Leaving home for the first time is hard when moving across the state or even just across town, but when relocating cross country for the dream and leaving family behind, it pays to have your friends along for the ride.
Jashaad ‘J-Rock’ Perry, Jaquevis ‘Quebo’ Harmon, Tyran ‘Ty-G’ Graham and Demarcus ‘Big Mark’ Gilmore attended Newberry High School in Newberry, South Carolina together before transferring to PCC. They are the first in their town to leave home, a courageous step to see what doors would open for them 2,370 miles away.
“All of them or none at all,” was the objective for seasoned independent regional recruiter coach Chuck Monroe, who refers to the group as a band of brothers.
Monroe looks for athletes who would otherwise be overlooked by college recruiters and help said athletes get a shot at their goals. He played a pivotal role in the players’ path from Panthers to Lancers.
The four alone make up an offensive line of over 1,115 pounds of talent charging at their opponents, and when they work together, the line has proven to be unstoppable. Since Gilmore’s return from a minor injury, though unrelated and completely coincidental, the team had been riding a five game streak high for the first time in PCC history since 2010 until a devastating loss to rivals East Los Angeles College in the Homecoming game.
But they almost didn’t make it here at all. If it wasn’t for a miscommunication, the band of brothers would have never graced us with their positive energy, and would have been separated at high school graduation.
Gilmore, or Big Smooth, as Monroe likes to call him, a two-star athlete, had been accepted to Southern Carolina State University to play football when he reached out to Monroe for help. Gilmore and his family were left without direction when the university neglected to tell them that Gilmore was a walk-on, and they would have to pay completely out of pocket.
This misstep in administration opened up a new opportunity for Gilmore—a chance to stay with his friends, but also give everyone the chance to explore.
Monroe began hunting for the perfect school. Kansas City’s Hutchinson College showed interest in Gilmore, but since the offer didn’t include everyone, they passed.
“It was important that they stay together,” Monroe said.
Monroe then made contact with former head coach Thomas Maher to see if he needed defensive lineman before his untimely and still mysterious departure as head coach for Pasadena.
However, the head coach switch didn’t affect the players, and they were welcomed warmly by current head coach Steve Mojarro.
“The coach isn’t what makes the player,” Monroe thinks, but with “…attention to their personal talent, they are capable to succeed anywhere they go.”
So with their brave hearts and lessons from their parents ringing in their ears, the group made the decision to become Lancers.
The friends hopped on a plane from the only place they had ever known to chase the California dream. Mojarro was welcoming, giving them a tour of Los Angeles that included the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, a view of the infamous Hollywood sign, Blaze Pizza, and the ultimate symbol of West Coast arrival: a trip to In N Out.
They, however, had no love for the burger chain.
“So many people said, ‘Oh you’ll love it, you’re gonna fall in love’ and I didn’t,” Gilmore said.
Besides the disappointing burgers, the game against West LA was a highlight for the team, earning a crushing 58-22 in what is now highest scoring game in Robinson Stadium since it opened in 1999.
“It really starts with the kids. They’re playing for each other and they feed off each other. If they’re down, they fight for each other,” Coach Mojarro said of the team.
Gilmore, Perry, Harmon, and Graham have been playing football together since they were young bucks in recreational football. For Gilmore and Perry, the friendship has been lifelong, as their fathers played basketball together and were also childhood friends.
“We’ve just always been friends,” Perry said when trying to remember when they first met.
They pulled a senior prank together at their high school back home, and were considered to be the popular kids at school. Gilmore was voted best personality, most athletic, and most likely to be successful, and Perry got best dressed.
Graham and Harmon are described by Mojarro as the quiet ones, while Gilmore and Perry are energetic and vocal, a nice combination he said.
“They’re great kids, but the credits got to go to their parents… They raised some fine men,”
As freshmen, the lure to enjoy the freedoms of being away from home could be enough to distract you from your studies. But the group help one another to stay out of trouble, defending each other from bad grades by focusing on their studies and attending football practices.
Gilmore and Graham are business majors and are looking forward to graduating from college. Perry wants to be an anesthesia technician, and Harmon wants his master’s in psychology. In addition to football, they focus on learning, and they look beyond the sport for future success.
“I just want to surround myself with good things, good people and be the best I can be,” Graham said.
The energy from the group can be felt throughout the team. Mojarro described the group as encouraging and hardworking. They can make you laugh on even the darkest of days, like in the midst of a three-game losing streak.
“You could be having one of the worst days, and then go work with them and it improves 100 percent,” Mojarro said about the group.
Graham is quiet and talented but also the youngest of the band of four, which, according to Mojarro, is why the older three mentor him. Mojarro said the team will be relying on Graham next year to continue the work they started. He has been out for the last two weeks due to a knee injury but he has been following his physical therapy to get himself ready for next season.
“I’m going to see my family in December,” Graham said.
In preparation for the upcoming game against Santa Ana this weekend, the last chance for a ring, Gilmore said they have been watching videos on Santa Ana’s offense for a shot at defeating them. Alas, Santa Ana remained undefeated as the game ended 54-29.
The loss leaves PCC 5-5 for the season.
Despite PCC losing their shot at a title this year, the band of brothers now have the experience of embracing the unknown that will help them succeed beyond their football years.