Former South Shore football players living the dream |

Former South Shore football players living the dream

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

Nick Garratt of USC and San Diego State’s Bryan Finkel have set the current stanford for South Shore high school football products. Their NCAA Division I playing status serves as inspiration for players in their hometown and those playing at other collegiate levels.

South Tahoe and Whittell high schools currently have five graduates playing at schools ranging from NCAA Division III to junior colleges.

Of the five, Azusa Pacific University senior receiver Mikey Van Gorden figures to be in position to make the biggest impact. Van Gorden, a former South Tahoe High quarterback, is among 47 returners and four offensive starters that the Cougars welcome back from a team that went 2-8 a year ago.

“I’ve had great experiences here,” Van Gorden said. “Just being on the team in general, then seeing the field is another step and starting is a bigger step. It went by kind of fast. I need to make the most of what I have left.”

Azusa Pacific is reloading at receiver after the graduation of one of the school’s greats, Jon Davis, who caught 30 touchdowns during his career.

“Our receivers understand their role is to move the chains by creating space and making critical catches,” Azusa Pacific coach Victor Santa Cruz said on the school’s Web site. “They’re fluid and athletic and can get the job done.”

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Van Gorden is the only senior among the Cougars’ top receivers and could be in position to be the team’s go-to pass catcher.

“Mikey has a great attitude and works hard in everything he does. We love having his type of personality on the team,” offensive coordinator Josh Darnell said last season. “His speed is something that can’t be coached. He always does a good job with (yards after the catch).”

Despite missing several games due to fractured ribs, Van Gorden had 12 grabs for 143 yards and two touchdowns last season.

“I had a good camp, everything went great,” Van Gorden said. “The whole team looks great. We have a good running back in Chris Brown coming back and a couple of transfer receivers, as well as a couple returning receivers.”

Between football, school and his devotion to God, Van Gorden has fallen into a regimen that comforts him.

“It keeps my mind right and my mind straight,” he said. “I don’t have to a bunch a side stuff to think about or getting in trouble. I focus on football and school and that makes everything a lot easier.”

Azusa Pacific, which welcomed 120 players to fall camp, kicks off its season against No. 1 Carroll on Saturday in Helena, Mont. Van Gorden started his college career at Montana State.

One South Tahoe alum who is working his way into more playing time is Kyle Jones at Southern Oregon in Ashland.

Jones, who transferred from Hawaii to Southern Oregon last year, is in the mix at fullback. The redshirt freshman also will see playing time on special teams.

“He’s having a good camp so far,” said Southern Oregon coach Steve Helminiak earlier this month. “He has brought great attitude and effort.

“Kyle truly is a team player and a great influence for his teammates – vets and rookies. I am thrilled to have him with Raider football.”

Jones was rewarded for his extra effort in the offseason. He won the team’s strong man competition, a weekly event the Raiders hold from January to May.

The Raiders, who posted a 3-7 record last year, will open their season Saturday, entertaining Eastern Oregon. Southern Oregon will travel to Azusa Pacific on Oct. 10, bringing together former STHS teammates Jones and Van Gorden.

“For both of us it’s a must-win game,” Van Gorden said. “They are our rival school and are an independent just like us. That’s a big game for us.”

Marietta College, a NCAA Division III school in Marietta, Ohio, and freshman quarterback Willy Ervin opens its season Sept. 5 against Thiel College. Ervin, who tossed 14 touchdown passes last year for South Tahoe, is one of five quarterbacks on the Pioneers’ roster.

Noble Lau, a 2009 South Tahoe High graduate, is a freshman receiver for the University of La Verne in La Verne, Calif. The Leopards open their season against Whitworth on Sept. 12.

Roberto Concha-Foley will wait another week before kicking off his junior college season.

Cabrillo opens Sept. 5 vs. City College of San Francisco on Sept. 5. Concha-Foley, who led Whittell High to the state playoffs last year, is a backup freshman quarterback. On Oct. 10, the Seahawks play at American River College.