Benefield: Former Gauchos set to tackle new territory

John Porchivina, left, and JaJuan Lawson, right, with Gauchos coach Trent Herzog at a college signing announcement at the school in February 2014. (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat file, 2014)

John Porchivina, left, and JaJuan Lawson, right, with Gauchos coach Trent Herzog at a college signing announcement at the school in February 2014. (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat file, 2014)



They were Casa Grande’s uber-talented dynamic duo in the fall of 2013, leading the Gauchos to a 13-1 record and a narrow loss in the North Coast Section Division 2 championship.

John Porchivina, who was voted both the North Bay League Back of the Year and All-Empire Defensive Player of the Year, signed on to play linebacker at the University of California at Berkeley.

JaJuan Lawson, the Gauchos’ stellar quarterback and All-Empire Athlete of the Year who passed for 2,203 yards and 23 touchdowns and rushed for 1,152 yards and 13 touchdowns, earned a full ride to the University of New Mexico.

Both redshirted last fall, but while Lawson emerged this spring as the Lobos’ third-string quarterback, Porchivina has decided to move on from Cal.

“Berkeley wasn’t a good fit for me,” he said. “It was really hard to balance all that football with the school.”

Porchivina is slated to enroll at Division I San Jose State in the fall, where he will have to sit out the 2015 season to comply with NCAA transfer rules.

The decision wasn’t an easy one.

As a red-shirt, Porchivina was lining up against the first string every day at practice.

“I am playing the starting defense and getting pounded every play,” he said.

A broken hand early in the season didn’t help, either.

It’s a major leap — from high school dominance to a program loaded with scores of guys just like you who can do it all, and do it all fast and strong.

“At that level, they bring in 20 to 25 kids a year — four years later there are 10 left,” Casa Grande head coach Trent Herzog said.

“It’s pretty crazy how it works,” he said. “They don’t all make it.”

One departure can be sparked by a million different things: homesickness, academic pressures, the thought of riding the pine, burnout or maybe the realization that the skills that got you to that place, that were once so unique, are now commonplace.

In high school, Porchivina was that guy — the one everyone dreaded squaring off with. When he got to Berkeley, suddenly everything was different.

“Once you get to that level, everybody is that guy,” he said.

But Porchivina, whom Herzog calls a competitor, said facing that level of play, that challenge on every down at every practice, was not the problem.

“It made football fun,” he said of upping his game. “Playing against that caliber, it really made me improve my playing.”

“It definitely challenged my thought of how I was playing,” he said.

But balancing the demands of football with 11 academic units at Cal was difficult.

“They had great support,” he said. “I had a tutor for each class and all the help I needed but …

“Trying to take classes where everyone was the valedictorian of their class was insane,” he said.

As a Golden Bear, Porchivina also faced a scrum of talent competing for spots at both running back and linebacker. Looking one, two seasons down the line, it wasn’t clear there was going to be an opening for him.

“I knew it was going to be tough, but I didn’t think it was going to be this tough,” he said of getting playing time.

And that’s what Porchivina wants: A chance to get on the field. He thinks he’ll get that as a Spartan, where coaches are interested in Porchivina playing linebacker.

“I have never really cared about where I play, I just want to be on the field,” he said of his position.

That attitude is what will keep Porchivina in the game, Herzog said.

“The kid is a competitor,” Herzog said. “He loves the game.”

Herzog wondered, when Porchivina was making the move, if the change would be a positive one. Now he knows.

“I think John is in a good spot,” he said.

Also in a good spot? Porchivina’s old teammate, Lawson.

“JaJuan is going to enter camp as our No. 3 is what it looks like,” said Frank Mercogliano, assistant athletic director of communications for the University of New Mexico.

And Mercogliano was quick to remind me that last year, the guy who started the season as the third stringer finished it as the starter.

“They are very high on him. They like him,” Mercogliano said of Lawson.

Herzog said he took a call from a Lobos coach recently, updating him on his former player.

The coach said “JaJuan is doing great. We love him and thank you for helping us get him. (He’s a) great leader, he’s going to help us, (he’s) going to compete for the starting quarterback job,” Herzog said.

So while his old teammate is fighting for a starting spot, Porchivina will be focusing on making his mark as linebacker for the Spartans, even if his first shot at it won’t be until 2016.

Herzog has faith that the kid who once wreaked havoc across the North Bay League can still make his mark with a Division I football program.

“I think the sky is the limit,” Herzog said. “You just have to weather the storm.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if a year and a half from now he’s starting at linebacker for San Jose State.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.