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COC football: Mutual restart

COC and its new frontrunner for quarterback are both in pursuit of redemption

Posted: May 27, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 27, 2012 1:55 a.m.

College of the Canyons quarterback and former Canyon High star Ben Longshore works out at a spring practice on Thursday at COC. Longshore, 22, is the leading candidate for the starting job this fall.

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The last time Ben Longshore took a snap under center in the Santa Clarita Valley, he was piloting Canyon High’s football team to a state championship six years ago.

From there, Longshore embarked on a journey of self-discovery that led him to perhaps the last place on his mind back in 2006 — College of the Canyons, where he emerged as the lead candidate for the starting quarterback role when spring drills concluded on Thursday.

COC, like Longshore, has enjoyed an abundance of past success. The Cougars captured the state title eight years ago, but the program has struggled recently, failing to make the postseason last year while turning in its first losing season since football was reinstated at the college in 1998.

So with the start of the 2012 campaign a little more than three months away, Longshore and the Cougars share a common goal: a return to prominence.

At 22 years of age, Longshore is practically a senior citizen by community college football standards, but he says he’ll bank heavily on his recent life experiences to lead his teammates on and off the field.

“Some of these guys probably think I don’t still have it in me,” Longshore says. “I’m trying to get my feet back, working on reading coverages again, getting the ball to where it needs to be at the right time. It’s leadership by actions — instead of talking the talk, you’re out here walking the walk.”

Longshore accepted a scholarship to Utah State in 2007, but he redshirted behind the team’s senior quarterback and spent the season on the bench.

Shortly thereafter, he left college for a two-year Mormon mission in Uruguay, more than 6,200 miles away from home. He said the mission taught him to be organized, self-reliant, and to believe in himself.

“No one is out there watching you, so you’ve just got be a leader to whoever your companion is,” Longshore says. “When that other person is tired, someone has to step up and say, ‘Let’s keep going,’ and I think the same thing applies in football.”

Longshore returned to Santa Clarita in 2011 and enrolled in general education courses at College of the Canyons while working various jobs to save up some money. Then, at the beginning of this year, he decided to try out for the football team.

Cougars head coach Garett Tujague says it didn’t take long for Longshore, at 6 feet 3 inches and 235 pounds, to shake off the rust.

“Once it became you were fighting for reps with the other quarterbacks, you could see Ben start to separate himself from the rest of the pack,” Tujague says.

Those other quarterbacks competing for the coveted starting role are Ryan Kasdorf and Ronnie Clark.

Kasdorf, 20, was a freshman at Canyon High the same year Longshore led the Cowboys to the league, division and state crowns. Kasdorf was brought up to the varsity squad late in the Foothill season by then-head coach Harry Welch and got in some reps alongside Longshore.

“Ryan got to see what it’s like to enjoy Friday night lights early on,” Longshore says. “He’s very competitive and not very shy about voicing his opinion on how he’s going to slice and dice up his opponent.”

Kasdorf left Canyon High after his freshman season and transferred to Notre Dame High of Sherman Oaks, where he enjoyed a successful career and was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year as a junior.

He landed a scholarship in 2011 to Pace University, a Division II school in Westchester, N.Y., where he broke his ankle in his second game and sat out the remainder of the season before returning home to Canyon Country.

“Ryan is a risk-taker, and the odds don’t matter to him because he comes out on top most of the time,” says Tujague of Kasdorf. “He’s got good arm strength, is very intelligent and understands our offense. I think he could be the dark horse.”

By comparison, Clark, 20, from West Torrance High, grayshirted at El Camino College last season before transferring to COC.

Tujague characterizes Clark as athletic and a good decision-maker who learns from his mistakes. Clark says he spent a lot of time during spring camp getting on the same wavelength with his wide receivers.

“It’s about making plays, and when things go wrong, you’ve got to go out and flush the pocket, make a good decision and throw the ball to the right person,” Clark says. “That’s where chemistry with your receivers comes in. You’ve got to trust them.”

The issue of trust is a particularly weighty one for Tujague — more specifically, trusting in his own judgment as he begins the task, like his three quarterbacks, of turning things around.

In 2011, the Cougars went into spring drills with 97 players on the roster. This year, the coach narrowed it down to just 52.

Tujague, now entering his sixth season at the helm, admits that out of a desire to help bring young people along, there were times in the past when he spent too much time trying to develop the bottom percentage.

“You kind of forget about the guys at the top,” Tujague says. “The opportunity for anybody and everybody to play football for College of the Canyons is still alive and thriving, but I’m extra careful about who I allow to stay on the team. There’s a greater focus on doing what you say you’re going to do. I don’t want to hear it anymore. I don’t want to be told it. I just want to see it.”

Which is exactly how Longshore is approaching the upcoming season.

He is currently ahead of Kasdorf and Clark on the depth chart as the trio enters summer camp in collective career-resurrection mode.

Longshore says he has only one goal as the Cougars prepare for their season opener Sept. 1 against Golden West College.

“All my focus, all my energy is going to be on making this team the best it can be and hopefully bring COC back to where it was before.”

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