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First Day of Practice Kicks Off a New Era for Chapman : Football: Ernie Chapman, a tackle on 1932 team and son of the school founder, is among those drawn to witness birth of Division III program.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As Ernie Chapman walked across the field at Chapman University Thursday morning toting a video camera, the past met the present.

Ernie was a tackle on Chapman’s last football team, which played in 1932.

At 83, he was there Thursday to bridge a 62-year gap by watching the next generation of Chapman football players go through their first day of practice.

Chapman is the son of Charles C. Chapman, who founded the college. Young Ernie played for the school when it was called California Christian College and was based in Los Angeles. The team had about 25 members when it was disbanded, mainly because of the Depression.

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Six decades later, Chapman was there to see it reborn.

“It’s utterly amazing,” he said. “This is exciting. I’m really looking forward to the game here. I think it’s going to do a lot for the student body, giving them the main sport. . . . In our day, you used to push a (blocking sled) up and down the field. That was our scrimmage. We couldn’t risk getting anyone hurt.”

When the announcement was made about 2 1/2 years ago that Chapman again would field a team, Ernie Chapman said he hoped perhaps 40 players would try out.

When Ken Visser was hired as coach in December, he said he would be thrilled if he could get 60 to show up. But last spring and over the summer, it became clear that the number would be closer to 100.

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The official total Thursday was 112. The Panthers, playing on the NCAA Division III level, open the season Sept. 17 at Whittier College. The first home game is Sept. 24 against Claremont.

“When we started,” Athletic Director Dave Currey said, “we anticipated trying to get 60 or 70. Any more would be a logistic dream for us.

“But why shouldn’t we have this many, with (Cal State) Fullerton and Long Beach (State) dropping their programs, we’re the only four-year team around (Orange County).”

The start of the program, like the start of practice, has received a great deal of attention. The program’s rebirth will be featured in the September issue of Orange Coast Magazine and CNN has called about doing a story.

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Before 9 a.m. Thursday, several players were already on the field waiting to get started.

But the day had begun much earlier for Visser. He awoke well before dawn, eager for his first day with his team.

“I was up at 4 (a.m.),” Visser said. “I just woke up and my eyes went ‘Boing!’ I was wide awake from then on.” He arrived at the campus at 6:45 and went over paperwork until the team’s breakfast at 7:30.

The players started to drift out to the field, which recently underwent a $500,000 face-lift, a little before 9. From that point on, the most popular question was “What time is it?”

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Close to 9:30, Chapman’s first official practice began with the sharp sound of a whistle. The players wore black helmets, white shirts for offense, black for defense and black shorts.

Chapman is bringing together players from all over and from all backgrounds. Many of the key players are expected to be community college transfers.

“Basically,” said Travis Carter, a junior from Cerritos College, “what I saw out here today convinced me that this is the No. 1 first-year program. I came here because I would have a chance to start and not have to compete against guys that have been in the program for two or three years. Everyone is from, basically, different areas but we are pulling together.”

Many of them hadn’t met before a team meeting Wednesday night.

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“I have no idea how good we’re going to be,” said Efriam Miranda, a defensive lineman from Orange Coast College and Tustin High School. “Now, the most important thing for us is getting to know each other and to trust each other.”

Darin Beard, a freshman defensive end from Sunny Hills High, came to Chapman because it “felt right.”

“I’ve been working hard all summer to get ready for this,” he said. “I’m up with the big boys now.”

The practice went smoothly for the most part, with no injuries and only two players needing attention because of the heat-related problems. Chapman also held a second practice Thursday night. The players will switch to full pads Sunday. Classes begin Monday.

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“I know it’s the first day,” Visser said. “But I wish we would have executed a little a little better on offense. But it sure is a lot of fun to finally get rolling.”

For anyone walking on campus near the field, the most distinctive voice belonged to defensive line coach Bill Yurak.

His best moment came when the Panthers lined up to run wind sprints at the end of practice. After a few 60-yard runs, Yurak noticed the players slowing down.

When they stepped to the line he asked them twice, “Are you people tired yet?”

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“No,” they panted.

“Then give me a growl,” he screamed.

As the players did their best panther imitations, Yurak, a former Marine, looked at Visser and said, “We’re ready, Coach.”


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