When media relations folks go looking for a preseason football poster boy, their first instinct is to head for the team's offensive huddle.
But unless they want to consider a receiver who did not score a touchdown, or perhaps an offensive lineman, such action at Orange Coast College this fall would be problematic.
This was not the case last season, when then-sophomore Ray Holley was the clear choice, on his way to setting the school single-season record with 1,457 rushing yards, scoring 18 of the team's 20 rushing touchdowns and accounting for 97.2% of the team's rushing yards.
The backfield this season, however, includes scores of unproven players, as the only returning offensive starters, at least for tonight's 6 o'clock opener at home against Saddleback, are wideout Brandon Estrada, tackle Robert Wright and guard Mike Meyer.
The Pirates' receiving corps does offer some potential, with three returners who collected a combined 38 receptions for 574 yards and three touchdowns in 2009.
But, perhaps even more so than last season, the story of Coach Mike Taylor's 2010 squad might be told on defense.
Only four starters return from the unit that ranked third in the state in rushing defense last season, but a talented front seven, a deep and promising secondary, and a shift to fewer gambling schemes that were more vulnerable to the big play, could help this year's defense take some of the pressure off of an offense that might be lacking star power.
"There are some big holes to fill," said Taylor, whose team finished 5-5 after starting 4-0 last season. "We don't have a running back like last year, when we had Ray Holley."
Holley received an 11th-hour scholarship opportunity at Louisiana Tech last spring and, not long after that, the opportunity for greater success was afforded OCC. The latter refers to a Southern California realignment that will allow OCC to trade former conference thorns Saddleback, Fullerton, Palomar and Grossmont for less-imposing threats such as Southwestern of San Diego, Golden West, College of the Desert and Riverside.
OCC went 1-11 in the powerful Southern Conference the last two years, but has landed in the East Conference this season.
"This schedule is easier," said Taylor, who enters his 12th season at the helm. OCC is appreciative of a less-difficult road, after having produced just two winning seasons in the last nine.
That road, however, may not appear less hazardous if none of the newcomers step forward to render offensive productivity.
The most pressing concerns are at quarterback and tailback.
Freshman Zach Emde is the projected starter under center, where last year's performers (all departed) combined for 18 interceptions, just four touchdown passes, a mere 1,268 passing yards and a paltry 36.6% completion rate.
Matt Viles, the Sunset League MVP last season at Edison High, where he threw for 2,948 yards and 28 touchdowns, had impressed Taylor in the off-season. But Viles informed the coaching staff just days before the opening workout that he had elected to sit out this season.
Freshmen A.J. Josue and James Ohiri are additional candidates at quarterback.
There are more than a handful of candidates at tailback, none of whom is likely to make anyone forget Holley. But they are likely to leave an impression on tacklers.
Bill Chimphalee, a 5-foot-11, 255-pounder who was the Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year in 2007, is projected to start at tailback, Taylor said.
The nod at fullback appears to have gone to freshman Silver Maake (6-0, 245).
"We could have the most physical backfield we've had in a while," Taylor said. "Maake is a dude."
Chimphalee, who carried three times for four yards in the preseason intrasquad scrimmage (in which six sacks helped limit the offense to minus-nine yards on 30 rushing attempts), missed last season after suffering a wrist injury in the preseason scrimmage.
Meyer, a 6-2, 300-pound sophomore, is listed as the starter at left guard and Wright (6-2, 290), the left tackle, is also expected to anchor a blocking corps that appears thin with just 10 bodies.
Talented newcomers up front include freshman center Alec Davis (6-1, 255), freshmen guards Stuart Strother (6-1, 282) and Travis Whitlock (6-1, 265), a Costa Mesa High product, as well as freshman right tackle Kyle Donaldson (6-3, 350).
Sophomore wideouts Lano Fuentes (a 23.1-yard average and two touchdowns on his 13 catches last season), Estrada (13 catches in 2009) and Kali'i Kunitomo (12 receptions and one touchdown) are among those who could help foster a more productive passing game.
Other pass-catching threats include sophomore Keali'i Doll, Derrick Romo and sophomore starting tight end Jeff Waldron, a former Costa Mesa High star.
Defensively, the linebacking corps is a strength. Sophomore Travis McNaughton (6-0, 240) was second on the team last year with 53 tackles. Freshman outside 'backer Corbin Davis (6-2, 230), who was injured last season, and former Edison standout Earnie Sagiao (5-11, 275), the projected starter at middle 'backer, also headline a crew that includes sophomore Eric Wiersma (6-1, 230), who started in the middle last season.
Bryce Brantley (6-5, 255), who had 6.5 sacks last season, and Eric Homec (30 tackles and two sacks) provide experience and talent as sophomore defensive ends.
Other stalwarts up front include freshman starting tackles Ross Pitsenberger (6-1, 265) and Chris Magnusen (5-11, 280), ass well as sophomore end Nick O'Neill (6-4, 250).
Joe Galvez, a sophomore cornerback, was the team's Most Valuable Defensive Back last season and sophomore Bryan Pali, whose 39 tackles ranked fourth on the squad in 2009, is also back to help first-year coordinator John Young feel more confident.
Lucas Vandeman, who made 11 of 16 field-goal attempts last season, including a long of 47 yards, is back to help the offense find consolation, as well as points, on drives that stall in and just outside the red zone.
Defensive end Aaron Henry, safety Mike Patrick and offensive tackle Jon Roche will be missed, after they all failed to secure their academic eligibility, Taylor said.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times