(Cabrillo College sophomore quarterback Devon Daich (5) throws the ball during a recent practice in Aptos. Daich is one of several new players who will suit up for the Seahawks this season. Photo by Tony Nunez/Pajaronian)
APTOS — From a quick glance, something is noticeably different with the Cabrillo College football team.
“We look like a college football team now,” said second-year head coach Darren Arbet. “Things are a little different.”
From their monstrous offensive line, to a defensive backfield that features a handful of athletic studs standing 6-feet-tall and above, the Seahawks have the look of a winner. And they’re ready to prove that their play can match their appearance.
“This year, everybody has that mindset, ‘let’s be that one year where Cabrillo really turns it around, that one year that people remember,’” said sophomore quarterback Devon Daich. “You’ll notice it in little places in practice like on punt or offensive line. You see that spark in people. They really want to make that change.”
Cabrillo went 2-8 in Arbet’s first season at the helm, but has since overhauled its roster with talent from near and far. With a full calendar year to recruit, Arbet and offensive coordinator Frank Espy found several talented players as well as some diamonds in the rough. Arbet, the former head coach of the San Jose SaberCats in the Arena Football League, also managed to convince Hartnell College defensive coordinator Justin Hansen to join his coaching staff.
Cabrillo, which has not had a winning season since 2007, will run a 4-2-5 defense under Hansen.
“I think I have two of the best coordinators there is,” Arbet said.
And each coach will have plenty of new weapons to work with.
In total, Cabrillo has 74 players on its roster, including a few kickbacks from four-year colleges at various levels. The team’s overall size, speed, strength and football IQ has improved from last season, according to Arbet.
“They always say it’s about the Jimmies and the Joes,” Arbet said. “We had to get some players in here. We feel like we upgraded our roster, but we’re still going to have to coach them up and play together as a team.”
Here’s a look at this year’s roster:
It’s been a two-player battle for the starting spot between Daich and fellow sophomore Kendall Williams.
Daich (6-foot-4, 210 pounds), a Monte Vista Christian alumnus, last year started for Hartnell and threw for 1,898 yards and 13 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
Williams (6-2, 200) redshirted last year at San Bernardino Valley College and followed former Colonial High (Florida) teammate Ramon Gordon to Cabrillo with hopes of rebuilding the program into a contender.
“We want to go 11-0 with a bowl ring,” Williams said. “I do not want to lose this year at all.”
The two are similar in many respects. Both are accurate, have good leadership qualities and can also run when the pocket breaks down. But Daich has a stronger arm, and Williams has a little more wiggle when he runs away from pressure.
“The talent level is high,” said Gordon, one of the Seahawks’ options at wideout. “Sometimes when its a good ball, you don’t know whether it’s Devon or Kendall. When they step on the field their presence is definitely there.”
Cabrillo had a QB carousel last season. Jeff Schweitzer, Evan Nelson and Nick Martig, who started the year as a punter, all saw time behind center. Despite the shaky quarterback play, Cabrillo still averaged 24.8 points and 373 yards per game in Espy’s spread offense.
With star runner Terrence Smith now at University of San Diego, Cabrillo will try to replace his contributions to the offense with a committee of backs. Freshmen Cory Glasgow (5-7, 175), Cole Davis (5-10, 175), Evan Delozier (5-11, 200) and Johnny Soto (5-6, 165) will all get a look.
Glasgow led Tokay High (Lodi) in rushing yards during his junior and senior seasons. Davis rushed for 1,553 yards and 15 touchdowns over the course of his varsity career at Live Oak High in Morgan Hill. Delozier was a two-way star for Watsonville High as a junior and senior. And Soto last fall helped Santa Cruz High win its first league title since 1993.
LaDale Combs (5-8, 180), a freshman from Michigan, will also see time in the backfield.
“I feel comfortable with all these guys,” said freshman lineman Erick Becerril. “They all bring something to the table.”
Gordon (5-10, 170), a kickback from NAIA Graceland University in Iowa, is one of the few small-bodied receiving options the Seahawks have. Freshmen Kameron Pleasant (6-1, 200), Weston Kandarian (6-2, 195) and Romello Cook (6-3, 195), and sophomore Jamarr Porter (6-1, 180) are all big targets that can also move.
The biggest target: 6-foot-6 freshman tight end Carson Spence.
“It’s nice when you have receivers that are taller than you,” Arbet said.
Spence, a star two-way player at Scotts Valley High last fall, had verbally committed to Division I Sacramento State, but had his offer revoked after the school had given out all of its scholarships to other players. He had offers to walk-on at other four-year schools, but decided to stay close to home and earn another scholarship.
“I was bummed that the opportunity went away, but I use it as motivation,” Spence said. “I’m trying to work harder to get somewhere better.”
Gordon’s height won’t stop the speedster from getting looks in the passing game. He, Santa Cruz alumnus Nick Gonzales (5-9, 175) and Live Oak alumnus Jaime Martinez (5-9, 185) will have opportunities to make their mark on the game despite their diminutive size.
