So as not to be misunderstood, College of the Canyons football coach Ted Iacenda leaned forward and rapped his knuckle three times on the wooden desk.
“I think this group could be extremely dynamic. We don’t have a lot of depth so that always concerns me, but if we can” … knock, knock, knock … “stay healthy, I feel like we could do some big things,” Iacenda said in his office Monday. “I feel like we could make a run at a conference title and make some noise in the playoffs, but we have got to stay healthy to do anything.”
The Cougars’ last conference title came in 2013, Iacenda’s first season as interim head coach, and a return to the top will require wins over some of California’s most vaunted.
National Division, Northern Conference foe Ventura came in at No. 5 in the preseason JC Athletic Bureau Poll of California Community College Football Coaches.
Bakersfield was No. 20, Moorpark No. 23 and Cerritos No. 24.
Canyons was listed under the “next five” after finishing 5-6 in 2016 and losing 27-3 to Mt. San Antonio College in the Golden State Bowl.
The Cougars, though, figure to be explosive on both sides of the ball in 2017. Sophomore Desean Holmes, a transfer from NCAA Division 1 FCS Southern Utah, leads a playmaking receiving corps.
RB Marlow returns in the slot after catching 31 passes for 465 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman. Brandon Pierce, a San Jose State transfer, will play receiver and cornerback, and Jarrin Pierce, no relation, will also be at wideout.
The running backs are Jalen Logan, a 5-foot-8, 187-pound sophomore out of Highland High of Palmdale, and Keland White, a 6-1, 200-pounder from Lakeland, Florida.
As for quarterback, the team has three. Iacenda was impressed with freshman Blake Green’s work leading up to the season, but Green is currently dealing with a shoulder issue.
That means Andrew Brito, who led Paramus Catholic High to a New Jersey state title last year, is the frontrunner entering Saturday’s opener at Antelope Valley. But it’s likely that sophomore Darryn Blackshere will see reps, too.
Whoever is under center will work behind a line that returns two starters.
West Ranch High graduate Travis Bird (6-5, 295) will anchor the line from a guard position. He played at tackle as a freshman.
Sophomore Migel Garcia (6-4, 289) will remain at tackle, while Iacenda is excited about newcomer Tate Renaud (6-3, 310) at center.
As for the other side of the trench, the Cougars boast as much firepower as any community college in the state.
Sophomore Dorian Gerald committed to the University of Tennessee after recording 12 sacks in 2016, and teams won’t be able to pay him too much attention this year due to newcomers Eric Banks and Noel Iwuchukwu.
“We have size. We have speed,” Banks said. “…. We’re going to go out there and get it.”
The defense as a whole returns five starters. Saugus High graduate Austin Davenport is back at linebacker, but he’s injured, and Iacenda expects him to miss a few games.
Alonso Reeves returns at backer after making 50 total tackles in 2016, good for third-most on a team that lost four straight games amid a brutal non-conference schedule.
This year, the Cougars play at Orange Coast on Sept. 9, then enter the teeth of another gauntlet: state No. 1 Fullerton, No. 7 Long Beach and No. 21 Grossmont before opening conference play Oct. 12 at Ventura.