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College of the Canyons football adapting to slew of changes

Posted: May 19, 2013 7:18 p.m.
Updated: May 19, 2013 7:18 p.m.

College of the Canyons new head football coach Ted Iacenda looks on as quarterback Sean Smith, left, hands off to running back Keian Martinez during practice on Wednesday.

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There is a fresh coat of paint on the walls of the College of the Canyons football office, Cougar blue at the foundation and a steel-like, industrial gray rising above.

Consider it a visual commentary on the sweeping coaching changes that have occurred within the storied program in recent months.

The most significant offseason development was the resignation of long-time head coach Garett Tujague, followed by the hiring of his successor, former College of the Canyons and Alemany High of Mission Hills assistant coach Ted Iacenda.

Toss into the mix the exit of eight assistant coaches, and what remains is a highly regarded, routinely successful football program that is squarely in reinvention mode as annual spring drills conclude this week.

Tujague joined COC as an assistant when football was reinstated 15 years ago and took the reins in 2007 when former head coach Chuck Lyon was bumped upstairs to athletic director. Tujague resigned in January to become the offensive line coach at BYU.

After a three-week search, the college selected Iacenda, a former star running back at Hart High who went on to play at USC and the University of New Mexico.

He then embarked on a coaching career that includes four years as an assistant at College of the Canyons, followed by seven years at Alemany under former COC offensive wizard Dean Herrington.

Iacenda, in his first head-coaching gig, now finds himself directing one of the most successful community college football programs in Southern California. COC is a gridiron machine that has won seven conference titles and a state and national championship since 1998.

Over the next few months, Iacenda must bring together a diverse coaching staff, install a new offense, develop two young quarterbacks and navigate the sometimes-choppy administrative waters of player rosters and grade checks.

And as if that weren’t enough, his practice schedule will be disrupted over the summer when the college installs a new FieldTurf carpet at Cougar Stadium.

“You can’t look at it in its entirety because it’s overwhelming, and I don’t think you’d feel like you’re getting anything done,” said Iacenda, who is known as an organized and efficient thinker with a vast knowledge of the game. “You have to have a plan, and you have to cross things off as they get done, and little by little, you get your arms around it and then it becomes your program.”

It used to be Lyon’s program. The former head coach compiled a record of 85-20 in nine years and is best known for racking up six consecutive conference titles and piloting the Cougars to a 14-0 record and multiple crowns in 2004, when Iacenda was a COC assistant.

Lyon has taken what he refers to as a “hands-on approach” during spring practice.

“Ted and I talk every day, and he’s been very good at running things by me — ‘What would you do here? What do you think about this?’” Lyon said. “I’ve been out to practice a few times, not in a coaching role, but just to watch. I’ve been in some staff meetings and helped form the staff he’s got now.”

Lyon thinned the coaching ranks prior to Iacenda’s arrival and then collaborated with him on the balance of the changes.

Gone are Terry Gourley (pass game/special teams), John McClung and Rocco Cordola (defensive line), Lole Takapu (safeties/linebackers), Steve Yarnell (linebackers), Marcel Marquez (quarterbacks), Mark Hourany (offensive line) and John DiLuigi (cornerbacks).

Dan Corbet returns as defensive coordinator, as do Marc Dumlao (offensive line), David Banks (wide receivers), Dean Cipperley (football operations) and Jereth Suede (volunteer).

One significant addition to the staff is former COC assistant Mike Kane, who rejoined the Cougars as running backs/special teams coach. Kane previously served as head coach at West Ranch High for five years.

“I wanted Mike Kane back on this coaching staff,” Lyon said. “He was a part of my staff for years, and he’s a great coach and a great person for kids to be around.”

Rounding out the additions are former L.A. Valley College assistant Matt Crater (defensive backs) and Kirk Dinsmore and Evan Harrington (defensive line).

The team’s success has historically leaned heavily on the skill and poise of its quarterbacks. The Cougars normally conduct spring drills with as many as five legitimate signal callers in the fold, but this year there are just two vying for the starting role.

There is certainly continuity with freshman Devon Dunn, who played under Iacenda at Alemany for four years. The coach characterized Dunn as scrappy, fast and agile.

“Devon obviously knows the scheme inside and out,” Iacenda said. “He grew up in the system, and he’s got an arm.”

The arm of quarterback Sean Smith is expected to garner plenty of attention this season. Smith, a 6-foot-5-inch, 215-pound grayshirt freshman from L.A. Baptist High of North Hills, can reportedly hit a receiver on the dead run from 55 yards away. Unlike Dunn, Smith, 19, will be breaking in a new skipper.

“I’ve had a new coach every year since my freshman year of high school, so it’s something I’m used to,” Smith said. “(Iacenda) helps me understand the offense better than most coaches probably would. If you do something wrong, he doesn’t just wave it off. He’ll bring you over to the side and explain things to help you to make better reads.”

Iacenda, 35, says his focus is on being a communicator to his players.

“I’m not a big rah-rah guy, and I’m not a big yeller or screamer,” Iacenda said. “I try to have a message, and the message right now is consistency — the kids know what they’re going to get, day in and day out with me.”

Last season, the Cougars finished 6-5 overall and 4-2 in National Division, Northern Conference play. The team closed out the campaign with a 24-21 road loss to Santa Ana College in the Southern California Bowl.

Iacenda will likely be under the microscope as he attempts to bring the program back to its dominant ways.

“Nobody puts more pressure on me than me,” Iacenda said. “You talk about big shoes to fill, and I get it. I’m going to do everything I can to uphold the legacy that (Lyon and Tujague) created here.”

Tujague is widely known for his strong recruiting skills, booming voice and tireless work ethic. He said Iacenda just needs to utilize his resources, and the rest should take care of itself.

“I think Ted’s got a good gut instinct on how he wants to direct the program,” Tujague said. “He’s got great people around him in his assistant coaches, so I would tell him to lean on those guys, and they’ll be there for him. I’d also tell him not to be afraid to wander up the stairs and sit down with Chuck Lyon, because Chuck’s got lots of information, and he’ll give it to you if you ask.”

Looking ahead, the team will take a few weeks off before summer drills begin June 10. The players will put on the pads in mid-August in preparation for the season opener at Golden West College on Sept. 7.



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