By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
College of the Canyons football is coming off a strong 8-3 season last year. However, the sophomores of the strong returning group are not satisfied.
Last year the team looked unstoppable, winning their first seven games before derailing at the end of the season and in their playoff opener.
This year, the team thinks they have more balance as they strive for their first conference title in three years and first state title since 2004.
Head coach Ted Iacenda knows all about getting a team ready and feels with his returners and strong recruiting class, the team may be the deepest squad in his COC tenure.
“We’re obviously excited about this group,” said Iacenda. “There’s no doubt we feel it’s a talented group. We’re bringing back quite a few returners from last year’s squad. There’s no question they’re dynamic.”
The team was known for its defense last season. While there is expected to be more balance between the offense and defense, there is still an overwhelming amount of talent on the Cougar defense.
Linebacker Tylan Foster will be pivotal on defense for Canyons. The sophomore is confident in his group and their diverse styles of play, but has been most impressed with the defensive line.
“Our [defensive] ends we have this year are crazy,” said Foster. “They have speed and finesse. A lot of our ends run with the skill guys in conditioning. When they can keep up like that, I don’t think the O-lines on the other teams are going to be able to keep up with their speed.”
James Jenette, David Francis Jr., J’Querian Ladson and Josh Obisui will be defensive linemen to keep an eye on.
Foster believes linebackers Cole Bullock and Brian Snoek from Germany are two players due for big years.
Bullock is also a sophomore linebacker from Sierra Canyon. As a Trailblazer, he racked up two CIF titles as well as a Defensive Player of the Year award from the L.A. Times.
“All around we have so many guys who are super athletic and super strong,” said Bullock. “We have speed and strength. There’s nothing we’re really missing.”
In the back, Jeremiah Cox, Joshua Christopher and Justin Horton will lead a deep group of ball-hawking COC defensive backs.
Over on offense, Canyons is in an enormous quarterback battle. Iacenda believes he has four potential starters who have all displayed impressive skill throughout camp.
Chayden Peery, also from Sierra Canyon, is a bounce-back from Georgia Tech looking to do just that with the Cougars. Local guys Cam Fouts from Oak Park and Bryce Dickson from Quartz Hill are also making names for themselves as signal callers. Lastly, Noah Staples from Piedmont, South Carolina, also has shown promising play.
All four freshmen have impressed Iacenda, giving him a great problem of having four trustworthy guys at the helm of the offense.
“It’s been a battle and honestly, I’m not comfortable saying who the guy is yet,” said Iacenda. “It’s still wide open. I know they’re doing very well. They all have very high character and are very smart, very athletic, and have a really good presence in the huddle. So it’s a battle for sure.”
Whoever the gunslinger turns out to be, don’t expect anything gimmicky or too flashy from the offense.
“We have a very blue-collar mentality here,” said Iacenda. “I think that kind of permeates through the football side of things as well, not just the strength and conditioning. We want to be better than you, but we also want to be more disciplined.”
On the line, the team has a good mix of returners as well as some strong new faces.
Golden Valley alumnus Steven Eakins will return to the right tackle position and believes his group is going to move some bodies this season.
“Our starting lineup on the line this year,” said Eakins, “We’ve got five nasty dudes. It’s going to be a really good year.”
Donovan Reyes and Cole Smith will be anchors on the right side of the line while freshman Gavin Quiroz will be the team’s starting center.
In the receiving corps, Calvin Littles and Zyon Slade started nearly every game last season. Iacenda is expecting the two to have great seasons with whoever their quarterback turns out to be. Slade and Littles played last season alongside Ti’Quan Gilmore, who earned All-State honors and transferred to Utah. The receiver duo, as well as the whole team, will aim for the same feat: Put in the work and show a four-year program you belong.
“I could tell you right now we probably have 40 or 50 kids that are capable of playing a Division 1 level,” said Iacenda. “Now we have to add the academic component to that equation as well and that’s one thing we hammer here. It’s one of the reasons why we have such a high transfer rate to the Division 1 level. Our kids are capable academically. The work, care and time that our support staff on the academic side is a big priority for us. And so it wouldn’t shock me at all, if we had that number.”
Kicker Ty Morrison of Valencia has displayed one of the strongest legs in recent years at COC. Iacenda believes his kicker can get him points consistently if the team can break through the 35-yard line.
As far as expectations, the team feels a deep playoff run is well within their reach. However, no one is expecting to reach that point without putting the work in. Iacenda doesn’t believe in doing season predictions but as far as goals go, the coach has some ideas.
“I want these kids to have an experience where they enjoy being a part of this team and this program,” said Iacenda. “They grow together and have these lifelong bonds and lasting memories that I think the game has kind of taken for granted now. I feel like making this a real family and making this a real team is always one of my goals. You have to create that chemistry; it doesn’t just happen on its own. So, those are my goals. It’s not about wins and losses.”
Canyons has had a great camp this summer. The team is coming into the season healthy and coming off a total beat-down of Glendale in a scrimmage in August. Iacenda praised his team as well as his staff.
The Cougars head into battle this Saturday and will start their season on the road. COC heads to Antelope Valley Saturday at 6 p.m. for their season opener. All the pieces are in play for the comeback season.
“Now it’s just about executing and being disciplined,” said Iacenda. “So I think if we can continue the trend of staying healthy, I think this could be a really special group.”