Vongni Yang, The Union Democrat

When Rob Hoyt was a 22-year-old senior at Fresno State in 2007, he landed his first coaching job.

After realizing that he did not want to coach in high school, Hoyt contacted Reedley College's Brian Fonseca about a possible assistant position.

"I knew Coach Fonseca because he recruited me out of Sonora High School," Hoyt said. "I called him. I wanted to go somewhere, where I can get the most responsibility."

And in April of 2007, Fonseca, the Reedley men's head basketball coach, lined up a spot for Hoyt on his staff.

That meant that Hoyt, a 2003 Sonora High graduate, would have to drive 35 miles to and from his Fresno home to Reedley College everyday - all for no pay.

"Seventy miles a day," Hoyt said. "Back and forth. I drove on Highway 99."

But as a full-time student and a newly hired assistant, Hoyt had to figure out a way to make ends meet, especially with the rising gas prices.

With coaching and teaching on a somewhat similar field, Hoyt decided to work with at-risk youth. He ended up as a substitute, teaching at a juvenile hall and a continuation school in Fresno.

"I did those subbing jobs because nobody wanted them," Hoyt said. "I could get more work that way."

On Hoyt's first day, he pulled up to the campus parking lot and asked a teacher to point him in the direction of the office.

Since it takes a patient person to inspire and interact with these students, the teacher offered some advice to Hoyt, "Get back in your car and leave."

But he didn't budge and grinded through his situation.

And it paid off.

Hoyt graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology, and soon, his coaching career blossomed despite juggling more than 16 hours as a student, teacher and coach.

"Hard work is the only answer to success," Hoyt said. "You need to get a little luck along the way with timing, or the people you know, but that all stems from all the hard work you put in."

On a long day, Hoyt attended morning classes from8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and instructed students in the afternoons before hitting the road for practice in Reedley. After all that was over, he usually went to a nearby high school to scout potential college basketball players.

For Hoyt's drive and fiery personality, Fonseca coined the nickname "The Rocket" for his young and passionate assistant.

"He's just like a rocket," Fonseca said. "He's everywhere. He's the rocket. He's always worked really hard. Whether it was recruiting or scouting. He was willing to put the time in and that's why we had success. He was always willing."

With Hoyt by Fonseca's side, the Reedley Tigers mens' basketball team went 46-16 from 2007-09, including two playoff appearances and a run to the Elite Eight during the 2008-09 season.

"We had two great years when he was here," Fonseca said. "Forty-six games in two years was fantastic. He was a big part of that. He was a big, big part of that. As long as I've been here, those were our glory years. Good times. Good run."

But Hoyt, a humble man, knew he wasn't the sole purpose for Reedley's quick turnaround. It was a team effort from the coaches to the players.

"I think because we did so well, that I was given some credit that I didn't necessarily deserve for all the success," Hoyt said. "I had a little to do with it, but I was given a lot of credit for it."

"While the Rocket was here we had a great staff," Fonseca said. "Rob got along extremely well with my other assistant coach Ron "Gonzo" Gonzales. We had great teams and great times."

With a proven resume in just two years, Hoyt moved on as an assistant to Cabrillo College under coach Tony Marcopulos in Santa Cruz County, where again, success followed.

At Cabrillo, Hoyt received a small coaching stipend and found outside employment at a martial arts studio, a warehouse, a surf shop and as a delivery driver, all while earning his Master's Degree from the United States Sports Academy.

Although Hoyt studied and worked constantly, he was able to help lead the Cabrillo Seahawks to a 14-12 record in his first year, but that mark improved in the next three seasons and they went 20-8, 24-4 and 20-9, respectively.

In four seasons, the Seahawks went a combined 78-33 and captured three Coast Conference South Championships and advanced to the state playoffs all four years, including an Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen appearance in Hoyt's final two years as a Cabrillo assistant.

"My job responsibilities were much more," Hoyt said. "My hands were involved in everything we did in the program. I was very busy when I was there. It was boot camp. Some nights weren't really fun, but it was a great experience that definitely ended up being one of the best decisions that I ever made in my life."

With a track record for greatness in his six years, Hoyt, just 28-years old at the time of his hire, secured his first head coaching position with Columbia College in May of 2013. A year prior, the former Claim Jumper point guard from 2003-05, was a finalist for the Lassen College head coaching gig.

"Columbia - it was a natural fit for Rob," said Fonseca, a former Claim Jumper assistant under then-head coach Denny Aye from 1990-93. "He was very excited to go back to the Sonora area. That's just a unique spot. The three years I was there, it was a blast."

Under the leadership of Hoyt, who is the youngest head basketball coach out of the California Community College Athletic Association's 91 squads, the Claim Jumpers have played well in stretches, including an 83-82 overtime stunner over No. 4 Yuba in December.

With four regular season games remaining, Columbia has already won more games in Hoyt's first year than the Claim Jumpers did all of last season. They have also matched the win total from the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, respectively.

"I love it," said Hoyt, who invests more than 70 hours a week as head coach. "I love staying up all night watching film, trying to figure out how to get each individual player better. I am going to push them to be as great as they possibly can. It's to make them better players and to become better people."

Although Hoyt is considered a part-time employee, he is 100 percent committed to the Claim Jumper program.

Despite having just two playing sophomores on the team, Hoyt, along with assistant coach Rick Francis, have helped with the development and progression of Columbia's young talent.

Local products Rosendo AmayaWood, Tige Wingo, Daniel Radford and Jordan Gomez have all been key contributors. Both Summerville Bear High graduates AmayaWood and Wingo are among the top five rebounders in the Central Valley Conference as freshmen.

Wingo, who hasn't played a full season since his Bear days, has emerged as a dominant force and a team leader under Hoyt. The 6-foot-5 powerful forward is averaging more than 14 points per game on 45 percent shooting and is grabbing nearly eight boards per contest.

"I really like him as a coach," Wingo said. "He does really well coaching us. He is a coach on the court, and off the court, he's relaxed but not too relaxed. He's good with the guys. He has a very good mind for coaching. He's done a very good job of adapting and making adjustments here and there."

Hoyt's coaching career nearly comes full circle when the Claim Jumpers (10-13, 3-5 CVC) host his old mentor Fonseca and the Reedley Tigers (11-10, 5-3 CVC)on Saturdayat Oak Pavilion.

Tip-off for the showdown is scheduled at6 p.m.

"To me it's cool on one hand," Fonseca said. "But it's kind of like a lose-lose situation, at least for me. It's no fun to beat people that you care about, but you don't want to lose to them either."