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Scouting the trail

COC’s staff faces challenges as it scours Southern California for the next wave of Cougars

Posted: November 15, 2009 10:46 p.m.
Updated: November 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.

College of the Canyons cornerbacks coach Sirr Guy Shakir watches a football game between Valencia High and Saugus High on Nov. 6 at Cougar Stadium. The COC staff puts in long hours and travels all over Southern California to scout talent.

 
It’s Friday night.

The car takes off for one football stadium — the goal being to catch some warm-ups, shake some hands, catch a little bit of the game, then get back in the car.

The car takes off for the next stadium — the goal being to catch a portion of the game, shake some hands at halftime, then get back in the car.

The car takes off for a final football stadium — the goal is to catch the last part of the game and catch some players as they walk off the field.

It’s Friday night recruiting.

This is how College of the Canyons head coach Garett Tujague describes his coaching staff’s Friday nights.

Two of his coaches are in the Antelope Valley. Three are in the San Fernando Valley. Another pair work Ventura County. Two more are in the Santa Clarita Valley and one more scouts the Los Angeles city schools.

“It’s almost overwhelming,” says College of the Canyons offensive coordinator and recruitment coordinator Don Fellows.

Fellows estimates that he and Tujague, the only two full-time coaches on staff, put in 80 hours of work per week. A good portion of that time is dedicated to recruiting.

On Thursdays, members of the coaching staff watch high school practices during the day. On Fridays, they head out to games. On some Sundays, they will meet.

On Monday, they add their findings to a database.

At other times during the week, Tujague says he’s calling high school coaches to get a read on football players.

The process is extremely challenging.

It involves defining needs, competition and salesmanship.

It’s a balancing act of sorts.

Players on the current team are constantly evaluated.

On Oct. 28, College of the Canyons had what was called the “Capital One Grayshirt Bowl” — a play on words of the credit card giant’s annual bowl game.

The game was meant as an evaluation for next season.

The players who grayshirted or redshirted got to scrimmage, along with some underclassmen who haven’t seen much playing time.

It was an opportunity for the players to get some on-the-field action, but it also gave the coaches a chance to define their areas of need.

The coaches even videotaped the scrimmage.

Tujague says that based off of the players he expects to come back and the performances, COC is strong at quarterback, defensive line and linebacker for 2010.

Quarterback has been an issue this season with the back-and-forth battle between freshman Justin Morales and sophomore Eric Brown.

Morales will go into next season with a lot of game action under his belt, which has helped past COC quarterbacks.

Marcel Marquez played in 10 games in 2004 — COC’s national championship season — and then was the team’s full-time starter in 2005.

Joey Frias and Brad McClellan saw time in 2007, then shared time again in 2008.

But Morales will have competition.

Three quarterbacks grayshirted in 2009 — Agoura High graduate Justin Arias, who passed for 2,250 yards in 2008 with 19 touchdowns and one interception; 6-foot-6-inch 225-pounder Cameron Coon and Burbank High grad Kevin Hunter, who Tujague called a “surprise darkhorse.”

The target is to have 115 kids in the program.

Tujague says he doesn’t want to over-recruit a particular position because it can bring up a morale issue.

So some of those 115 players grayshirt or redshirt and spend a year practicing with the team and getting bigger and stronger in COC’s renowned strength and conditioning program.

As to what kind of players COC goes for, it goes for the best, regardless of whether they are bound for a university or not.

Some of the players they target are NCAA Division I football talents who are struggling academically and don’t qualify to get into a four-year school.

Other players are those who haven’t reached their potential — maybe high school players who were buried behind others or were considered “too small.”

The identification process comes from seeing games, calling coaches and reading the newspaper to get information.

The rules are different for contacting players for junior colleges than they are for NCAA schools.

One of the only major restrictions, Tujague says, is he can only make contact with a kid within COC’s recruiting district.

That recruiting district includes the Santa Clarita, San Fernando and Antelope valleys and parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Every year, COC gets players from out of state or out of its district.

Those players have made the first contact.

Within COC’s own district, there is a lot of competition.

Tujague says there is a lot of underlying competition between the COC and Ventura College — meaning the recruiting wars.

Things changed, Fellows says, when Jon Mack entered the picture.

Mack, the former head coach at St. Bonaventure High School (where he won seven CIF titles), took over at Ventura three seasons ago.

The same goes for the Antelope Valley area when Perry Jehlicka took over at Antelope Valley College three seasons ago.

“When I first got here six years ago, we had our pick of the Antelope Valley and Ventura,” Fellows says. “We’ve had our hands full. We’ve had to focus a little more. Those guys are tremendous coaches and tremendous recruiters. Now we really have to work and put our time in there.”

Fellows brought up an interesting dynamic to the recruiting process — the economy.

With gas prices up from years ago, some kids are less committed to making the drive from outside of the Santa Clarita Valley.

That’s where COC football’s pitch comes in.

“Be a part of something with a great tradition,” Tujague says. “I honestly feel like I have a great coaching staff. I have the best strength coach in the country. There are kids who barely played in the Foothill League that start for us. They needed that structure of our program. ... Canyons is the No. 1 transfer school (to a university) in Southern California.”

Tujague went on to explain that COC has an athletic counselor and a tutoring lab — something he says is unique to junior colleges.
The recruiting process is ongoing.

It will be going this Friday and next.

It will go into the winter and the spring.

The goal is: get the best to become the best.

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