The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
Experience on both sides of the line. New blood to its core at the skill positions. That’s the composition of the 2015 College of San Mateo Bulldogs football roster.
The Bulldogs are in the thick of the California Community College Football Coaches Association preseason rankings, tabbed No. 6 in the state. Seems like a high slot, right? Well, that depends. CSM garnered the second highest ranking from the Bay 6 Conference; City College of San Francisco is ranked No. 2. And No. 4 ranked American River is also on the Bulldogs’ schedule this year.
Much like last season, when CSM dropped just two games amid a strong 9-2 season. The two teams to which the Bulldogs lost? American River and CCSF. And CSM head coach Bret Pollack said he talked with his team about the reasons for the 24-14 loss to American River, CSM’s first of the year, just days prior to CSM’s 2015 season opener Saturday at College of the Siskiyous.
“[American River] outplayed us,” Pollack said. “They played longer, better and smarter than us. We just didn’t play as well against them in all areas. You just can’t do that against good teams.”
The Bulldogs look destined for another strong season though, if for no other reason that they’ve never had a bad one under Pollack. In his career, he’s posted a 50-14 record with his “worst” season coming in 2012 with a 7-4 finish.
Reinventing the skill positions is what the Bulldogs do. Last season, they rolled with two freshmen quarterbacks. Both are gone this season, with a new trio in the mix, and still competing for the starting spot. Pollack wouldn’t name a starting quarterback for Saturday, citing secrecy going into the always-enigmatic season opener.
“Let them find out snap one,” Pollack said.
The one local among the three — 6-foot, 195-pound Dru Brown — is a true freshman out of Los Gatos. Last year, he helmed the Wildcats into the Central Coast Section Open Division semifinals, eliminating Serra in the quarterfinals along the way. Brown had a breakout year last season as a high school senior, totaling 2,301 passing yards with an outstanding .674 completion percentage.
Brown’s offensive counterpart at Los Gatos, running back Joey Wood, is also in the mix at CSM. A 5-11, 225-pound freshman, Wood led the Wildcats with 967 rushing yards with 14 touchdowns. It was his “worst” varsity season. In three years, Wood fell just short of the 4,000-yard career milestone, totaling 3,946 career rushing yards. The highlight was his junior season in 2013, when he ran for 1,964 yards.
The other two quarterbacks on roster are Grant Dickerson and Bobby Calmeyn. Dickserson is a 6-2, 210-pound transfer sophomore out of Davis High School. As a high school junior in 2011 he was one of Davis’ leading wide receivers before converting to quarterback as a senior. Calmeyn is a 6-1, 195-pound freshman out of St.Viator-Illinois, where he threw for 2,215 yards as a senior in 2013.
CSM also has to reinvent a receiver corps that was a staple of the 2014 pro style offense. The Bulldogs boasted three sophomores with triple-digit receiving yards last year, led by University of South Alabama transfer Kevin Kutchera, who grabbed 43 catches for 841 yards and seven touchdowns.
“It’s not very complex out there so they should be able to hop right in,” Pollack said. “It just becomes a physical thing, how mentally and physically tough they are.”
This year’s new receiving crew features an array of intriguing local talent, headlined by 6-1, 215-pound sophomore Johnny Niupalau, a 2009 graduate from San Mateo High School who has a legendary place in Bearcats lore. The 2009 season marks the last time San Mateo won “The Paw” in its annual rivalry game with Burlingame. And Niupalau had the game-winning touchdown catch in the 25-20 win.
San Mateo head coach Jeff Scheller raved about the toughness of Niupalau, who has missed the last two years of his collegiate career while carrying out a Mormon mission.
“His work ethic hasn’t changed, I know that,” Scheller said. “When he was a freshman, he wasn’t very big he was really emotional. He always wanted to do really well.”
Just under Niupalau on CSM’s alphabetical roster is Chikwado Nzerem, a 6-foot, 175-pound freshman out of South City High School. Nzerem never played a varsity down at South City due to not making grades. But his athleticism was never in doubt, according to Warriors head coach Jay Oca, who said Nzerem profiled as a wide receiver/defensive back but also could have played quarterback.
“He was an explosive receiver,” Oca said. “Fast, quick, great route running. This was a guy who was a great athlete … he just had all the skills.”
The Bulldogs also have a full docket of slot receivers with a tad of experience in sophomore Miles Willis, the only returning player to have logged any receptions last year. He had just two, but they were both for touchdowns. He also had 19 carries for 154 yards. San Mateo High School graduate David Rango is also a returning sophomore who logged three rushes for 16 yards in 2014. True freshman Manase Palu out of Burlingame is also on roster.
At running back, the Bulldogs featured an array of weapons last season. The lone returner, sophomore Michael Allen out of Jefferson, logged 49 carries for 271 yards. He will be complimented by 5-7, 185-pound freshman Isaiah Williams out of Luther Burbank-Sacramento; Karris Johnson, a 6-foot, 225-pound freshman out of California-San Ramon; and Wood.
A vast majority of CSM’s returning experience is both sides of the line. On offensive, the Bulldogs run a two-string system, highlighted by a pair of sophomore tackles, with 6-3, 315-pound Jay Leatau on the left and 6-7, 315-pound Ryan Popolizio on the right. On defense, 6-2, 290-pound nose tackle Fou Polataivao anchors the front three, with Anthony Ameperosa and Cody Brown playing defensive tackle.
At linebacker, CSM returns four sophomores who saw playing time last year in Mikias Alipate, Ansar Muhammad, Bryan Rodgers and Samson Tonga. Newcomers include 6-3, 210-pound freshman Ryan Clohessy out of Aragon along with a pair of 6-foot, 225-pound Serra graduates in Daniel Lavulo and Tyson Terreros.
The only returning defensive back to log interceptions last year is 6-3, 185-pound Ahmari Hayes, another Davis graduate. Hayes played in six games last year, totaling two INTs along with 16 tackles.
CSM opens Saturday at Siskiyous at 1 p.m. The two teams matched up on opening day last year at CSM, with the Bulldogs winning 31-3. Pollack said he expects neither team to have a scouting report going into Week 1.
“We’re going to turn out the lights, both run on the field and both yell, ‘surprise’ at each other,” Pollack said.
Head coach: Bret Pollack, 7th season
2014 record: 9-2 overall, 4-1 in Bay 6
Key returners: Jay Leatau (so. OT); Ryan Popolizio (so., OT); Miles Willis (so., slot); Anthony Ameperosa (so., DT); Cody Brown (so., DT); Johnny Doherty (so., TE); Ahmari Hayes (so., DB)
Key newcomers: Dru Brown (fr., QB); Johnny Niupalau (so., WR); Chikwado Nzerem (fr., WR); Manase Palu (fr., slot); Joey Wood (fr. RB); Isaiah Williams (fr., RB)
9/5, @Siskiyous, 1 p.m.
9/12, MODESTO, 1 p.m.
9/19, BUTTE, 1 p.m.
9/26, @San Joaquin Delta, 1 p.m.
10/3, AMERICAN RIVER, 1 p.m.
10/17, @Santa Rosa, 5 p.m.
10/24, DE ANZA, 1 p.m.
10/31, @Foothill, 1 p.m.
11/6, @Diablo Valley, 7 p.m.
11/14, CCSF, 1 p.m.
HOME GAMES IN CAPS