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Freeman earns starting quarterback job

Edgar Melik-Stepanyan

John Cicuto did all he could with some of his troubled players.

He chastised them, benched them, suspended them and criticized

them during a woeful 2002 season.

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None of it seemed to work, because some of the Glendale Community

College football players continued to act immature during games and

practices.

Instead of starting the season with the same set of apathetic,

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undisciplined players, Cicuto, the Vaqueros’ head coach, had a better

idea: just get rid of them.

Following the 2002 campaign -- in which the Vaqueros went a

disappointing 4-6, with one of their wins coming because of a forfeit

-- Cicuto interviewed and evaluated 32 of his soon-to-be sophomores

and did what he thought was best for the squad.

Cicuto asked 15 of his players, including four starters, to leave

the program, and all 15 did. Cicuto declined to reveal the names of

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the departed athletes.

That left Cicuto with only 17 returners, some of whom had no

previous playing time and others who saw minimal action.

Among this year’s players is a crop of seven athletes from Burbank

and Burroughs.

The team will begin its season at 1 p.m. today against Orange

Coast College at Glendale High’s Moyse Field.

Cicuto felt if losing crucial players meant winning less games,

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then so be it. He would rather have a dedicated cast of players who

are committed to the team.

“We had so many problems last year, it really centered around

attitude,” said Cicuto, who had a laundry list of issues to deal

with, including players not attending practice or being ejected from

games.

“This is the smallest group of sophomores ever coming back. But

they had a great work ethic and were good team guys.

“This year was going to be centered around good sophomore

leadership. This is the best group of sophomores coming back, as far

as being team players is concerned.

“That’s a great plus for them. They’re all on the same page. Most

of the kids did a good job in the classroom, and that’s what we’re

excited about.”

With the loss of so many players, Cicuto will have to rely on more

freshmen than usual to step in and make an immediate impact.

And the sophomores who did return will be asked to take leadership

roles, a responsibility that most aren’t accustomed to.

It might be a trying year, but it’s a season that Cicuto is

excited about for the simple fact that he has a good group of

student-athletes who are willing to listen and put in the time to

improve.

“Everyday we look forward to coaching these guys because they are

extremely coachable and have bought into the program,” said Cicuto,

who enters his 29th year at GCC.

The script that’s been used to run the Vaqueros’ offense since

offensive coordinator -- and former Burbank High player and coach --

John Rome reentered the GCC scene two years ago won’t change.

GCC will run the ball, run some more, and pass only in dire

situations.

That’s been Rome’s formula for success. It worked in 2001, as GCC

won the U.S. Bank Beach Bowl, but it failed last year when the

Vaqueros were inconsistent, at best.

This year’s running back core will consist of sophomores Justin

Smith and Aaron Pruitt, and freshmen Justin Tyler and Kalin Kines.

Cicuto hasn’t named a full-time starter yet, but Rome said Smith

-- who redshirted last year at GCC -- might have the edge because he

knows the Vaqueros’ system the best. Pruitt might be hindered by a

high ankle sprain, but he said he’ll be fine by the start of the

season.

“We like them all,” said Cicuto, who lost sophomore starting

running backs Tyrone Burwell and Kartrell Clayton.

Cicuto said Smith will get the starting nod in the opener against

Orange Coast College on Saturday at home.

The starting quarterback reins will be handed to Burroughs

graduate Adam Freeman, who backed up J.D. Ziska last year and

completed nine of 18 passes. Freeman is only 5 feet 8 and weighs 180

pounds, but Cicuto has liked what he’s seen from the sophomore in

practices.

Cicuto waited until Tuesday to name Freeman the starter, choosing

him over David Parker, who was an All-Western State Conference

selection three years ago at College of the Canyons. Parker served in

the Army the past two years.

Freeman will start the first quarter against Orange Coast College,

and Parker will play the second quarter. Cicuto hasn’t made a

decision about who will start the second half.

“Adam Freeman has done a great job,” said Cicuto, whose team

averaged 19.9 points per game last year. “He manifests good

leadership, and he’s stronger than last year. We feel much stronger

at quarterback than last year.”

Said Rome: “Adam is as hard of a worker as I’ve ever seen. He’s an

example of what we want.”

Rome admitted Parker has a firm grasp of the offense, and his

experience might pay off.

Tim Fields, Thomas Riley and Getro Elize will handle the receiving

duties. Daniel Mazal (Burroughs), David Sorkness (Burroughs) and John

Dincher (Burbank) will battle for time at tight end.

Guard Nick Bronk and tackle Ricky Valenzuela return on the

offensive line. Center Moris Velasco and tackle Juan Marin will vie

for playing time along side Bronk and Valenzuela.

"[The strength of the offensive line] gives us a lot of confidence

because of the size and power we have,” Pruitt said.

On the defensive side, the Vaqueros have question marks at nearly

every position.

Most of their players don’t have experience at the college level,

except for defensive end David Kasbarian, linebacker Josh Martin and

defensive backs Jason Lipscomb and Robert Harris.

As far as every other spot, Cicuto said the starting positions are

up for grabs

"[Our defense] is kind of in limbo,” said Cicuto, who lost

linebacker Adam Gil, defensive backs Todd Lawson and Rainest

Crawford, and defensive lineman Christopher Lovejoy and Shawn

Southern.

Cicuto appointed himself the defensive coordinator, three years

after relinquishing the position to coach special teams. He’s taken

up the burden again, and if his defense falters, he’ll take the

responsibility.

“If we don’t do well, I’ll fire myself,” said Cicuto, whose squad

will play only two teams -- San Pedro L.A. Harbor College and Compton

College -- that had winning records in 2002.

In recent years, Cicuto hasn’t asked his defense to be the

backbone of the team, and he sure won’t do it this year.

But Cicuto needs to do something to improve on last year’s marks,

when GCC’s poor tackling and lack of fundamentals were two of the

many factors that led to its downfall.

For now, Cicuto said his defense is active and pursues the ball

well.

Dustin Nersesyan, Frank Mederos and Ryan Workman will handle the

inside linebacking chores, with Bryan Gonzalez, Jeff Jacobs and

Christian Briones (Burbank) complementing their teammates as outside

linebackers.

“We’re not going to be big, but we have good team speed and we’re

strong at the lines,” Cicuto said.


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