While most coaches are drawing up plays and arranging depth charts, Orange Coast College football coach Mike Taylor spent much of his preseason writing letters to professors on campus, urging them to admit his players into congested classes.
Taylor, who lost would-be returning receivers Buzzy Yokoyama and Bryan Keller to academic ineligibility this season, said last week he had 10 players who were still awaiting word on whether they would get enough classes to constitute the required 12-unit load.
"I wrote 155 personal letters to professors," Taylor said. "I felt like a mailman. I was up in the office stuffing envelopes into mail boxes."
With no winning seasons since 2006 and only three winning records in Taylor's previous 14 seasons at the Pirates' helm, OCC has become second class on the field. But Taylor is hoping experience at quarterback, more talent at receiver and running back and a more athletic defense will help this year's squad buck that trend.
The Pirates, who are 5-23 in conference play and 18-32 the last five seasons, open their schedule at Moorpark College on Saturday at 6 p.m.
Here's a position-by-position look at the Pirates:
•Quarterback: Sophomore Cameron Biedgoly, who threw for 1,359 yards and 11 touchdowns in seven games last season, is the projected starter this season, having won a three-man battle for the job with Jon Newsom and Chad Knox.
The strong-armed Biedgoly set a school record with five touchdown passes in an overtime loss to Santa Ana last fall, when he completed 28 of 50 for 417 yards. Biedgoly connected on 97 of his 176 attempts in seven games in 2012, with five interceptions. But, arguably the least mobile of the top three here, he was sacked 18 times.
Newsom, a nimble runner, completed 90 of 169 for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns with seven interceptions in nine games last season. He was sacked 23 times.
Knox, a bounce-back from the University of Wisconsin, has garnered praise from Taylor and second-year offensive coordinator Rudy Caamano. Knox completed nine of 13 passes for 86 yards during Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage, and opens the season ahead of Newsom (10 of 13 for 128 yards and two TDs in the scrimmage) into the No. 2 position.
Taylor said the experience of Biedgoly and Newsom provide a huge advantage in triggering the no-huddle, spread-option offense more efficiently this season.
•Running backs: Larenzo Williams, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound freshman out of Nashville, Tenn., begins the season as the starter in a running-back-by-committee group that Taylor said includes Newport-Mesa standouts Tala Teaupa and Robert Murtha.
Williams rushed for 755 yards and 12 touchdowns as a high school senior in 2011 and showed his explosiveness in Saturday's scrimmage with a 52-yard run and a 25-yard reception.
Teaupa, who opens the season at No. 2 on the depth chart, led Newport-Mesa ballcarriers last season with 1,662 yards at Newport Harbor High, en route to All-CIF Southern Section Southwest Division honors. He was also named Newport-Mesa and Sunset League Offensive Player of the Year.
Murtha, a three-time All-CIF Southern Division performer at Estancia High, is the Newport-Mesa career leader in rushing yards (5,489) and touchdowns (58). He gained 1,594 rushing yards and scored 15 TDs as a senior last fall.
Other likely contributors include Johnny Hills, a 5-8, 175-pound freshman out of La Mirada High.
Freshmen Nick Lomba, from Tampa, Fla., and Zach Salvat, from Joliet, Mont., are listed as the top two, respectively, at fullback.
•Receivers: Yokoyama, once a star tailback at Newport Harbor, and Keller, ranked second and third on the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, topped only by departed Tyler Duncan's 38 catches for 738 yards and seven TDs.
Yokoyama, who began the season as a running back, but was converted to receiver, had 33 catches for 465 yards and six TDs. Keller, out of Mission Viejo High, had 28 catches for 538 yards and six TDs.
They may not be missed, however, if freshmen newcomers D.J. McFadden and A.J. Holman and converted running back Graeme Fraser fulfill their potential, Taylor said.
McFadden, out of Philadelphia, Pa., is 6-4, 205 pounds, while the 6-2 Holman prepped at St. John Bosco. Holman caught 47 passes for 683 yards and eight touchdowns last season as a senior.
Fraser, second on the team with 274 rushing yards last season, had 13 catches for another 127 yards as a freshman. He is slated to start at the fourth receiver spot.
Spencer Ludin, a freshman out of Beckman High, is another projected starter in the pass-catching brigade that includes freshmen Richard Caceres and Dalis Bruce, as well sophomores Tredonte Hill and Stan Johnson. Johnson is from Virginia, while Hill comes from Nashville.
•Tight end: Angel Holmes, a 6-2, 215-pound sophomore from Arizona, is listed as the starter at a position that is used sparingly in the spread.
Marc Akin, a freshman from Redlands, is slated to be the backup.
