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For Cougars football, glass is half full

COC will have a much different look

Posted: September 5, 2013 8:53 p.m.
Updated: September 5, 2013 8:53 p.m.

College of the Canyons quarterback Tony Dawson throws during COC practice on Tuesday. Dawson will split snaps this season with Jake Dashnaw.

 

 

The name on the head coach’s office door has changed.

But the plaques and trophies are still up in the College of the Canyons athletic building. And reputation of the school’s football program is very much intact.

For the first time since the football team was revived in 1998 following a 17-year absence on campus, Garett Tujague will not be coaching the team in any capacity.

Tujague was an assistant at COC from 1998-2006 and head coach from 2007 until this past January, when he resigned to take an assistant coaching job at Brigham Young University.

The school brought in former Hart High football great Ted Iacenda to take the job. He served as a running backs/special teams coach for COC from 2002-05.

Now as head coach, he’s given the responsibility of trying to restore power to a once-dominant team.

The COC Cougars won a state championship and seven conference titles from 2000-2008. Since then, the team hasn’t won a conference title or a bowl game.

“I’m a glass-half-full guy anyway, so I’m always cautiously optimistic,” Iacenda said. “But I can’t tell you how good we’re going to be yet. This is a new level. I haven’t been at this level in quite a while.”

The first-year head coach will inherit a COC team coming off a 7-4 season, a second-place finish in the National Division, Northern Conference and an appearance in the Southern California Bowl.

In reality though, the Cougars won just five games on the field, while the other two victories came via forfeit against teams that were later ruled to have used ineligible players.

The Cougars will play all the same teams this season with home and away games swapped.

The good news is seven players return on defense from last year, including four key defensive linemen, the starting middle linebacker and two experienced cornerbacks.

That much consistency from one season to the next is a rarity at the community college level.

“Our coaches have said we have a lot of reminiscence of the old Cougars by flying to the football and causing the turnovers we have in practice,” said Joey Cicoria, a returning All-Conference second-team linebacker and Hart graduate. “That’s what we want to be. We want to be that team that everyone fears. We already are. Whenever someone plays COC, we’re going to get their best game.”

Last season, the Cougar defense ranked fifth in the conference with 36.6 points per game allowed and sixth with 400 yards per contest.

The key group on what looks to be a much-improved defense will be the four returners up front — Antonio Guy, Nate Mitogo, A.J. Thompson and Loni Fonua. Iacenda said all four could potentially play at big four-year schools.

“This is our second year with each other so we kind of know everything and we’re just hungry to get a championship,” Thompson said. “We haven’t had one in a while, so we’re just a hungry defensive line.”

To lead the secondary, the Cougars have high-potential freshman free safety Isaiah Foster and returning sophomore cornerbacks Lance Poole and Anthony Adams.

Things aren’t nearly as cut and dry on offense, though.

Gone are the top five rushers, the top wide receiver, nearly the entire offensive line and all players who threw passes last year.

What’s left is a lot of players still competing for starting jobs on an offense that put up 457 yards per game in 2012, which was second in league.

At quarterback, freshmen Jake Dashnaw and Tony Dawson will both be taking snaps this year. Neither one has separated himself from the other.

“We have two starters,” Iacenda said. “They’re both starters and they’re both tremendously talented and great kids. ... Smart kids.”

The top group on offense looks to be the wide receivers and tight ends despite the fact that 2012’s leading receiver and All-Conference first-team player Tim White is redshirting this season.

After White, two of the top three pass-catchers are coming back in slot receiver Kwasi Washington and tight end Dan Vear.

Those two combined for 67 grabs, 870 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Vear also became known for blocking key field goals late in games.

“Our receiving corps is off the charts,” Iacenda said. “I expect, and they know this. I’ve told them. They are without a doubt the strength of this offense.”

Another unsettled position appears to be tailback, where four players are vying for carries headed into COC’s season opener on Saturday against Golden West College.

The potential ball carriers are sophomores Matt Bowen and Garrett Dibene, along with freshmen DeShone Randall and Da’John Gaines.

Those four will be protected by an equally inexperienced offensive line, which includes just one player who comes back from last season and another who returns to the team for the first time in three years.

“We’re kind of by committee as of right now,” said sophomore lineman Brooks Porter, who played for COC in 2009 and decided to return this season. “We have a lot of guys rotating in on the offensive line, a lot of young guys as well.”

So with an offense full of potential and a defense full of experience, might COC be back to its title-winning ways?

Iacenda isn’t about to start making predictions before he’s coached a single game.

“We’ve got a long way to go before we can decide that,” he said.

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