The celebratory midair body slams were something to behold from College of San Mateo offensive coordinator Mike Dovenberg.
After calling Saturday’s game from the sky box — navigating CSM’s 41-0 win over Modesto in the Northern California regional championship game — Dovenberg ran down to the field at College Heights Stadium to celebrate with his players.
The 30-year-old Dovenberg had all the boyish exuberance one would expect from a landmark championship win for the football program on the hill. Although, this was far from the expectation less than a year ago after Dovenberg was diagnosed with leukemia in June 2018.
“A year ago, he was going through Round 3 of chemo before a bone marrow, stem-cell transplant,” CSM head coach Tim Tulloch said. “Doing what he’s doing, it’s remarkable.”
After undergoing chemotherapy, followed by a bone marrow transplant Feb. 19, Dovenberg endured the next 28 days in isolation. Then he had to limit his time around others to protect against viral infection, and resorted to coaching remotely upon his return to the CSM staff, regularly using Skype to communicate with fellow coaches and his players while in remission.
Just prior to CSM’s playoff opener Nov. 23 against Fresno City, Dovenberg underwent a biopsy and was determined to be cancer free.
Since then, the Bulldogs have earned two playoff wins, including a 21-0 victory over Fresno City in that Nov. 23 opener. CSM has now won 12 straight games to start the season, a program record, and will now play for the California Community College Athletic Association state championship Dec. 14 against Riverside in Bakersfield.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling right now,” said Dovenberg after Saturday’s win. “We just won the Northern California championship and, I never thought I’d say it, but it’s not even the best thing that’s happened to me this year.”
When freshman quarterback Luke Bottari arrived at CSM in the spring — he attended afternoon camps while finishing up his senior year at Serra — he had yet to meet Dovenberg, who was still in partial isolation following his transplant.
The first time Bottari met Dovenberg, the coach was wearing a mask over his nose and mouth to protect his breathing from infections.
“This guy with this mask walks in,” Bottari said. “He looked like (the Batman villain) Bane. It was crazy.”
With Dovenberg also serving as quarterbacks coach, the two would form a close bond. So, when Dovenberg shared the news about his being cancer free with the Bulldogs, Bottari, especially, took it as inspiration.
“We heard that news and we were all celebrating,” Bottari said. “Just to hear about him last year and what he was going through, it’s night and day over the past year in what he’s been able to do in order to conquer this terrible disease.”
While Dovenberg’s triumph over leukemia has helped inspire the Bulldogs to a historic season, the young, veteran coach — he spent three seasons as head coach at Gavilan College in Gilroy before joining the staff at CSM in 2017 — said the inspiration is a two-way street.
“It’s incredible,” Dovenberg said. “… The bond here is something super, super special. Aside from my wife and my immediate family, these guys are right there with it. Through all the tough stuff we went through this year, they were right by my side.”