•Offensive line: Sophomore center Charles Roberts (6-0, 338 pounds) started in 2011, while sophomore right tackle Taylor Evans (6-4, 274) started last season, when the Pirates produced a mere 1,270 rushing yards.
Zach Bateman (6-7, 305), is a freshman left tackle who starred at Estancia High as a senior in 2011.
Freshman left guard Reuben Brien-Arnold (6-3, 300) is from Australia with very little experience playing American football, Taylor said, while Miro Dragich (6-5, 330) is a freshman projected to start at right guard.
The projected starting front wall for longtime coach and former NFL All-Pro Doug Smith, averages nearly 6-4, and more than 309 pounds.
Abraham Garcia (6-4, 270) is the primary backup at tackle, while Jon Ramirez (5-10, 315) and Jon Elias (6-2, 320) are the backups at guard. Evans is listed as the backup center.
•Defensive line: Sophomore tackle Lear Schrader (23 tackles) is the lone returner in the four-man front, and is scheduled to start. He is 6-1, 270.
Josh Heidemann (6-2, 230), a sophomore from Anchorage, Alaska who began his collegiate career at Saddleback College, is a starting defensive end. Heidemann stood out in the scrimmage and could be the team's leading pass rusher, defensive coordinator John Young said.
Austin Brewer (6-2, 225), a freshman out of Edison, is the other projected starter at end, while Jordan John (6-1, 240), a freshman from Mission Viejo High, is the other starting tackle.
Greg Williford (6-0, 240), who helped Corona del Mar High win back-to-back CIF Southern Section Southern Division titles the last two seasons, provides depth inside, as does Josh Odigie (6-4, 250), a freshman from Los Osos in Rancho Cucamonga.
Francisco Alvarado (6-0, 220), a freshman from Hawaii, and Re'Shon Howard (6-2, 220), a freshman from Mission Viejo, are the backups at end.
•Linebackers: Young said there are about five guys here who could be considered starters and athleticism is a common theme.
Matt Lamberton (6-2, 250), a sophomore transfer from Santa Ana College, is scheduled to start in the middle of the four-three alignment.
Shane Griffin (6-0, 210), who had just six tackles as a freshman in 2012, is projected to start at one outside spot, while Caleb Potter (6-2, 230), a freshman from Texas, is set to start at the other outside position.
Sophomore returners Frank Chambers and Chris Aguilar, who had 56 and 54 tackles, respectively, last season, are backups in the middle and outside, while Aarone Santos (5-11, 205), a converted freshman defensive back from Hawaii, adds depth outside.
•Secondary: Elijah Steen, a freshman safety out of Beckman High who was a former walkon at USC, could be the best player on the team, according to Taylor, who believes the 6-1, 200-pounder will eventually get that Division I scholarship.
De Andre Dickerson and Billy Moore, both sophomores, are projected to man the cornerback spots, while Jason Kollack, a sophomore from Delaware, who spent last season at Azusa Pacific, is scheduled to start alongside Steen at safety.
Sophomore Shane Baumann had 17 tackles and two sacks last year and returns to provide depth at safety, as will sophomore Saddleback transfer Stefano Pecci.
Jordan Davidson, a freshman out of Long Beach Poly, and Charles Redd, a freshman bounce-back from Eastern Washington, are the backup corners.
•Special teams: Griff Amies, an All-American kicker who tied the state single-season record with 22 field goals last season at CdM, will handle the kicking chores.
Biedgoly is the projected punter, after Newport Harbor product Jake Ambrose had season-ending surgery to remove a cyst from his tailbone, Taylor said.
Dickerson is slated to return punts and kickoffs, while Bruce (kickoffs) and Williams (kickoffs) should also factor in in that department.
Baumann is the lead long-snapper and Knox is the holder.
Orange Coast Pirates
Coach: Mike Taylor (15th year, 59-84)
Staff: Rudy Caamano (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks); John Young (Defensive Coordinator, secondary); Doug Smith (Offensive line); Steve Fullmer (running backs); Tim Mesenhimer (defensive line); Glenn Gates (receivers); Rick Gatewood (receivers); Martin Mays (secondary)
2012 season: 3-7, 1-5 in Southern Conference
Returning starters: three offense, one defense
Returning with honors: none
7 — at Moorpark
14 — Pasadena (home), 7 p.m.
21 — Long Beach (home)
28 — at Palomar*
5 — Grossmont* (home), 1 p.m.
12 — at Desert
19 — at Santa Ana*, 1 p.m.
26 — Saddleback* (home), 7 p.m.
2 — Golden West* (at OCC)
9 — Fullerton* (home)
*denotes conference game
Games 6 p.m., unless noted