“He competes,” Williams said of Gordon. “He can go up and get it.”
Last season at Santa Cruz, Becerril (6-0, 275) was the biggest offensive lineman on the team. This season, he might be the smallest.
“I love it,” Becerril said. “We’ve got some size. We’re going to be able to move some people this year.”
Tackles Devon Mayo (6-5, 320) and Andrew Torres-Silva (6-5, 285) and guard Charles Taylor (6-1, 350) all return for their sophomore seasons. The Seahawks also added a pair of sophomore twin brothers from Texas in Thomas (6-3, 295) and Thalan Payne (6-3, 310), as well as local freshmen Conner Van Valer (5-10, 260), Jonathan Medina (6-0, 280) and Juan Pablo Rodriguez (5-11, 270). Van Valer is from Scotts Valley, Medina played at Live Oak and Rodriguez graduated from Pajaro Valley High.
Andrew Hill High product Marco Contreras (6-4, 300) and North Carolina native Bryce Void (6-4, 300) are two more big bodies the Seahawks will have at their disposal. Both are sophomores.
“I feel a little more comfortable back there,” Daich said. “I’ve never played behind an O-line that big. It’s good.”
In Hansen’s 4-2-5 scheme, Cabrillo’s defensive linemen will carry a good portion of the run-stopping responsibilities. Last year’s starting defensive tackles Cameron Moore (6-0, 280) and Eliel Ehimare (6-2, 290) are all back, and so is starting defensive end Caleb Martin (6-0, 245), an Aptos High alumnus. That trio combined for 11 sacks and 20 1/2 tackles for loss last season.
Sophomore Jake Hampton, a San Lorenzo Valley High alumnus, is undersized (5-10, 195), but can get after the quarterback with his speed.
“Our defensive line is physical,” Moore said. “We’re all good with our hands and we can get to the quarterback.”
The Seahawks are also hoping freshman Andrew Castro (6-1, 230) can be a nice foil to Martin on the opposite end of the line. Castro last fall helped Gilroy High finish 13-0 and win league and section titles.
“He’ll do well for us,” Arbet said of Castro.
Arbet took over as the defensive line’s positional coach in the offseason and has asked a lot of his group. Sophomore DeTrale Hardney (6-0, 240), freshmen Damond Carter (6-4, 230) and Jesse Ehimare (6-0, 310) — Eliel’s older brother — will also be a part of the rotation.
“I’ve seen a big improvement with [Arbet] there — things are better because of it,” Martin said. “There’s a different consistency. A different pace. We’re focused.”
Perhaps the biggest question mark on the defense heading into Saturday’s season opener will be at the linebacker position. Starting linebackers Travis Schuhe and Trevor Rico are gone. That duo, which finished one-two in total tackles for the Seahawks last fall, has been replaced by freshmen Payton Mitchell (6-1, 220) and Spenser Soares (5-11, 190).
Mitchell, a Christopher High alumnus, and Soares, a Gilroy alumnus, grew up playing Pop Warner football together in Gilroy, and have stayed close throughout the years. They helped their respective high school teams win section titles last fall.
“We’re always barking back and forth, ‘you got this, you got that, make sure you check that,’” Mitchell said. “We have that connection, so we can also get on each other when one of us misses a read or doesn’t fill a gap. It’s good having that connection.”
Cabrillo will also carry sophomore Marquise Grace (5-11, 240) and freshmen Ismail Souza (6-0, 200), Daniel Winters (6-0, 195) and Irepan Romero (5-8, 190).
The defensive backfield received a complete facelift during the offseason.
Sophomore Shaq Floyd, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound all-state selection last fall, is the lone returning starter in the unit.
Arbet and his assistant coaches searched far and wide for other athletes that matched Floyd’s size and athleticism. They found 6-foot-3 sophomore DesDamon Lake, 6-foot-2 freshman Aaron Pitts and 6-foot-1 freshmen George Taeron and Joseph Lowe. All four are from out of state. Lake is from Ohio, Pitts and Taeron both hail from Michigan and Lowe comes to Aptos from Texas.
“It’s a whole new batch of kids,” said Floyd, who made seven interceptions last season. “Everything is pretty much new for everyone.”
Freshmen Christian Rodriguez and Ralph Martinez and sophomore Cory Riley, whom all measure in at 5-foot-11, will also see action. Rodriguez (Gilroy) and Martinez (Tokay) followed teammates to Cabrillo, and Riley is a sophomore kickback from D-I South Carolina State.
Aptos alumnus Kieran Woodley will handle the kicking duties for Cabrillo this fall.
Arbet said Woodley, who is automatic from 35 yards out, worked with former San Francisco 49ers kicker Joe Nedney during the offseason, and has hopes of earning a D-I scholarship.
“Having a 35-yard field goal as an option,” Arbet said, “it’s a game changer.”
Hampton is the team’s long snapper and Soares will handle the punting duties.