After going 10-0 last season and winning the Southern California Football Association National Division, Northern League championship, the College of the Canyons football team had a setback against Ventura College, losing in the first round of the playoffs.
But at COC, it’s all about lessons learned, and this year’s squad is ready to take up the mantle and finish the job this season.
“We messed up last year and choked at the end,” said linebacker Khalib Johns. “It’s more of a lesson learned, we won’t take anybody lightly, we take every game seriously. We want to win it all, make sure we finish this year.”
“What we talk about here is opportunities lost,” said head coach Ted Iacenda. “You prepare week in week out, one day at a time and when the challenge arises you perform. The kids know we had the chance to chase some dreams and accomplish some things. There’s plenty of sophomores on this team that are motivated by the fact that we left a lot on the table and we didn’t perform the way we should have.”
The Cougars lost a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, sending 19 student-athletes to play at a four-year university, but a core group of sophomores return to shape a formidable group.
COC’s defense, which was the No. 1 ranked defense in the state last season, has a handful of returners and a bunch of fresh faces who are ready to make an impact from the jump.
“The linebacking core, we have a lot of talent, I think we are just as strong as we were at linebacker last year,” said Charles Ike, a Hart alumnus. “D-line I think we’re just as good, we have a lot of solid players.”
“Our defense, I know we lost a lot of people, but we also returned a good amount,” said defensive tackle Aurion Peoples. “I feel like we’re going to be just as good if not better.”
The Cougars sent five cornerbacks from last year’s team to Division 1 universities, and those players left big shoes to fill in the secondary.
Iacenda is not concerned however, and said that the young corners will be aided by the veterans on defense, and he’s already seen flashes of greatness from the new players.
“We return some big time guys in the safety positions which will help our young corners. Our corners are young but they are very talented. Early they will probably take some lumps because they’re young, but we’re going to look for the rest of that defense to prop them up until they get their feet underneath them,” Iacenda said. “They know, they wear it like a badge of honor, that corner group graduated five D1 corners last year. Are they ready to step up and replace those guys, they did not shrink from the challenge. I am someone who is always very guarded in my prognostication and I think this is as talented a bunch as I’ve had here.”
The Cougars also saw several of their skill players move on, but Iacenda believes the wide receivers this year are going to turn some heads with their athleticism and speed.
In terms of the running back position, the Cougars will lean on the abilities of each and every running back on the roster.
Sophomore Cayden Dunn returns to carry the bulk of the load, but other backs including Cyrus Zuell, Jordan Anderson, Dorion Mitchell and returner Kartilus McFadden are all expected to have an impact, as is Valencia alumnus Moises Haynes.
“Last year we had a lot different running backs than we do this year and everyone brings their own thing to the plate, everybody excels at something different,” Dunn said. “We got Moises, he’s a big power dude who loves to hit people, Cyrus who can make all the flashy plays, you got me who can do the work, handle it all. All the running backs this year are solid, we all bring different things to the plate and we will all just contribute different things to the game.”
The one spot that still remains a mystery is the quarterback position, as Michael Wilson, Cole Doyle and Armani Edden are still battling for the starting job.
Iacenda isn’t opposed to rotating the quarterbacks either, something he’s had success with in the past. The coaching staff will take the rest of the week to evaluate the trio before ultimately making a decision.
“I’m not afraid to switch around, we’ve done that before, we’ve rotated and had success doing it,” Iacenda said. “You’d really like for one of those guys to be the outright clear-cut leader, and right now we’re still competing, we’re still evaluating. They all do some things that are really good and they all make mistakes, so we’re going to see what happens the rest of this week.”
Whoever starts at quarterback will get the luxury of a sturdy, strong and trustworthy offensive line. Auburn commit Kilian Zierer will anchor the left tackle position, and Jordan Palmer is returning as the starting center. Azad Markosian is a new player that will be a factor on the line and so will Kideam Diouf at the right tackle position.
The COC coaching staff keyed in on offensive linemen during the recruiting process and Iacenda is cautiously optimistic about the group.
“Basically the whole starting O-line is made up of sophomores, some transferred, so we’re all pretty experienced,” Zierer said. “We’re bigger than last year, taller and stronger and playing as a unit, we’ve been together the whole spring and summer.”
“We have a lot of talent this year, especially the O-line,” Palmer added. “Kideam at right tackle and two guards who are transfers. I feel like our O-line can make an impact.”
The Cougars will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 7 against Saddleback, a team they defeated 19-6 in last year’s season opener.
Dunn said it’s important for the team to get off to a hot start, especially with the opposition keying in on the Cougars now that they’ve made a name for themselves.
“What happened to us last season was unfortunate, the Ventura loss we can’t have that, we can’t do that, but we really have to pop off in the first game and make a statement,’ Dunn said. “We’re the No. 1 team, everybody wants to target us. For the first game we just have to make a statement, we have to have a more explosive game then we did last year. I think this game is definitely going to send us off on what type of season that we’re going to have.”
The Cougars are ready to bring it each and every time they hit the field, and are prepared to make up for last season’s playoff slip up.
And more than just wins and losses, the Cougars are ready to show the community, the state and the country what the COC football program is all about.
“I would love to get the community to rally behind this team and this program, there is a ton of great young men that are sacrificing and working their tail off academically to play here,” Iacenda said. “More importantly, they will represent this community well and the people that come watch us play will be proud of the program that we have.”