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Home is where the line is for COC

Four diverse defenders are the strength of the 2013 Cougars

Posted: September 5, 2013 8:50 p.m.
Updated: September 5, 2013 8:50 p.m.

College of the Canyons defensive linemen from left to right, Loni Fonua, Nate Mitogo, A.J. Thompson and Antonio Guy, have all arrived at COC from outside of the Santa Clarita Valley, but have found a home together on Canyons' defensive line.

 

Most of them are nowhere near their families or where they grew up.

But more and more, this unique group of four College of the Canyons defensive linemen is feeling at home.

The only thing that binds them is football. As far as how they all got to COC?

“It’s a long story,” sophomore defensive end Nate Mitogo says.

For the second year in a row, Loni Fonua, Antonio Guy, A.J. Thompson and Mitogo make up a defensive front at COC that will serve as the anchor of the unit.

But in a little more than a year, they’ve all become much more than just four guys who happen to line up next to each other on the field.

“It’s funny because a lot of people, even our own teammates, see us (and say), ‘You all are together, you all are close.’ And they don’t know that we stick together even after practice,” says Guy, a sophomore defensive tackle. “We hang out, we go out together. We’re roommates. We hang out with each other. We talk to each other on the phone. We’re more than teammates. We’re best friends. We’re brothers.”

Though it’s been somewhat unintentional, the four sophomores have established themselves as the benchmark for teammates to try to reach.

They’re not a bunch of talkers and they mostly like to keep to themselves, but their collective performance on the field and the way they work together is being noticed within the program.

“They’re kind of very mellow guys off the field, so I think they’ve slowly started to embrace that a little more,” says COC defensive coordinator Dan Corbet of the group. “And we’re definitely looking forward to that and having them take on that leadership role.”

It’s gotten to the point where these guys are rubbing off on their teammates.

“We try to make guys on the team comfortable. That’s our main job since we established that we’re the guys on this team,” Mitogo says. “We try to make sure that the new incomers and the guys coming in are comfortable and we try to help them go through this process.”

They know because they’ve been there before — struggling with home sickness and adjusting to a new, unknown place. It was that ‘we’re in this together’ mentality that brought these four together in the first place. Fonua, Mitogo and Guy moved into an apartment last year right around the corner from the COC campus.

The three of them are all from out of state and had no previous ties to the Santa Clarita Valley.

Thompson is the closest to a local in the group as he grew up in the San Fernando Valley and graduated from Chatsworth High. Even so, he’s become one of the guys.

“It’s more of a family-oriented base,” Mitogo said. “We’ve been together for awhile. We’ve been through a lot this last summer and this last year, so we’re very family oriented and we’re just together.”

Mitogo was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and moved to the United States as a young child, eventually ending up at Grand Rapids Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Mich. Mitogo was steered toward COC by his high school football coach, Don Fellows, who is a former COC offensive coordinator.

Fonua went to high school in the Las Vegas area and heard about the reputable COC strength and conditioning program headed up by Robert dos Remedios.

As for Guy, his last stop before COC was working in oil fields in Louisiana after a short stint with the NCAA Division II Saint Augustine’s University football team didn’t pan out.

Coaches at COC recruited him via his online profile.

Similarly, Thompson didn’t play football immediately out of high school. But after a year off, he decided to make the short trip up Interstate 5 to play at Canyons.

Other than Thompson, these guys rarely get to see their families. Instead, all they have is their teammates.

To the four of them, it doesn’t matter so much how they all got here. The point is they are here and they’re trying to make themselves and Cougar football all that much better.

“You see us, you’ve got to see COC,” Guy says. “We don’t go nowhere without that title.”

Corbet and the rest of the coaching staff are expecting COC’s defense to be vastly improved from an inconsistent 2012 campaign. And a lot of that starts with the four returning linemen.

“The strength of our team is the defensive line without a doubt,” says head coach Ted Iacenda, who said all of them have four-year college playing potential. “We’re going to go as those guys go.”

With some of them, it’s easy to explain how they contribute.

Guy, for example, led the team with 12 tackles for loss in 2012, and he also added a fumble recovery and a blocked kick.

The other three all played at least six games last year and recorded at least one sack.

But players like the 6-foot-1, 295-pound Fonua do a lot more positive things that don’t show up in the box score.

As the biggest player of the four, his job is often to take up space in the middle and take on as many blockers as possible to free up the other linemen and linebackers.

Mitogo, at 6-4, 230 pounds, is the speed pass rusher from the defensive end spot. As the other defensive end, Thompson (6-3, 265) is more of a technician and a versatile player.

Guy (6-2, 280) is flat-out explosive and causes havoc for offensive fronts.

It’s four guys with different abilities from different parts of the world who came here for different reasons.

Put them all together and, somehow, it’s harmony.

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