Venice High School seniors Kenny Ashley and Jonas Mouton were first introduced in their early days of playing Pop Warner football, but it was not until they were reunited as teammates on the Gondolier football team that they both became standouts in the sport.

Ashley, 17, a five-foot-eight, 200-pound running back, and Mouton, 17, a six-foot-two, 210-pound free safety, both transferred to Venice High in their junior year.

But Venice High School was not the first place where they met.

The two players first competed together as seven-year-olds on a Pop Warner team in Inglewood, but later went their separate ways and did not play together again until their move to Venice High School.

While Ashley started his high school experience playing for Anaheim Servite High School and Mouton began at Inglewood, the two players credit Western League champion Venice High for giving them their first real taste of high school football.

“It’s helped me a lot to grow up,” Ashley said of playing for Venice coach Angelo Gasca.

“Playing under Angelo has helped me become a man and a better teammate.”

“When you come to Venice, you become part of a tradition and have a great coaching staff,” Mouton said. “People care if you succeed in life.”

Mouton and Ashley were well aware of each other’s style of play by the time they came to Venice, even though they may have been new players to many of the Venice Gondoliers.

“I’ve known Jonas since we were seven years old, and he’s always been a player who lets it all out,” Ashley said. “He’s quiet on the field but he brings it.”

Mouton was also quick to praise his teammate’s attitude as a player.

“Ever since we were little kids, people thought Kenny was too short,” Mouton said. “But week in and week out he always proves them wrong.”

This season Ashley led the Western League in rushing and he currently has 169 carries for 1,500 yards and 25 touchdowns.

As a junior last season, Ashley was named league offensive most valuable player, was first-team all city and first-team all state after finishing with 130 carries for 1,785 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns.

He was also ranked 55th in the preseason list of the top overall players in California this season, according to Rivals.com.

Mouton was listed eighth in the Rivals.com preseason rankings for top players in California.

This season, Mouton was ranked second in the league with 82 tackles and was also second in receiving with 35 receptions for 471 yards.

As a junior last season, Mouton was named league defensive player of the year after finishing with 80 tackles.

Mouton has also been selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.

“I didn’t really expect it,” he said.

In both seasons that Mouton and Ashley have played for Venice, the Gondos have won a Western League championship. The team also won the league title in the two seasons before Mouton and Ashley arrived.

While Venice has ruled the league the past four seasons, including two without Mouton and Ashley, Gasca credits the two seniors for making his team tougher.

“Together, because of their style of play, they’ve made us a more physical team,” Gasca said. “They’re dynamic, physically talented and very tough. Their futures are unlimited.”

Gasca calls Ashley the force behind the Gondo offense and said his performances on the field make him an “exciting player to watch.”

“Kenny is the main focus of our offense,” Gasca said. “He’s done a good job of giving us all he can.”

Mouton is the same type of player, only on defense, the coach said.

“It’s kind of ironic that on defense, Jonas provides what Kenny does on offense,” Gasca said. “He’s a tremendous player.”

Mouton said he is primarily a defensive player, but he will play wherever he is needed and will give that position his primary attention.

“If I’m playing on defense, then I’m defensive-minded by trying to stop plays and get the offense back on the field,” Mouton said.

A usual sight in a Gondolier football game this season has been Ashley breaking loose for a long touchdown run, but the running back said that is not his main focus on the field.

“I’m not looking to break for anything long,” Ashley said. “I try to help the offense by at least getting five yards. Eventually it breaks.”

The two senior players both credit Venice’s offensive and defensive line as the main strengths of the team.

While both players have had their share of success playing for Venice, they are ready to make the next step at the college level.

Both have been heavily recruited by college teams, and while Ashley has made a decision, Mouton is still taking it “day by day.”

Ashley has committed to play for Mississippi State University next fall on a full scholarship, and said he plans to study sports marketing.

“A lot of teams questioned my speed and height, but coach (Sylvester Croom) didn’t worry about that,” Ashley said. “He saw a football player.”

Mouton said he has narrowed his college choices to Nebraska, Michigan, USC and Louisiana State University, but wherever he goes next fall, he hopes that he can step on the field right away.

“I want to play the first year,” Mouton said.

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