COC football season opener preview

Canyons quarterback Andrew Brito throws a strike to receiver Leroy Deshazor during practice on Wednesday at Cougar stadium. Dan Lovi/The Signal

After narrowly missing out on a playoff bid last year, the College of the Canyons football team is ready to prove that they belong with the best teams in the state.

The Cougars finished the 2017 campaign with a 9-2 record, going 4-1 in conference play. The team they open the season against this year, Saddleback College, is the team that took their spot in the state playoffs last year, despite finishing the regular season with an identical record.

“It starts with this game right here,” said Cougars starting quarterback Andrew Brito. “Last year Saddleback beat us by less than a point to get in the playoffs and everyone on this team and at this school knew we deserved that spot. We’re going to prove it week one this year.”

Brito has a group of talented receivers to throw to this season, including returning wideouts Jarrin Pierce, Brandon Pierce and Leroy Deshazor.

The Cougars also brought in 6-foot sophomore Damaris August, a transfer from Pierce College in Woodland Hills, who head coach Ted Iacenda believes will make an impact right away.

“We’re expecting big things from newcomer Damaris August,” Iacenda said. “(The wide receivers) are going to be exciting and a fun bunch to watch.”

After losing defensive ends Dorian Gerald and Noel Iwuchukwu, who both moved on to Division 1 universities, defensive back Shaddrick Lowery Jr. will be relied on to anchor a defense that Iacenda believes will be a pleasant surprise.

“Shaddrick Lowery, he’s the straw that stirs the drink for us. He’s our leader and our captain,” Iacenda said. “We lost two big time defensive ends, but this defensive line group has a lot of fire in them and a lot of a talent. I think they are going to shock some people.”

According to Iacenda, the Cougars have shown great energy and focus thus far in practice. They are going to have bring that focus and intensity when they take on the Gauchos this Saturday.

“They are one of those programs you try to emulate. They do a lot of great things, play with a lot of discipline,” Iacenda said. “I expect it to be a big test with their athletes all over the field. It’ll be a real barometer to see where we are at week one.”

Brito, in an effort to better prepare himself for the season opener, drove 85 miles south to Mission Viejo to watch Saddleback scrimmage.

“I think that was a really good experience, to see them with my own eyes,” he said. “I have also been watching film this whole week nonstop so I think I’m going to be very prepared.”

The road game against Saddleback will take place at Mission Viejo High School at 6 p.m. on Sept. 1.

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