(Photo by Angela Davocol/The LANCE)
When Sorsogon native Aldin Ayo accepted the challenge to coach the Knights in 2015, he has brought beside him his pesky brand of defense and his exceptional work ethic to strengthen up the team. Ayo then assembled a coaching staff which consists of tacticians that he has worked with before to help him guide the squad.
However, not everyone knew that he carried with him another valuable piece to Intramuros; one who has fought countless of valiant battles beside him back home. A well-known ally whom he could trust in managing his players.
Fresh from his high school graduation, Neil Gonzales received a call from his former coach Ayo, who offers him a proposal he couldn’t refuse.
“Pagkatapos kong grumaduate doon sa amin ay bigla akong tinawagan ni coach Ayo, [Tinanong] kung gusto ko ‘daw bang mag-aral sa Letran. So ayon, nag-oo naman ako sa kanya kasi gusto kong makagraduate sa magandang school,” he shared. “Gagawin niya ‘daw akong student manager ng seniors team,” he added.
Gonzales was granted a scholarship in Letran through Ayo’s aid. But in exchange, he must serve as the team’s student manager. In this line of work, Gonzales will be in charge of tidying up the team’s equipments and recording the team’s games.
The San Juan-Roro native was under Ayo’s tutelage ever since he was in elementary school. This helped him to form a strong bond with the now National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and University Athletic Association of the Philippine (UAAP) champion coach.
“Parang ikalawang ama ko na siya. Noong nasa Sorsogon kami, sobrang bait niya sakin. Kulang na lang doon ako matulog sa kanila,” Gonzales bared, describing his relationship with Ayo.
“Tumutulong siya sa pag-aaral [ko]. Katunayan, naka-graduate ako sa amin sa isang private school dahil sa kanya. Ipinasok niya ako doon nong fourth year high school ako,” he added.
Things turned black though, when Ayo bolted to the De La Salle Green Arches right after giving Letran its first championship in ten years. Ayo’s move left the young Gonzales puzzled about his future.
“Nung umalis si coach Ayo, nalungkot ako sobra. Nangamba ako na baka alisin ako sa Letran,” Gonzales said.
In fear of losing his scholarship, Gonzales approached an unfamiliar person to raise his case. “Noong first meeting namin ni coach Jeff, hindi pa niya alam [‘yung] situation ko. Sobrang bait niya, nagpakilala ako at kinausap ko siya tungkol sa trabaho ko dito sa Letran,” he said.
“Nung nalaman niya na dala ako ni coach Ayo, wala naman siyang reaksyon. Basta tinanggap at pinagkatiwalaan niya ako,” Gonzales added, noting current head coach Jeff Napa’s kind gesture.
Napa, a UAAP juniors champion coach, was named head coach of the Letran Knights after Aldin Ayo jumped ship to La Salle.
Now in his fourth year studying Marketing Management, Gonzales remains focused on his goal which is to pass all of his subjects, and finish his education, so that he could help his family whom he left in Sorsogon in search for a bright tomorrow.
(First published on The LANCE's June-July 2018 Issue)