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By Michael Cruz
With National Signing Day approaching February 5, we at GSPN are happy to interview possibly the only Chamorro that may be signing a national letter of intent for a college football scholarship this season. Brandon Finona-Gardener officially committed to Chadron State. He will be attending the same Division 2 college program that produced current San Diego Charger Danny Woodhead. Brandon like Woodhead was overlooked by bigger schools and Chadron State offered both an opportunity.
Name: Brandon Finona-Gardner
High School: Monterey High School, Monterey, CA
Village (parents are from): Mom (Dededo), Grandfather (Joaquin Finona – Familian Englis from Dededo), Grandmother (Dolores Taijeron – Familian Sensen from Merizo)
Favorite Chamorro Dish: Bistek and Corn Beef
Height: 5’ 11 ½”
Weight: 178 lbs
Position in Football: ATH – WR/RB/DB/S/LB/KR
2014 AIGA Foundation Polynesian All-American
2013 #D1Bound All-Star
2013 Monterey County Herald – County Defensive Player of the Year
2013 Monterey County Herald – All-County Defense Team
2013 Salinas Californian – All-County Defense Team
2013 Monterey Bay League (Gabilan Division) Defensive Player of the Year
2013 Monterey Bay League (Gabilan Division) – First Team Defense
2013 Monterey High School – Most Valuable Player
2013 Monterey High School – Defensive Player of the Year
2013 Monterey High School – Most Outstanding Receiver
2013 Monterey High School – Varsity Team Captain
2012 Monterey Bay League (Gabilan Division) – First Team Defense
2012 Monterey Bay League (Gabilan Division) – Honorable Mention Offense
2012 Monterey High School – Most Outstanding Defensive Lineman
2011 Monterey Bay League – Varsity Newcomer of the Year
2011 Monterey High School – Most Outstanding Receiver
2011 Monterey High School – Most Outstanding Defensive Lineman
Stats: 2013 Stats (Senior Year)
Tackles 89 Tackle Assists 27
Sacks 6 Sack Yards 95
Forced Fumbles 4 Passes Blocked 3
Punts Blocked 1 Safeties 1
Kick Returns 8 Kick Return Yards 121 (15 yard average)
Longest Kick Return 44 Receptions 5
Receiving Yards 675 (22.5 yard average) Longest Reception 56 yards
Offensive TDs 9 (Receiving) Defensive TDs 1
2012 Stats (Junior Year)
Tackles 55 Tackle Assists 13
Sacks 8 Sack Yards 112
Forced Fumbles 3 Passes Blocked 7
Punts Blocked 2 Safeties 0
Kick Returns 3 Kick Return Yards 57 (19 yard average)
Longest Kick Return 25 Receptions 22
Receiving Yards 220 (10 yard average) Longest Reception 67
Receiving TDs 4 Defensive TDs 2
2011 Stats (Sophomore Year)
Tackles 47 Tackle Assists 15
Sacks 12 Sack Yards 82
Forced Fumbles 3 Passes Blocked 8
Punts Blocked 1 Safeties 0
Kick Returns 2 Kick Return Yards 32 (16 yard average)
Longest Kick Return 24 Receptions 12
Receiving Yards 99 (8.2 yard average) Longest Reception 18
Receiving TDs 1
2010 Stats (Freshman Year)
Tackles 68 Tackle Assists 33
Sacks 19 Sack Yards 105
Forced Fumbles 6 Passes Blocked 3
Punts Blocked 1 Safeties 1
Kick Returns 3 Kick Return Yards 72 (24 yard average)
Longest Kick Return 44 Receptions 5
Receiving Yards 61 (12.2 yard average) Longest Reception 41
Receiving TDs 1
40 yd. dash: 4.51
Shuttle run: 4.12
GSPN: Give us a little background on how you started playing football.
BF: I started playing football in 7th grade in the Monterey Bay Youth Football League. I really liked to run and was pretty fast so I wanted to give football a try. I played basketball and I thought I was good, but looking back I was just average.
GSPN: You had the honor of being selected for the Polynesian Bowl. Were you the only Chamorro selected? How was the experience playing with fellow pacific islanders?
BF: Being selected to The AIGA Foundation All-American selection was a huge accomplishment. My cousin and I have been going to the AIGA Foundation events since they started offering football training and supporting all of their activities. Even though the word AIGA means “Family” in Samoan, they have always opened their arms for Chamorros and other Pacific Islanders. The coaches preach family and faith and try to help kids go to college and prepare them for manhood and teach kids to give back to their communities once they become successful.
When I was a freshman, I set my goal to be selected to one of the all-american games in the country. The fact that the AIGA All-American game features the top Pacific Islander players across the country in one game gave me an opportunity to meet and learn more about different cultures from Polynesia and also teach about the Chamorro culture. A lot of those players only know basic stuff, so it was good to represent Chamorros.
I was the only Chamorro that was selected to participate in the game.
GSPN: You verbally committed to Chadron State, how did the recruiting process go?
BF: Recruiting was pretty intense for me. I had set a goal early on that I wanted to play at the next level. My family had taken me to camps all over the country to give me the opportunity to compete. While at the camps, I was able to get a lot of exposure, meet and compete with some of the best players in the country. In my junior year, I went to Jr. Day at Washington State, University of California Berkeley and also UCLA which was huge for me. I learned that college football was very competitive and sometimes players get stuck in a numbers game. The school you thought you wanted to play and attend didn’t have any room or scholarships. Towards the end, there was some interest from programs all over the west from D1, D2, D3 and NAIA. I had three NAIA offers already on the table.
What’s funny is the coaches at Chadron contacted my uncle about me pretty late in the cycle because they saw some film on me from the #D1 Bound All Star Game in Los Angeles in December 2013. Things went pretty intense from then. When I spoke to the coaches they expressed to me and my family how I would fit in. I felt good about it, but I wanted to get a better look so me my mom and my uncle took a trip to Chadron. I was really impressed in how the system made players work and get better. The school is building new facilities and the players are a tight group. It felt good leaving Chadron with the offer but better because I took a firsthand look. I would tell all players don’t get frustrated, think about what options you have and how it will turn out in the end if you give it a chance.
GSPN: Any reflections on your high school career?
BF: I was fortunate; I had some really good teammates and coaches. I was the only player that went both ways so I hated to come off the field, even for a breather. Looking back on it, I was proud of the fact that we made the playoffs all three years and I was able to be an impact player for my team. I only wished we were able to bring a championship to the school. I was an all-league player all three years and in my senior year I was selected as the League Defensive Player of the Year, All-County Defense by the Salinas Californian and the Monterey County Herald’s Defensive Player of the County.
GSPN: Any advice for the Guam youth players who aspire to get to your level?
BF: I want youth players from Guam to understand that it is a constant grind. Don’t be discouraged, hard work will pay off in the end. I also want players from Guam to create opportunities for others to follow. Always remember to stay humble and respectful. Go into things with the mindset that you are going to get better each time, even if it’s something as simple as stretching – always learn how to improve.
GSPN: Anyone you wish to thank for helping you become a successful student athlete?
BF: I want to thank my family. My family always stresses that I need to go harder. From going to camps all spring and summer long, I wanted the work and lessons to pay off. Even though my family is in the stands cheering, they are also my biggest critics. My mom, aunts and cousins are always there to stand up for me, but my uncles put me in my place. They pick apart the game and the plays and point out where I need to improve. I have the greatest support cast because I have the best of both worlds. I would also like to thank my coaches for pushing my team and me throughout hard fought seasons. Last but not least God, nothing would be possible for me without him in my life.
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