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College of San Mateo Bulldogs

League: National Conference (Bay 6 Division)

Coach: Bret Pollack, 7th year

Last year’s record: 9-2, 4-1; won Bulldog Bowl 30-20 over Laney

Key returners: LT Jay Letatau, DB Keith Marcus, NG Fou Polataivao, LB Mikias Alipate

Key date: Nov. 14 vs. City College of San Francisco

Things rarely go according to plan at the community college level. Case in point, the sudden departure of cornerback Anthony Hines to the SEC (Missouri) and defensive back Jordan Fogal to the Pac-12 (Utah) after spending one year at College of San Mateo.

Then again, maybe those transfers might pay dividends in the future.

“All the coaches can say while recruiting I’m going to get you out in a year,” CSM coach Bret Pollack said. “But when I say I’m good looking, show me a mirror. They can say whatever they want, but now I can point to people that actually do it.”

Those who stayed at CSM kick off the season Saturday on the road at College of the Siskiyous, which is roughly 300 miles north in Weed.

The preseason coaches poll lists the Bulldogs at No. 6, but it’s hard to put much credence in that. Pollack certainly doesn’t. That’s because anyone who voted likely hasn’t seen his roster, much like he’s barely aware of what Siskiyous will trot out for Week 1.

“We’re going to turn off the lights, run onto the field and we’re both going to yell surprise at each other,” Pollack said.

Quarterback alone is a three-way competition at CSM, with freshmen Dru Brown and Bobby Calmeyn battling Grant Dickerson, a sophomore who played linebacker last year.

Extracting scouting reports on each of them proved fruitless.

“I haven’t seen any of them quarterback in a game at this level yet,” Pollack said. “I reserve judgement.”

There’s a limited amount of returners on both offense and defense, but plenty of greyshirts who sat out last year and will be asked to make an immediate impact.

“The greyshirts, it blurs for me after a while,” Pollack said. “They’re veterans. I’ve seen then for a year already.”

The offensive line will be anchored by left tackle Jay Letatau (6-3, 315) and right tackle Ryan Popolizio (6-7, 315), both getting plenty of playing time as freshmen.

And the rest of the big guys will get their shot if they perform in practice.

“I think we’re playing 11,” Pollack said. “Two strings, with a swing guy.”

And that’s still not as many as he would like.

“Ideally across the squad we have three squads and a greyshirt group,” Pollack said. “So three strings times 22 is a 66-man roster. And then some extra DBs and specialists because of spread offense you go with five and six DBs at times. Ideally, you’re at about 70.”

The only running back with experience from a foursome expected to carry the load is Michael Allen, who had 49 carries for 271 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman. The newcomers include Karris Johnson, Isaiah Williams and Joey Wood, a teammate of Brown at Los Gatos.

And even though CSM is more likely to run than pass, there are a few aerial targets, beginning with Johnny Niupalau (6-1, 225).

“He’s bigger, physical, older guy — came back from his two-year Mormon mission,” Pollack said.

Chikwado Nzerem (6-0, 175) and Aaron Short (6-2, 190), both greyshirts, add explosiveness on the edges when teams load up the box.

“There’s a herd of them that are a good size that can run a little bit, depending on the day,” Pollack said.

Plugging holes at nose guard will be Fou Polataivao, a 6-2, 290-pound sophomore. Hamilton To’o (6-3, 270) and Lloyd Riley (6-3, 260) will be the ends, with a foursome rotating at tackle.

Mikias Alipate is back at inside linebacker, while Keith Marcus and Ahmari Hayes have experience in the secondary.

“The rest are young puppies,” Pollack said.

That’s often inevitable at the J.C. level.