GLENDALE — From a numbers perspective, 2012 was a down year for the Glendale Community College football team.
The Vaqueros finished 2-8 overall last season and 0-7 within the American Division Pacific Conference, which extended the team’s conference losing streak to nine games.
From a slightly different perspective, the Vaqueros’ opening day roster of 72 players was significantly smaller than that of Santa Monica (84) and Los Angeles Pierce (96), both of which finished first and second last year in conference, respectively.
Yet, given those numbers, there is only optimism at Vaqueros camp, as the team prepares to begin its 85th season Sept. 7 at home versus Compton College at 6 p.m.
“In community college football, you shed 50% of your team, theoretically, every year. With this team, we’re particularly young and this group is looking to make its own statement,” said Vaqueros Coach John Rome, who is starting season No. 6. “This is a group that is learning and has a few key sophomores who will help with experience.”
Perhaps the new blood will mesh with the team’s eight returning starters who are primed to use last year’s experience as fuel rather than an anchor.
The Vaqueros’ offense averaged 16.6 points per game last season, which was third-lowest in conference, as five different quarterbacks took at least one snap for a position that only averaged 117.4 passing yards per game, while contributing nine touchdowns versus 13 interceptions.
This season either freshmen Sean Murphy, formerly of Valencia High, or Jonathan Santos, from South East High, will win a lively quarterback competition.
Murphy threw for 3,939 yards and 38 touchdowns versus 14 interceptions his senior year, while Jonathan Santos tossed for 2,809 yards and 39 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.
“Right now, it’s an open competition, but either one is a strong option,” Rome said.
Perhaps the biggest loss for Glendale was the transfer of bulldozing running back Collin Keoshian, who continues his career at Illinois State after a banner 2012 year in which he rushed for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns on 236 carries.
Freshman Marquise McGuire, La Salle High graduate Amir Evans and Bellarmine-Jefferson standout Josh Martinez are pining to fill the void.
While Martinez is the lone arrival from Bell-Jeff, his Guards head coach, David Machuca, also defected and will run the offense for Rome.
Maybe the team’s most explosive offensive skills unit is the wide receivers, which includes returner D’Angelo Blake, who led the team with 286 receiving yards on 22 catches with three touchdowns.
“The thing about last year is that it’s something you can’t really forget, but something you really do want to put behind you,” Blake said. “I’m one of the few vets here and my job is to help out my quarterback and the other receivers get on the same page. We want to avoid last year.”
Blake is joined by freshmen Isaiah Bernard and Brock Kap.
Perhaps the fiercest battle is at tight end, where Joseph Thompson, Francisco Grado, Anthony Acevedo and Tanner Mays are all battling for positions.
Throughout the summer, the one unit on offense or defense that has made the biggest impression has been the offensive line.
Sophomore Ricardo Macias, a 6-foot, 310-pound returner, leads a line ready to block for whoever is in the starting lineup Sept. 7.
“We expect to be the best unit on the field and you really can’t have a good offense without a good offensive line,” Macias said. “That’s where you start and we’re ready for this year regardless of who our starting quarterback is.”
Macias’ line includes a five-player rotation of returner Nick Game, David Orellanes, Jose Sanchez, Carlos Gonzalez and Mitchell Stoudt (Crescenta Valley).
On defense, GCC boasts a pair of impressive nose guards in returning sophomore Mike Hernandez and Justin Slaughter, while ends David Smith and Austyn Waller hope to make an impact in Rome’s hybrid 4-3, 4-4 defense.
Perhaps the star of the Vaqueros defense is 6-2, 225-pound linebacker Noche Nwofer, a one-time Suburban League standout at Artesia.
“I expect to have a great year, but it’s not about stats, it’s about wins,” said Nwofer, who’s aiming to be the team’s lead tackler a year after linebacker Dominick Bell paced the squad with 82 tackles. “We have a young group with a lot of potential. The good thing is that this is football and it’s not too hard to get to know everyone. We’ve been practicing together since February, so that’s not a problem.”
Nwofer will be aided by a linebacking corps that includes Marcus Tappan, Isaac Rizo and Logan McClain.
If there is a potential area of concern it’s the secondary, where only three starters have emerged in returner Nate Weston, Dante Shipman and Antoine Peterson.
Not to be forgotten are specialists in long snapper Forrest Stevens of Burroughs, punter Forrest Ascarrunz of St. Francis and kicker Giovanni Garcia.
GCC opens its season Saturday at Sartoris Field at 6 p.m. against visiting Compton.