Gongbay races past opponents, against time

Rockville's Crusoe Gongbay is stopped - but only for a moment - by Wheaton's Mac Juniorson in early October. Gongbay had 212 yards and three touchdowns against the Knights - in the first half.
Rockville's Crusoe Gongbay is stopped - but only for a moment - by Wheaton's Mac Juniorson in early October. Gongbay had 212 yards and three touchdowns against the Knights - in the first half. (Doug Kapustin)
By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 2010

Rushing for nearly 5,000 yards and 70 touchdowns at a Montgomery County public school typically puts a player on the speed dial of most college football recruiters. Leading an unheralded program to the playoffs in two of your three varsity seasons - after the team made it just twice in 40 years - ought to get that player the type of accolades reserved for the top tier of the area's football talent.

Rockville's Crusoe Gongbay, who has these credentials on his football résumé, isn't focused on kudos. The 6-foot, 195-pound senior speedster is the area's leading rusher this season (1,810 yards and 29 touchdowns), yet he knows all of his on-field accomplishments won't matter unless he can focus on getting strong enough grades to repair a broken transcript. The player with the eye-popping speed (4.5 seconds in the 40 yards), who bursts past linebackers before they know he has the ball, is racing the college recruiting calendar.

Grades and the level of Rockville's competition are the biggest reasons many college recruiters haven't pursued Gongbay, who acknowledges that unless he can boost his grade-point average and standardized-test score in the next few months and gain initial NCAA eligibility, his dream of playing college football might be on hold, with a possible stint at prep school instead.

"This year is supposed to be a cruise year for me," Gongbay said, "but I can't. I've got a lot to make up. Nobody ever sat me down [before high school] and told me how big this was."

Limited offers

High school senior football players can sign letters-of-intent for college scholarships beginning Feb. 2. Colleges typically receive signed letters from their recruiting classes that day, and usually only accept letters from players who have qualified. While there are instances where scholarship slots open when a player does not qualify, it is rare.

Gongbay's poor grades his first two years at Rockville are why only New Mexico and division I-AA Towson have come forth with scholarship offers so far.

Playing for one of the smallest public schools in Montgomery County, the soft-spoken Gongbay has rushed for 4,807 yards and 67 touchdowns the past three seasons. Within the Washington area, only Stone Bridge's Marcus Harris is within 1,300 yards and 25 touchdowns of Gongbay's totals over that span.

Gongbay has surpassed the 200-yard mark in 13 of the 28 high school games he has played, and that includes three that he left early with injury.

"He could easily have more," Rockville Coach Kevin Bernot said. "We've pulled him out of games in the third quarter [including a 55-0 victory over Kennedy on Oct. 22, when Gongbay had 11 carries for 135 yards at halftime]. He's one of those kids who, on any play, he could break an [isolation] or a toss for a touchdown. He's going to do it. It's just a matter of time."

Gongbay said he has heard skeptics tell him for three years that he is piling up stats against lesser competition in Class 2A. Play a schedule of Montgomery 4A or 3A programs, they tell him, and his numbers wouldn't be as impressive.

"He's breathtakingly fast when he gets into the open field," said Wheaton Coach Joe Ortega, whose team saw Gongbay rush for 212 yards and three touchdowns in the first half of a 44-20 Rockville victory on Oct. 8. "Get him into the open field, he's gone."

Gongbay acknowledged he did the bare minimum to stay eligible to play his first two seasons at Rockville, and that would not be good enough to reach NCAA initial eligibility standards. He still needs to complete the 16 core-curriculum courses and improve his standardized-test score.

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