Former GCC player one of the last to take community college route to division one

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Former GCC lineman Manny Orona will play college football at the University of Memphis. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Former GCC lineman Manny Orona will play college football at the University of Memphis. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Football has been Manny Orona's path to a higher education. Despite playing on an 0-10 high school team at Trevor Browne, Orona was spotted by a local coach at a wrestling match. He joined the long list of Valley athletes to stay home and play junior college football..

“It’s changed my life as a person, basically,” said Manny. “Where I come from, I wasn’t meant to play sports or attend college. I was just meant to work right away, help my dad with bills, mom with bills. It just gave me hope, to be honest. That’s what a Gaucho is, it’s hope.”

Manny blossomed at GCC. He now stands 6 feet 3 inches, 285 pounds and attracted the attention of Coach Mike Norvell at Memphis. Norvell, the former Offensive Coordinator at Arizona State, heard about Manny from coaching colleagues back in the Valley and offered Manny a scholarship

“Never in my life did I think this was going to happen," said “Manny. “My family has never had a college athlete in the family to play a college sport.”

His family is excited to make the trip to Memphis to see Manny play his first game. But, that wasn’t the case when Manny first told his dad he wanted to play college football. Manny had opportunities to work with family, roofing houses.

“He was happy, but not happy because I couldn't work,” said Manny. “But we made it happen during the summer. We worked out Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I'd go do roofing Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays."

“I just wanted him to get a job and pay his bills,” said Juan, Manny’s father, who made the trip to AZ Family studios with his son. 

“When he first started playing at GCC, he started coming up pretty fast. Watching him going through the whole thing, it’s just unbelievable. I would’ve never thought that he’d be here.”

Juan and Manny's entire family are planning to be in Memphis for Manny's first game.

To Manny, being a Gaucho means hope. That hope is about the run out. A decision to drop football at Maricopa Community Colleges will make future kids like Manny have to find another place to play. Despite a recent rally and petition to save the sport, Glendale, Scottsdale, Mesa and Phoenix community colleges will play their final season this fall.

Manny has a message to the decision makers before the decision becomes final.

“Take their time,” said Manny. "Take the whole day and think about it. You could be ruining other kids lives who are in the process of becoming like me, having a chance to fulfill their dream and having their education paid for.”

Kids will still be able to play junior college football in Arizona, but will have to go to either Arizona Western or Eastern Arizona colleges.

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