Talent up and down the lineup has Coast in good spirits heading into season opener
In the sport of football, the adage "strength in numbers" definitely applies, and with a strong turnout and a steady stream of talented players on the roster, the 2017 Orange Coast College Pirates are excited to see how the season unfolds.
"Position by position, we are excited at the amount of talent we have this year," head coach Kevin Emerson said. "We've got some playmakers that can make our offense successful and up front, we are bigger and deeper than we've been in a long, long time, so we are very excited about that."
After starting the preseason with over 120 players, Emerson and his staff had options to work with, and as the season inches its way closer, the rest of the football world will see what the Pirates have in their arsenal.
Following the departure of standout QB Kody Whitaker (Henderson State University), the Pirates have been in the market for a new field general and in 2017, Emerson will have a deep and talented selection to choose from. "We are still trying to figure out the top guy, but they're all very good so right now, we will wait and see," Emerson said. "We are slightly changing some things up offensively so the ability to have a more mobile QB will help us this year and all four guys have the ability to both run AND throw."
In the early stages, look for Arapahoe (CO) HS standout Pete Mitchell (6'4, 215) to get the early nod behind center for the Pirates. As a senior, Mitchell threw for 1,403 yards and rushed for 279 with 11 combined touchdowns for AHS in 2015-16. "Pete has the ability to throw and at 6'4, 215, his running ability will keep the defense weary, that's for sure," Emerson said.
Joining Mitchell in the QB corps includes freshman Nathan West (6'3, 200), sophomore Ayden Auer (6'2, 190) and freshman Joey Gutierrez (6'1, 195). "Nathan has a decent arm and he's as fast as lightning, which is important in our offense," Emerson said. "Ayden was on our team last year so he has a better understanding of our system the other QBs, and Joey is probably the purest passer out of all of them so they each bring something to the position and they will all get an opportunity to play."
While the QB position is up in the air, the running back position is in the possession of sophomore Nico Jackson, who rushed for 1,473 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior at El Toro HS. "He is a top-quality back and we are looking forward to seeing what this kid can do for us," Emerson said. "He's fast and powerful, so not only does he get hit, he likes to hit … although sometimes I wish that was a little less just to ensure he stays on the field for us."
Joining Jackson in the backfield include fellow RBs Jer'Ryann Boyd (6'1, 250) and Anthony Johar (5'9, 185). "Both can find the hole and they provide the depth we need at the position," Emerson said.
TIGHT END/WIDE RECEIVERS
Coast will use the tight end position to its advantage and in 2017, the Pirates will start freshman standout Rexford Demazeliere (6'3, 210) out of Brethren Christian HS. As a senior at BCHS, Demazeliere caught 71 passes for 1,286 yards and 21 TDs, breaking the single-season Orange County record of 20 and his 40 career TDs also is an OC best. "This kid has a tremendous football IQ and we will use him both as a tight end and as a wide receiver," Emerson said.
Demazeliere will be a strong weapon for the Pirates' passing game, joining returning standout James Rutledge (6'4, 195), who caught 36 passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns for OCC last year. "It took James a little while to get used to our system, but once he did, he was a tough guy to defend and we expect an even better season from him this year," Emerson said. "He's got lots of skill and the sky is the limit to the amount of ability he has."
Sophomore returner Gunnar Perales (5'11, 180) and sophomore Bailey Wolff (5'10, 180) will see action in the slot area, and both will enable OCC to stretch out the opposing defenses week in and week out, according to Emerson.
The OCC offensive line will be downright offensive to the opposition, possessing the size, muscle and mobility to keep the ball moving up and down the field.
"I've talked with some of the coaches who have been around here for a while and this is the biggest, deepest O-Line we've had in several years around here," Emerson said. "We've got guys who can get off of the ball and really create holes for our backs to run through. Also, we've got the size and discipline to keep defenders away from our quarterbacks when we are in pass mode."
Among the standout O-Linemen to keep an eye on include sophomore Max Spruill (6'3, 290), freshman Garrett Weichman (6'3, 293), freshman Hunter Hickok (6'2, 250), freshman Zach Aylor (6'4, 310), freshman Kyler Hack (6'5, 300) and freshman PJ Falanai (6'1, 320). Plus with three other lineman over 6'2 and over 300 pounds, the Pirates are bringing much-needed bulk and athletic ability up front in 2017.
The D-Line for the Pirates also has the size and talent to be effective in 2017 and the front four is led by freshman Siafega Umu (6-1, 300), who comes to OCC after a standout career at football powerhouse Mater Dei HS. "This kid is strong and fast and will be a major force up front for us this year," Emerson said.
Returning lineman Daniel Garcia (5'11, 230) was second on the Pirates last year with 51 tackles and four sacks, while is 11.5 tackles for loss led the 2016 defense.
The OCC skipper was also high on a local lineman out of Costa Mesa HS, Mason Mataafa (6-5, 235), whose size and speed will compliment Umu nicely. "It's always great to get a talented kid right from our own backyard so we're very excited to have Mason with us," Emerson said.
Coast has some early-season concerns at linebacker due to some injuries to a pair of starters, but with the depth of this year's squad, the Pirates are equipped to handle the adversity. "Hopefully our injured guys can come back after a few weeks of the season are completed, but until then, we will do the best we can with some solid players to take their place," Emerson said.
Among the linebackers to keep an eye on for 2017 while standouts Brandon Safford (6'0, 225) and Christian Webb (6'3, 217) tend to injuries include freshman Kenny Carmichael (6-1, 200) out of Edison HS and freshman Teddy Barber (5'8, 195) out of Corona del Mar HS. Once Safford and Webb return, look for the linebacker position to be a strength of the Pirates' defense.
Trying to avoid the "big play" that hurt the OCC defense last year, Emerson and his staff are looking for more athletic ability in the defensive backfield and they have found it in 2017. "We'd like to try and keep other team's offense in front of us so with this group, I think we can do a better job of that," Emerson said.
Look for starting cornerbacks Nick Ebanks (5'8, 180), Gasper Atencio (5'10, 185) and safeties Sal Ochoa (6-0, 195) and Shawn Snyder (6'1, 200) to platoon the last line of defense for the Pirates. All four possess the ability to get after the ball-carrier and look for all four to be in on the majority of opposition's offensive plays, both running and passing.
Returning from a leg injury sustained early in the 2016 season is Corey Lewis, who brings a 6'2, 285-pound frame to the kicker position. "This kid has the ability to really make a difference for us in the kicking game," Emerson said. "He routinely sends kickoffs deep into the end zone and we've seen him regularly kick field goals from 55 yards, so this will be a big upgrade for us this year."
Freshman punter Christopher Bartolic (6'2, 175) is another local player, coming to OCC after a stellar prep career in football and soccer at Corona del Mar HS. "He's got tremendous ability to punt the ball deep into the other team's end of the field and anytime we can give the opposition a long field to try and score against us, I'm happy with that."
After a rough 3-7 campaign last year, the Pirates have the tools and the depth to be a major force in 2017.
"This is a great bunch of guys and I'm excited for what we can accomplish both on and off the field," Emerson said. "In addition to the work they're putting in on the field, they're working hard in the classroom and they're taking advantage of our PRESS Program on campus which has really been a big asset to us. Over the past two years, we've sent out 44 players to the four-year level and I'm excited to have even bigger numbers in years to come. We've always preached that the athletes are students first and athletes second, and this group has bought into that and I'm proud of them for that."