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By Loren Kopff
Jon Nielsen, a fixture of Gahr’s football program for the past 10 years, resigned as the Gladiator’s varsity offensive coordinator this past Monday morning. Nielsen, who was also Gahr’s college recruiting coordinator, left amidst a slew of Facebook posts pertaining to an incoming freshman who is competing for a spot on the varsity squad.
Nielsen informed Gahr head coach Greg Marshall via text of his resignation and according to Nielsen, Marshall did not respond until 24 hours later. During his time at Gahr, Nielsen’s work with the offense has propelled the program to have one of the top passing teams in the state, as well as the nation. In addition, nearly a dozen and a half players have received scholarships in the past decade.
“I wasn’t comfortable with the position I was put in with all of the different things that transpired the last couple of months,” Nielsen said. “It was more of a professional than a personal move because of the things that were put in play.”
The whole issue centers around Kobee Lagarde, an incoming freshman who was enrolled at Long Beach Cabrillo High School but has recently transferred to Gahr. According to Nielsen, Marvin Lagarde, Kobee’s father, conversed with Gahr freshman football coach Rob Godwin on Facebook in early February about Kobee potentially attending Gahr.
But throughout the summer, more posts surfaced about Kobee Lagarde actually coming to Gahr and competing with junior Will Latham and sophomore Nico Lopez. Nielsen’s nephew Colby, another incoming freshman, was also thought to be in competition of the job. But that all changed when Nielsen found out about Lagarde.
“It’s not even really about Colby Nielsen being in the mix,” Nielsen said. “My nephew Colby is not ready to play on varsity right now. I don’t think any incoming freshman quarterback is ready to play on varsity for that matter. My hand was forced with all the information I uncovered the last couple of days. I had to walk away from the whole situation.”
According to Nielsen, Lagarde showed up at spring practice unannounced and began throwing on the side with former Gahr wide receiver Patrick Enewally and others. Nielsen talked with Marshall on May 25 about Lagarde, who spent most of the summer practicing with Cabrillo. The two agreed that all potential incoming freshmen would be able to compete for the varsity job. During Gahr’s first passing game with Westminster, Nielsen let his nephew throw the last series of the day in which he went seven for nine with a touchdown. The next day, Marshall told Jon Nielsen that it wouldn’t be a good idea to have Colby throw during the varsity practices and passing games because it would make [Marshall] look bad and show nepotism towards Colby.
“There was no disagreement [with Jon],” Marshall said. “I’m the head football coach. It’s my decision and that’s that.”
On July 30, Nielsen received a text from Marshall stating that the projected number one quarterback for this season was ruled ineligible. It was about that time when Lagarde transferred out of Cabrillo. Over the next several days, posts and pictures began surfacing on Facebook about Lagarde coming to Gahr. One of the pictures posted by Marvin Lagarde shows his son and three Gahr receivers.
“I’ve tried to build a sense of pride for the program the past 10 years,” Jon Nielsen said. “I’ve been proud with what we’ve done with the scholarships and those different things. But do the powers that be care about that? Probably not.
“I take pride with what we’ve done with the ‘G’,” Nielsen later added. “We put Gahr, with what we did on offense, on the map. As many people that may have a problem with that, you go talk to those 17 plus kids, and their parents, that got scholarships because of that and ask them,’ how did that work out for you’?”
Marshall said that this is the first time in his tenure at Gahr that he will have some freshmen play on varsity. He reiterated that Lagarde did get a permit, transferred to Gahr and is enrolled at Gahr. Marshall also added that he and Jon Nielsen had several conversations about bringing [freshmen] to the varsity squad and that everyone is evaluated.
“Just like all of the other freshmen, if on varsity there is a hole [in any position] and if we think they can compete for a job, we’ll bring them up,” Marshall said. “This is the first time we’ve had to bring up some freshmen.”
In 2007, Nielsen’s oldest nephew, Corey, led the state with 4,363 passing yards, which stood as third best in state history at the time. Two years later, Nielsen’s other nephew, Casey, passed for 4,416 yards and 41 touchdowns, bumping Corey to fourth best all-time in state history. From 2007-2011, Gahr quarterbacks have thrown for well over 18,000 yards and 160 touchdowns.
“It’s high school football, so I don’t think [his work] is going to be missed,” Marshall said. “It’s another season. Kids grow up and you have new kids coming in. Jon had been with us and he had done some good things for us.”
“This is the first time in 10 years I’ve been a free agent,” Jon Nielsen said. “I’m going to enjoy my Friday nights off this season. I have plenty of time to revisit my football coaching career and I don’t think I am going to have a hard time finding another coaching job. Truth is, I would have been happy staying at Gahr until my son got to high school, but life is about change and sometimes change is needed for growth.
“I want to say thank you to the administration and staff at Gahr High School,” he continued. “I thank Greg Marshall, I thank [Gahr principal] Gina Zietlow for allowing me to work on my craft for 10 years. Do I leave with any animosity or any hard feelings? Absolutely not,” he said.
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