Crescenta Valley High football’s high-flying, high-octane, high-scoring offense commands plenty of attention and accolades. And rightly so.
A season ago, the Falcons averaged nearly 42 points a ballgame.
The likes of Brian Gadsby, Kevin Hello, Chase Walker and Jordan Lobianco posted gaudy numbers and the Falcons enjoyed an 8-2 record. But for all the flash and pomp that came with the Falcons’ exploits, it wasn’t without strength, grit and physicality in the trenches.
Whether on offense or defense, Davo Hakobyan fit that bill and will do so again this season.
“On defense, he’s unstoppable; he gets through the line every single play,” sophomore Tyler Hill says. “And on the offensive line, he’s the leader.”
Entering his third varsity season, Hakobyan, now a senior, turned in impressive performances time and again on the gridiron. But when considering that the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder is set to play in only his fourth football season overall, it’s borderline astounding how well he’s done thus far.
“It’s honestly incredible,” says Hill, who having started when he was 7 has already played more seasons of football as a sophomore than Hakobyan. “He just has raw talent and combined with our coaching staff, he’s getting better every play.”
Hakobyan was never drawn to football all that much; it was his brother who encouraged him to play. However, there was always one constant and that’s no matter the arena of athletics, Hakobyan’s always liked to hit people.
“I really can’t dribble a basketball, I really can’t hold a tennis racket. I was really never into sports like that,” Hakobyan says. “I’m an aggressive guy, I have to go hit somebody. That’s how I view sports.”
As it stands now, Hakobyan, a reigning All-Area and All-Pacific League first-team pick, is penciled in to start at defensive tackle and left tackle on offense. But not all that long ago, Hakobyan was hardly the athlete he is now. Then he found mixed martial arts.
“When we were younger, Davo wasn’t really an athlete,” says Crescenta Valley senior receiver/defensive back Connor Van Ginkel, who’s known Hakobyan since junior high. “As soon as he got into MMA, he got super athletic and super strong and super physical.”
In his quest to become a well-rounded mixed martial artist, Hakobyan trained all three main facets of the game: striking, grappling and wrestling. He trained in muay Thai kickboxing, jiu jitsu and wrestling to be more specific.
Then came high school and he decided to try football. After a dominant freshman showing, Hakobyan was promoted to varsity as a sophomore.
“I was really an MMA guy at the time,” Hakobyan says. “I just did football at the time to get PE out of the way and I thought I would do MMA as a professional.”
But as the talent level of the opposition on the gridiron grew, Hakobyan’s ability to balance practicing three fighting disciplines and competing in tournaments with football became too much.
So now, though he’s still an avid fan of MMA, he no longer practices it, as his focus has transferred to football. Electing to concentrate solely on football for the time being came in concert with his ascent to all-league and All-Area status.
As a sophomore, Hakobyan was a force on the defensive line for the Falcons, one of the brightest spots in an otherwise forgettable 5-5 2012 campaign. He was a second-team all-league pick with 59 tackles and six sacks, while also seeing time on the offensive line, essentially as a sixth lineman who notched a few starts.
“Obviously, guys who do [MMA] are tough, so he was already tough, he was strong and he had great hips,” Crescenta Valley Coach Paul Schilling says. “So after that, it was just about learning the game and he has.”
During his junior year, if you went strictly by statistics, Hakobyan dropped off, tallying 40 tackles and two sacks. However, it came as Hakobyan sacrificed playing time on defense to become a stalwart on the offensive line as a right guard.
“We can’t rest him on the offensive line, so that’s why,” Schilling says.
That’s likely to be the case again this season, as Hakobyan has shifted to left tackle to protect Gadsby’s backside, looking to duplicate a standout season of 2013 in which the offensive line allowed just four sacks.
Whether asking Hakobyan, his teammates or coaches, it’s clear, however, that defense is the side of the ball he prefers and is more adept at.
“Defense, it’s more instinctual, it’s more reacting,” Hakobyan says. “Defense is about aggression. I just clicked on defense more.”
But it’s apparent that all involved realize, what’s best for the team is Hakobyan captaining an offensive line in which only he and Brian Wong are returning starters.
“He’s definitely a defensive guy, but having him on the offensive line is huge,” Van Ginkel says. “If we don’t have him, Gadsby doesn’t have time to throw and we’re not scoring touchdowns.”
Thus, the kid who began his football days as an individual standout in the individual world of MMA, has gladly put his defensive prowess and statistics behind what’s best for his team.
In turn, it’s set a model for the rest of the Falcons. Van Ginkel, in particular, says Hakobyan’s example was a guiding light in him taking on his role in the defensive backfield though it might come at the expense of some offensive reps as a starting receiver.
“There’s no complaints, nothing to the coaches. It’s just, ‘Yes sir, whatever you need,’” Van Ginkel says of Hakobyan’s willingness to do what’s best for the team. “Davo’s looking out for nobody, but the whole entire team. He doesn’t care about stats or where he’s playing, he’s all about the team.”
No matter what side of the ball, whether it’s in the weight room, on the practice field or in the midst of a game, Hakobyan has fast become a leading force for the Falcons.
“He’s the captain. Everybody always goes to him for advice on and off the field. He commands the team,” Hill says. “Everyone kind of feeds off his energy.
“When he’s doing well on defense, the defense is doing well. When he’s playing well on offense, our offense is doing well, moving the chains.”
What Hakobyan’s future beyond high school remains in question.
Schilling doesn’t hesitate to proclaim that Hakobyan has the strength and skill to play at the next level.
“He’s a beast,” Schilling says. “He’s the whole package.”
But Schilling knows that at 6-2, 245, Hakobyan doesn’t possess the desired size for a Division I defensive tackle. Maybe a center on the offensive line? Maybe a linebacker? Hakobyan knows the reality of the situation as well.
“The one thing that restrains me from playing at the Division I level is my height,” Hakobyan says. “I think I have the talent.”
Going the junior college route is likely a realistic outlook. Of course, reigniting his MMA training could also be in the cards. But for Hakobyan to focus on what’s next for him would be out of character.
Crescenta Valley has grand aspirations of Pacific League titles, playoff runs and CIF Southern Section championships.
And just as Hakobyan’s ascended into one of the Pacific League and area’s best linemen in only three seasons of playing football, it seems as though he’s learned to love a sport he never really wanted to play as it’s provided him with the team he never had before.
“I’ve really come to like it,” Hakobyan says. “It’s not about you personally, it’s about everybody.
“Football is much more of a family. That’s why I’ve come to love it.”