Ron Gould isn’t a rookie anymore, no longer the new coach in the neighborhood. The next time he laces his cleats, grabs his clipboard, barks order to his players, he’ll be the second-year coach of the UC Davis Aggies.
But that first time? That first win over Sacramento State? The first Causeway Classic victory of his career?
For a moment there, Gould, an energetic, effusive man who could give pep talks in his sleep, was rendered speechless. His Aggies had hammered the opposition, dominated from the opening possession, neutralized opposing quarterback Garrett Safron, pulled off a 34-7 stunner Saturday at Hornet Stadium.
“Earlier in the week, I went back and started reading about the history and the rivalry,” Gould said later, standing alone in the corner of a classroom. “I started getting nervous. UC Davis has had three legendary coaches (Jim Sochor, Bob Foster and Bob Biggs). I had been telling our players to stay focused. But then it was like, ‘I need to go back and focus.’”
This little rivalry isn’t such a little rivalry to the Aggies and Hornets, or to the friends, relatives and heirs of Aggies and Hornets. It’s been an annual ritual for six decades. It’s also the only FCS game in town, with both teams competing in the Big Sky Conference and Saturday’s outcome giving the Aggies the victory and local league bragging rights (5-3 to 4-4).
The game, unfortunately, never spun much drama. The visiting Aggies hit hard and fast, and from the opening possession, they clung to the Hornets like a nagging, lingering cough. The defense pressured and harassed Big Sky Player of the Week Garrett Safron throughout the afternoon, denying the dynamic junior any chance of duplicating his record-setting performance last week, when he passed for 554 yards and accounted for six touchdowns against Portland State.
Offensively, the Aggies dominated the Hornets up front, opened huge holes for Gabe Manzanares. The 5-foot-9 junior – a walk-on, no less – rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns, his scoring runs of 2 and 33 yards coming in the first quarter. He finished the season with 1,285 yards, fifth on the Aggies’ all-time single-season list.
“When Gabe came to campus and we talked to him last spring, he was the most unassuming guy in the world,” Gould said of the former St. Ignatius High School and City College of San Francisco standout. “We talked about discipline and understanding where the blocks are going to be. It’s not speed to the hole, it’s speed through the hole, and understanding what patience is. And once the lights came on, he started shining.”
The same might be said of Gould, the first major hire of athletic director Terry Tumey’s tenure. Tumey interviewed almost a dozen candidates and took several months before hiring Biggs’ successor, surprising some with his decision to hire an inexperienced head coach. Until he was selected to succeed Biggs, who advocated and supervised the UC Davis transition from Division II, Gould was an assistant at Portland State, Boise State and Cal, where he helped develop running backs Marshawn Lynch, Shane Vereen and Jahvid Best, among others.
“Let’s just say I’m a big fan,” Tumey said with a wide grin. “I think this is really a statement of what UC Davis is going to look like in the future as well. We just try to do the best with what we have.”