APTOS—After a two-year suspension, the Cabrillo College football team returned to action with an entirely new identity.
It was a rough start full of growing pains but Seahawks first-year head coach Justin Hansen is optimistic about the future of the program.
“The one thing I can’t complain at all about this year’s team is my players. The guys are showing up every day.” Hansen said. “They are giving everything they’ve got.”
Cabrillo has faced some tough losses over the course of the season, but that is to be expected with a team of all freshmen and just two sophomores.
The team’s dynamic has shifted due to 94 of the 96 Seahawks being local, and many have already known one another for years.
Even the experienced players are working their way through difficulties.
“It’s not easy at all. So there’s a lot to learn,” said Soquel High alumnus and defensive back Zeke Thomas, one of two sophomores on the team.
In March of 2020, Cabrillo was suspended after self-reporting “impermissible benefits” regarding players’ housing situations to the California Community College Athletic Association.
The school’s governing board elected to reinstate the program in a unanimous vote during a meeting in May 2021.
The Seahawks currently own a 2-7 record and are 1-4 in American Conference Golden Coast Division play.
They beat Yuba, 48-14, in non-conference play and beat Gavilan, 28-21, in Golden Coast Division action.
Freshman running back Kobe Hatten leads the team with 79 rushing yards per game. The former North Monterey County High standout is first in the CCCAA with 114 total rushes, including 707 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in the season.
“We’re all playing together, we’ve all fought, we didn’t give up. We’re going to end it off right with a win,” Hatten said. “Nearly everyone’s a freshman so we’re all going to work even harder next year.”
Nathaniel Bendo, the leading receiver on the team with 47.3 receiving yards per game, catches passes from his brother Raphael Bendo.
Raphael Bendo has completed 44-of-120 attempts for 646 yards and four touchdowns—including two to his brother—and five interceptions.
“College ball is new to us, but I think we’re starting to get the hang of it,” said Nathaniel Bendo. “I think we’ll find a rhythm. We trust each other.”
The Seahawks’ defense has allowed 378.4 yards per game, while only gaining 215.4 on offense. Much of this is due to inexperience of playing at the collegiate level.
However, there are many positives this developing team can take away from the season.
One instance is the dominating performance over Yuba earlier this season in which the Seahawks finished with 339 yards rushing on 64 carries.
“I think these guys are working at a championchip level right now,” Hansen said.
The coaches and players have been dealt with the difficult situation of bringing a young Cabrillo squad back to bowl contention going into this season.
Yet, the players have committed to the program and established a sense of unity.
With a team full of young talent that’s fixated on getting better, it’s only a matter of time before Cabrillo’s record reflects its potential.
“This is only year one after trying to rebuild the foundation of the team, and I think coach Hansen has done a wonderful job at building a great foundation,” Thomas said.
Hansen has taken steps to completely redefine the program after the two-year suspension. The coaching staff has emphasized playing the game the right way as a cohesive unit.
“Work hard every day, never give up, and keep everybody accountable to what they can do right and wrong,” Hatten said.
Hansen said it might be difficult returning on a weekly basis even though they’re not having success. Still, the players keep showing back up and continue to attack the game plan.
With promising young players, excellent coaching and a system that players have bought into, the Seahawks will be returning in full force next season.
“I think there’s no doubt that we’re gonna come out and we’re gonna set our goals to win a conference championship,” Hansen said.
Cabrillo closes their season at home against Hartnell on Saturday at 7pm.