Vaqueros football looks to take next step

NORTHEAST GLENDALE — Putting up some crooked numbers figures to be a key objective for the Glendale Community College football team this season — on the scoreboard, of course, but most importantly in the win column.

The Vaqueros enter Saturday's 1 p.m. season opener at Compton College having won just one game in each of the past two seasons, going a frustrating 2-18 over that span. For the returning sophomore class, it's been a headache they would just as soon like to avoid this time around.

"One and nine definitely leaves a bad taste in your mouth," returning center Spencer Lee said. "It brings sort of a whole other level of preparation. You come in there, you want to do better and you want to win some more games, so with the kids we had last year and the kids we brought in, it's a good group of kids and I think we have potential to do some good things this year."

There's signs of a possible turnaround ahead, as well as some question marks, with the Vaqueros' offense being most emblematic of that duality.

The void at the quarterback position that so hamstrung the Vaqueros offense last year appears to have been filled by a surplus of capable candidates, but the team bears not a single returning ballcarrier from last season's deep and dominant rushing attack.

"We're really hoping that a couple of young men step up and do well," Vaqueros Coach John Rome said of filling the gaps in the running game, which was ranked second in Southern California last year with 226.5 yards per game.

The Vaqueros will lean heavily on sophomore transfer Collin Keoshian, a bounceback from Brigham Young University who played sparingly for College of the Canyons last season.

Big and skilled, but without much 11-man live game experience after playing eight-man football in high school and redshirting his only season at BYU, Keoshian will get his first shot at being a featured tailback.

Freshmen Walter Moctezuma and Chan Kim, a Glendale High graduate, are also in line for carries.

Up front, two returning All-Western State Conference selections from last year in Lee and tackle Steven Escoboza will be joined by freshmen Ricardo Macias and Joe Bartolo.

"I'm very happy with those four right now," said Rome, who is still weighing his options for filling out the offensive line.

Rome is yet to name a clear-cut starter at quarterback, where freshmen Nick Blackmon, Nate Weston and Isaac Valdez have battled to a dead heat. He said all three have demonstrated the ability to manage a game and distribute the ball effectively in the Vaqueros' traditional multiple pro-style offense.

"It beats last year, I wish I had one of them last year," said Rome, whose team was ranked next to last (36th) in passing offense in Southern California last year and averaged just 114.3 passing yards per game. "We have to narrow it down. Maybe I'm just milking it because I enjoy having quarterbacks around since last year's experience and competition has made it extremely good.

"It's all pretty much neck and neck right now."

There's quite a bit of depth at tight end, as well, with COC transfer Jess Reed and returner Anthony Carter topping the depth chart with freshmen Scott Stochl and Joe Rubino also in the mix.

"We run a multiple tight end offense anyway, so they'll all play," Rome said.

At receiver, three sophomores, Eugene Gandara, Matt Volland and Darren Morrow lead the way, while freshmen D'Angelo Blake and Elijah Gutierrez add depth.

"We're looking great, we're improving every day," Escoboza said. "The team's strong, we've got a lot of new freshmen and a lot of experienced veterans coming back with a lot of knowledge. We're fitting guys in the right positions right now, but we'll be good to go."

Said Lee: "I have big expectations for the passing game. It looks way better than last year. We have three good quarterbacks and they've just got to compete. Whoever's hungry is just gonna come out at the end of the day."

Under new defensive coordinator Marcus Turner, who played at UCLA before stints in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets, the Vaqueros will change defensive schemes for the third time in as many years, this time converting from last year's 4-3 to a 4-2-5.

The four-man front is book ended by Noche Nwofor, a 6-foot-3, 220 pound freshman who Rome calls very explosive, and sophomore Carlos Cuadra, a converted fullback. Freshman Michael Hernandez will play tackle and Rome is still determining who will start at the last inside lineman position.

Freshman Dominic Bell is slated to start at linebacker with sophomore Mario Rodriguez likely filling the remaining linebacker slot.

"We look very good, we're just waiting for the first game to see how we do," Bell said. "We all get to the ball fast, that will be our main thing."

The team will play three safeties, with one rotating back and forth at linebacker. Scott Plescia is a returning all-conference safety and Matt Lopez also returns, while freshman Bobby Baker will see action. The corners will be manned by sophomore Richard Townsell and newcomer CJ Hudson.

"We're pretty happy with our secondary right now," Rome said. "We think that unit could be pretty good. We just want to see guys tackle. The last couple years that's been one of our defensive shortcomings. ...I think this year we have that."

The Vaqueros will play a total of three nonconference games before jumping into play in the American Division Pacific Conference, where they finished 1-6 last season, against host Antelope Valley on Sept. 22

"I think we have some real good young men on this team," Rome said. "We're working to get better, we're trying on a daily basis to improve. We're not necessarily talking about winning or losing games, we're just talking about being competitive."

Said Plescia: "We're getting there, it's a work in progress. We're making strides for our first game. I feel like we're coming together every single day and it's a good mesh of the veterans with the young guys. We're just getting some team continuity going."

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