By Ryan Menzie
Signal Staff Writer
The College of the Canyon Cougars are ready to play football after missing an entire season due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21.
“We’re optimistic this season. Coming off of (COVID-19) and not being able to play football it hit the program really hard,” said coach Ted Iacenda. “We are very fluid with the understanding of COVID. Our willingness to do whatever it takes to play football. We’ve had to jump through hoops, but we understand that is the rules of the game and to follow protocols.”
During the 2019 season, the Cougars finished with a 9-3 overall record including a 4-1 record in Western State Conference play. The Cougars made it all the way to the Southern California Football Association championship game, where they lost to Riverside, 68-21.
Iacenda enters his seventh season as head coach with a 42-23 overall record (21-12 in WSC play) for a program that’s been a perennial contender in the state over the last few years.
During the 2017 season, Iacenda and the Cougars finished with a 9-2 overall record, including a Western State Bowl Championship win against Mount San Antonio, 28-16. The following season, Iacenda would lead his team to a perfect 10-0 regular season record, only the fifth time in school history, before losing to Ventura, 21-13, in the Southern California Regional Playoffs.
Despite all the success, Iacenda is only looking forward and focused on the upcoming football season. Last season helped Iacenda realize the opportunity to play is precious and can be taken away at any moment, he said. He’s ready for his hungry team to come out and compete once more.
For the offense, a lot of production from the 2019 season belonged to sophomores who have since transferred. Quarterback Armani Edden finished the season with 3,044 yards on 198 completions to go along with his 27 passing touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Edden also rushed for 270 yards on 91 carries with six touchdowns. Running back Cayden Dunn finished the season with 729 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Wide receiver Alonzell Henderson finished the season with 1,016 receiving yards on 57 receptions to go along with his nine touchdowns.
Despite the losses, quarterback Cole Doyle and running back Moises Haynes look to replenish the production for the Cougars in their spread offense. Doyle, who went to high school in Crescenta Valley and models his game after Aaron Rodgers and Kyler Murray, has high expectations for his team this season, and believes the team both offensively and defensively are ready to step it up this season.
“I just want to go in every day and try my best for my team,” said Doyle. “I’m really excited to see what we can accomplish. We have a great offense and defense so we just have to make sure the stress of the season doesn’t get to us and we continue to play like a family.”
Haynes played his high school ball locally at Valencia High and models his game after Marshawn Lynch and Nick Chubb. As a freshman, Haynes rushed for 151 yards and one touchdown but will look to take on a bigger role this season. Most of all, Haynes wants to come out and have fun with his team.
“I have high expectations for our team. Our offensive line is the best line I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said Hayes. “We’re a very fast team. We’re a very disciplined team. The more we learn how to play as a team, the better we’ll be. I truly think we got something special going on here.”
The base 3-3 stack defense for the Cougars from the 2019 season is looking to fill the same holes as the offense this coming season. Sophomore linebacker Charles Ike led the team with 107 total tackles and totaled two sacks with one interception. Freshman defensive end Benjamin Seymour, who transferred to Montana State, had 44 total tackles and led the team with 12 sacks. Freshman Chayce Edwards-Morgan, who will not be playing this season, had 44 total tackles and tied for the team lead with two interceptions.
There are many holes to fill, but sophomore linebacker Jonathan “JT” Thomas is ready to take on the expanded role for his second season with the team. Thomas, who models his game from a flurry of players such as Ray Lewis, Luke Kuechly, Derwin James and Chase Young, had already received some offers to play at different colleges, but ultimately chose to come back to continue raising his stock and play where he wants to play. Thomas was second on the team in total tackles with 55, accounted for two and a half sacks and forced one fumble during his 2019 campaign.
Fortunately for the Cougars, players who were not able to play last season received an extra year of eligibility to be able to continue their athletic careers at a four-year school.
“I think we should be undefeated this year. We have a tough schedule but I believe in my guys and we can win every game,” said Thomas. “I just want to tell my team we have to do what we can to win. Maybe it’s not the position you want or maybe it means taking a lesser role, but we continue doing the role to the best of our ability to win games.”