November 20, 2008

Gilroy football's varsity blues

Let me start with some of the positive things to take away from Gilroy High football's loss to North Salinas Friday night.

- The Mustangs are only a win away from wrapping up a share of the Tri-County Athletic League title, assuming Gilroy can beat lowly San Benito (3-6) on Friday.

- A section title is still within reach, because for those who weren't at Salinas Sports Complex, the game was much closer than a 30-point spread. The game got away in two minutes, 15 seconds.

- If Gilroy played North Salinas again, and a few plays go differently, I could see the Mustangs winning, maybe even by a large margin. They played terrible on offense, good on defense. Combine a solid effort on both sides of the ball and I don't think North Salinas can hang for four quarters.

Now to the negatives.

Calling out coaches and teenage athletes is not why I got into sports writing, but the fallout from Friday night's football game between Gilroy and North Salinas has been heavy, and some of it has been well-deserved. Over the weekend, we received five times the typical amount of comments that follow a football recap online, and, of course, it had to happen after the Mustangs' first defeat of the season.

It wasn't so much that Gilroy lost, but the way it lost.

It lost physically and emotionally.

I wrote a column at the end of last football season - when Gilroy fell to Oak Grove in the Central Coast Section Open Division championship - declaring that the saying, 'Sports don't build character, they reveal it,' is a load of crap when it comes to kids.

Well, Friday night's 42-12 loss may have built character for some, but revealed it for far more.

Guys like Peter Guenther, Tony Travis, Richie Sotelo and Dante Fullard played to the final whistle. Frustration may have gotten the better of them at times, but I saw no quit.

Other players, however, did quit.

Several players slumped to the sidelines and threw their helmets in disgust - a stupid thing to do, even if you're in the NFL. None of these players are going to the NFL.

One Mustang (Jeff Smith) refused to go back into the game when coaches called for him, while another (Sean Hale) walked off the sideline before time had even expired.

I've interviewed both of these two players and always thought they seemed like good kids. This doesn't make them bad kids. But it does make them bad teammates.

If I was coach Hammond - and I'm not - I wouldn't let them play another game. That's my own opinion.

My dad was a high school coach and one of the things he stressed most was you never quit. Never. Not on yourself, not on your team.

Both are key players, and dropping them would likely hurt Gilroy's chances come playoff time. But there is a line, and refusing to enter a game and walking out on your teammates crosses that line. Both actions are deal-breakers.

I was absolutely shocked to see a team that was so good at winning could be so bad at losing. Even the squad that lost the championship game last season didn't react so poorly, and that was a group of Mustangs who finished their season with a loss. This season still has plenty ahead. Whether Gilroy goes into the Large School or Open Division of CCS, and it still looks like Gilroy will be placed in the Open, they have the talent to win it all.

Each player and coach will have to take a long look in the mirror, though.

Head Coach Rich Hammond was examining his reflection as soon as the game ended.

"Maybe I applied to much pressure," he said after the game. "Maybe it became too much of a pressure situation. Maybe I haven't done a good enough job of weeding out guys who aren't doing the right thing. Maybe I haven't done a good enough job riding guys. But we didn't come out mentally (ready) to play. I feel like that comes down to me. That's my job. I'm gonna come back and try to figure out something else."

I don't agree with Hammond that he should be held responsible for the worst that occurred Friday night, but the fact that he's thinking that way shows he isn't about to lay down.

It's soul-searching time for a talented Gilroy team.

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