NORTHEAST GLENDALE — It’s been 10 months and a little over a week since last season ended, but when the Glendale Community College football team kicks off its 2009 season at home against West Los Angeles College on Saturday, it will be 11 months to the day since the Vaqueros last won a game.
For the entire team, but particularly the 20 returning sophomores second-year Coach John Rome welcomes back, much of the focus during the buildup to the new season has centered around improving on the previous one, in which the team showed early promise, but splintered under the weight of a rash of injuries and a five-game losing streak to play out the schedule.
“We’re real excited, we’ve been working out here every day, rain or shine, no matter what,” sophomore linebacker Kalii Robinson said during a recent team practice. “We’re real dedicated to this season and we want to turn it around from last season. ...It’s a new season and we’re ready to go.
“We want to just get our names out there and show Glendale what we’re really about, so people don’t sleep on Glendale college.”
There’s an intriguing mix of freshman arrivals to assist that turnaround and many of the returners already have experience playing key roles last year.
“There’s more talent on the field,” said sophomore right guard Tanner Farwell, who graduated from Crescenta Valley High in 2008. “[Coach Rome] has done a great job of recruiting.
“This team is different than last year — we bonded quicker and we’re already a team. There’s less individualism and more leaders on all levels. We’ve got freshmen here that know how to lead.”
Rome, who led the Vaqueros to a 3-7 record (1-5 in conference) last season, has been busy assembling this year’s recruiting class, while continuing to draw players exclusively from within the state and heavily from the valley areas.
But in addition to new players, the coaching staff has been expanded, as well, and one of the first repercussions of that was a shift in the team’s defensive formation.
New defensive coordinator Doug Bledsoe, who played at Glendale college in the late 1980s, has installed a scheme identical to the one that longtime Vaqueros Coach John Cicuto ran when he was the team’s defensive coordinator.
“We’re a multiple 3-4,” Rome said. “We’ve actually gone back to a traditional Glendale approach. ...It’s a throwback to what [Bledsoe] is very comfortable with.”
The defensive line will consist of a mix of sophomores Danny Valdez, Jesse Halberstadt and Nick Bryant and freshmen DeVon Rosa, Cornell McTier and Stanley Vaughn.
The linebackers are Robinson and freshmen Jacob Meza, Joey Orlandini out of St. Francis and Jeano Khajarian from Glendale.
In the secondary, freshmen Leon Jones and Osa Aikhionbare will play the corners, while sophomore Max Williams and Rene Howard are the safeties.
“I’m really excited about what we’re about to do, we’ve got a real good team,” DeRosa said. “The defense is really strong. We’re gonna be shutting it down.”
Defense will be a focus for the Vaqueros’ improvement after the team slipped to 32nd in Southern California in total defense in 2008.
“The defense wants to improve,” said Robinson of a unit that surrendered 419 yards per game last year. “We were kind of low-ranked a little bit last year.”
Several key components of the offense, which ranked 11th in Southern California in total offense and 17th in the state last year, will reprise their 2008 roles.
Stephen Miller, who started four games at quarterback last year, including the final three, will start this season as the Vaqueros’ signal caller.
“He was the guy down the stretch [last year],” Rome said. “He possesses a big arm and we believe he’s got a lot of potential. We like his work ethic in the offseason, he’s done a great job.”
Miller’s targets will include sophomores Nick Bryant and Brian Williams, who led the team with a team-high 25 catches apiece last season, as well as sophomore Eudell Clayton and freshman AJ Little. The starting tight end will be Dylan Ryan.
But, as they did last year, the Vaqueros figure to run the ball quite a bit more than they put it in the air.
Glendale college returns three sophomore running backs who were stars at their respective high schools and received varied levels of playing time last year.
Willie Youngblood out of Muir, Joe Wiggan of Burroughs and Jorge Chaidez of Bellarmine-Jefferson will rotate downs and split carries with freshman Anthony Dawkins.
“That’s our four-headed beast,” Rome said. “I don’t really know who’s the best right now. Whoever works hardest that week in practice will start.”
The Vaqueros’ 2008 rushing attack totaled 1,923 yards and 22 touchdowns as the sixth-best rushing offense in Southern California.
Opening holes for the running game will be an offensive line anchored by three returning starters, Farwell, center Bobby Pardo and left guard John Schachtner. Freshmen Roger Garcia and Richard Avitia are the right and left tackles, respectively.
“We think our front line talent can compete with anyone,” Rome said. “Our starting 22 could start for any of those schools [in the division], we believe, but depth is always an issue for us.
“We are looking at no one ahead of West L.A. We have to play every game one at a time.”