The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
The College of San Mateo football team has been consistently in the running for conference and state championship races since 2001 and, although the Bulldogs haven’t captured that coveted state or national championship, they’re expected to be contending for the crown in 2014.
It was no different in 2013, when the Bulldogs went 10-1, punishing their opponents in the trenches as they averaged 350 yards rushing a game.
Despite losing 24 players that received Division I scholarships, the Bulldogs come into the season ranked No. 4 in the California Community College Football Coaches Association poll.
However, due to a loss to their lone loss to Butte, an opportunity to play for a state championship — which Butte ended up winning — was gone.
But if CSM can duplicate its record from a season ago, it will be playing for big stakes in December.
A realigned conference and playoff format will take three Northern California league champs and a wild card for a four-team playoff, with the winner playing for the state title.
“I love it and I think it’s better for junior college football,” CSM coach Brett Pollack. “This is better for the kids. We’re solving this on the field, not by voters, schedules, and I believe this new [format] is more exciting.”
CSM will have to replace a plethora of players from 2013, something common in junior college football.
Gone is quarterback Casey Wichman, who will be replaced by freshmen Justin Burgess (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) or Jeremy Cannon (6-2, 215 pounds).
Knowing that CSM relies on its running game to move the ball, it may come as a surprise that Pollack believes the strength of his offense lies with his receiving corps.
Kevin Kutchera (6-3, 190), Raeshawn Lee (6-1, 185) and D.J. Peluso (6-foot, 215) are expected to provide explosiveness for the Bulldogs this season.
“This might sound backwards, but we have a very strong group of receivers and I’m interested to see how they play,” Pollack said. “We’re four-deep at that position. It’s going to be a very interesting dynamic.”
Defensively, where CSM only gave up 284 yards a game last season, will have to replace 12 contributors. Still, Pollack believes defense is the strength of the team.
Sophomore linebacker Randy Allen (6-3, 225) — who missed last season with a torn ACL — will look to solidify the front seven. Sophomore Taylor Mashack (5-11, 185) comes back with experience in the secondary, and sophomore Adam Sagapolu (6-2, 260) will anchor the defensive line.
“One of our strengths on our team is defensive team speed,” Pollack said. “We’re very fast and we run to the football well.” With a schedule that has CSM playing six teams in the top 18 of the preseason state rankings, the Bulldogs will be challenged to bring their A-game weekly.
Pollack, however, doesn’t see that as the Bulldogs’ biggest challenge. Instead, he sees the biggest obstacle this season inside their own locker room.
“Our biggest challenge always will and always is us,” Pollack said. “It’s more in-house than it is anything. The challenges are internal and we do a good job of addressing them.”
Last season: 10-1, 4-1 (second place in the NorCal Conference North; beat American River 75-9 in the Bulldog Bowl)
Three things to watch:
– How quickly can the defense gel? Twelve defensive players from 2013 received Division I scholarships.
– Running back Michael Latu will try to duplicate the production from George Naufahu (UNLV), who rushed for 1,183 yards and 17 touchdowns.
– Sept. 20 against Butte is when CSM will try to avenge its only loss of 2013, and Nov. 15 at CCSF in what is one of the best rivalries in Northern California.
Saturday vs. Siskiyous 1 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Modesto 6 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Butte 1 p.m.
Sept. 27 vs. San Joaquin Delta 1 p.m.
Oct. 4 at American River 6 p.m.
Oct. 18 vs. Santa Rosa 1 p.m.
Oct. 25 at DeAnza 1 p.m.
Nov. 1 vs. Foothill 1 p.m.
Nov. 8 vs. Diablo Valley 1 p.m.
Nov. 15 at CCSF 1 p.m