linebacker Cameron Nathan (Antioch HS) had his best game of the season with 17 tackles (14 solo); Butler 10 tackles (8 solo); and Da’Meak Brandon (La Salle HS-Cincinnati) had an interception.

By Scott A. Strain

Laney College Sports Information