After enduring a season filled with promise, controversy and unfulfilled expectations, Chapman’s football team faces some new challenges this year.
“This is a brand new team searching for its own identity,” Coach Ken Visser said. “I really don’t know what to expect.”
Chapman lost 14 starters and the core of players from a team that went 7-2 last season and produced a 21-5-1 record in the school’s last three seasons.
So Visser is left with only a few veterans and a group of untested players to face a brutal schedule.
Only one team on Chapman’s schedule had a losing record last season, Cal Lutheran at 3-6. The NCAA Division III Panthers will play three teams ranked in the NAIA Division II top 20, a Division I-AA opponent, St. Mary’s, and two road games in Texas at Hardin-Simmons (8-3 last season) and Howard Payne (8-2).
And the Panthers will tackle this schedule in the post-Curtis Robinson era.
Greg Hyland steps in at quarterback to replace the dynamic Robinson, a three-year starter. Also gone are tailbacks Ramsey Byrd and Ralph Langston, and Darnell Morgan, the team’s leading rusher last season.
Morgan, who rushed for 598 yards, averaged nearly 11 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns in helping the Panthers to a 5-0 start before the controversy began.
It was discovered that Morgan and defensive back Malcom King were playing their fifth season of college football, violating the NCAA rule that limits players to four years of eligibility. Both players were ruled ineligible.
Although Chapman voluntarily forfeited the five victories, the NCAA eventually ruled the victories would stand. But that didn’t help Chapman’s postseason aspirations as it lost two of the final four games.
Visser said the incident hasn’t affected recruiting, but conceded it might have an impact on the program’s image, which he feels is unjust.
“We weren’t trying to skirt the rules,” Visser said. “We did everything we could to prevent something like this. But the reality is that some things might fall through the cracks.
“I think this team has put all that behind them. They want to show they’re ready to win.”
Here’s a look at the Panthers:
Offense--Since Morgan, Robinson, Byrd and Ralph Langston provided nearly 80% of the team’s rushing yardage last season, Visser must reassemble the backfield.
“That’s our biggest question mark right there,” Visser said.
Charles Efraim, Keijuan Grubbs and Jimmy Perry are three candidates at tailback. Though they all show promise, they all lack experience.
They will have the luxury of running behind an experienced offensive line with three starters returning: senior center Matt Hertzler (5 feet 10, 220 pounds), a four-year starter from El Dorado High, and senior guards Matt Zaky (5-11, 265) and Allen Witten (6-3, 260).
There’s more experience at quarterback with Hyland, who went 8-1 in nine starts when he filled in for the oft-injured Robinson. Hyland completed 53% of his passes last season for 570 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
Hyland’s primary targets should be Dave Vaccaro (6-2, 230), who started at tight end last season and caught eight touchdown passes, junior Dennis Duffey (5-10, 165) and senior Terry Noice (6-4, 208).
Senior kicker Matt George made four of six field-goal attempts last season, including a 53-yarder.
Defense--Seniors Keith Dykes and Atlas Helaire, the team’s leading tacklers last season, return to anchor the defense.
Dykes (6-1, 247) had 85 tackles, including 14 for losses, and leads a strong group of senior linebackers that includes returning starter Freddy Brown and Fred Romo.
Romo (Rancho Santiago and El Modena High) was recruited as a linebacker and returns to his natural position after filling in at tight end last season.
Leading the secondary will be Helaire (5-10, 171), a free safety who had 51 tackles and a team-high three interceptions last season, and senior cornerback Michael Williams (5-10, 180). Senior Bill Lupo (6-3, 242) leads an inexperienced defensive line.
Senior punter Mario Acosta, from Servite High, averaged 44.9 yards per kick last season, third-best in Division III history. He earned second-team All-American honors.