College of the Canyons Cougars football embarks on another season Saturday at Citrus College.
Canyons head coach Ted Iacenda has led 11 Cougar teams through summer camps and is feeling good with where his 2023 team currently stands.
“We’ve had a good eight-week summer camp,” Iacenda said. “We’ve got a lot of great local talent coming in so we’re excited about them. We think we have a great group of returners, some really high-character guys and we really like the chemistry of this team. So we’re cautiously optimistic.”
Dozens of returners and a strong recruiting class make up the 2023 roster.
COC will yet again have a quarterback competition with four gunslingers impressing Iacenda.
Cam Fouts and Bryce Dickson both return to Canyons after splitting time last season with now Florida International University quarterback Chayden Peery. Emery Floyd also returns to the group after redshirting last year and former Hart High quarterback Zach Johnson bouncing back from Cal Berkeley.
Malik Brooks will lead a group of running backs for Canyons. Brooks, a wide receiver, made the adjustment to tailback for COC’s season finale last year and piled up nearly 150 total yards against Long Beach.
The receiving corps will mostly be made up of returning redshirts like Da’Marrie Smith and Cameron Bowen. Jacobee Taylor and Josh Clark are the only returners who had major playing time last season. Taylor finished 2022 with 12 catches for 229 yards and 2 TDs. 2022 Foothill League standouts Chaz Hilst and Khai Ky-Yeith will also look to get into the mix this season.
Every offense’s success starts up front at the line, where Tongan sophomore Mausa Palu will lead a fairly new group into battle.
“Physically, we definitely have a lot of size but the important thing is we understand what it takes to be a good O-line,” Palu said. “Without the O-line obviously you can’t do anything. What you put in is what you get out and this year we understand that very much.”
Palu, who Iacenda regards as one of the best offensive linemen in the country, will be a name to remember along with Linus Linberg and Oscar Adolffsen. Linberg is transitioning from the defensive line but has shown signs of being a prominent offensive lineman while the European Adolffsen will be the team’s center.
On defense lies one of the team’s other leaders, safety Jacob Montes, who is just as excited to get back on the field as anyone.
“The excitement is through the roof from everybody on the field,” Montes said. “Personally, I haven’t put pads on and started in three or four years so I’m just itching to get on the field and show I’m really excited.”
Montes, a Hart alumnus, will be key for the Cougar defensive backs but also believes big things will come from Quintin Herring, Andre Bray, Aramonte Schneider and Sam Varner.
In the middle, Linebacker Will Maafu returns for Canyons and will be all over the field in coverage and run stopping. Maafu finished fourth on the team with 26 tackles last season. Joseph Marsh and Cain Omohundro will be some new additions to the lineup that Iacenda sees big things for.
“We’re excited about our linebacker corps,” Iacenda said. “We’ve got a lot of talent in our linebacking corps.”
On the defensive front, COC will look for impact plays from Jackson Volk and Victory Vaka. Volk is the only returner with a sack last season and also added five tackles for a loss in 2022.
Lastly, on special teams, Iacenda is excited about another group of kickers who he believes will head into the NCAA next season.
“We’re gonna have two of the best kickers in the area,” Iacenda said. “I have a punter who transferred in, Tony Johnson, who is phenomenal. He’ll be a Division I recruit. And then we have a freshman from El Camino Real High School, Asa Johnson. They’re not related but have the same last name. Asa will handle the field goal plays and kicking duties and Tony is going to handle the kickoffs and the punts.”
COC yet again transferred out dozens of players into the NCAA world last season. The program also saw its first professional emerge in a few seasons with Canyons alumnus Tanner Brown joining the Los Angeles Rams.
Iacenda is proud of what his staff is able to do and continue helping young men achieve their dreams of playing college football.
“It’s the foundation of what we do here,” Iacenda said on transferring out players to four-year universities. “It’s about developing these kids and getting them on to the next level and I think there’s a lot of staffs that don’t put enough time and effort into that portion of it. So, seeing the kids that we get out is no surprise to us because the work we put in in this office is second to none, but it’s really why we do what we do. And yes, we like winning on Saturdays. Don’t get me wrong, that makes it fun. But our real season is about getting these kids out and getting them out to four-year schools and that’s the most important thing we do.”
Tons of players come to COC for that core mission of transferring and COC will likely see yet another strong sophomore class do the same this season.
“They remind us that it’s an unrealistic dream to go D-1 if you can’t work D-1 starting here,” Palu said. “You gotta treat JUCO as if you’re already there and I feel like a lot of guys understand that.”
The players understand the work it’ll take to break into the next level and have risen to the challenge again.
“It’s hard to not work hard when you see other guys working hard,” Palu said. “So I feel like if everybody has the same goal and everybody’s pushing for just getting better overall, you’re going to affect other people.”
Attention to detail will be a key component for the 2023 season. Iacenda has seen his players all explore the details in everything they do while still working hard through the hot summer.
“I feel like we’re trying to simulate a game 24/7, even in the weight room little details matter,” Palu said. “Details is what wins games. Details are probably the priority this year, you know, details and showing that we care.”
Montes agreed and is entering the season feeling as physically strong as ever.
“Our weight training, our field training and our attention to details is what makes COC COC,” Montes said.
Iacenda has been waiting a long time for the season opener on Saturday and will lead the Cougars into battle at Citrus College.
“There’s nothing like it,” Iacenda said. “The preparation for this game is literally 330 days a year that you are just preparing for 10-12 Saturdays. The anticipation is killing us. There’s no question. We’re excited to finally play against somebody else in a different color jersey. We’re optimistic about our outlook.”
As for team goals, nothing flashy will be heard from the Canyons locker room. The team will look at every opponent the same each week and look to handle business in hopes of returning to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.
“Beat Citrus,” Iacenda said on the team’s goals. “Our goal every week is just to progress, to learn from our mistakes and to try to beat this week’s opponent. I don’t make predictions and I don’t shoot for this or that. I want to build this thing week in, week out and develop these kids and I want to see them all sign scholarships. So, if we had a goal in mind, it would be to see more kids sign scholarships.”
Canyons opens up the season on Saturday at Citrus College at 6 p.m.