The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
A sudden transfer has thrust the College of San Mateo Bulldogs into a chaotic quarterback competition.
Midway through the summer, last year’s starting quarterback Dru Brown got a transfer offer he couldn’t refuse from the University of Hawaii. Now, as Brown awaits Saturday’s NCAA Division I season opener with the Rainbow Warriors taking on Cal in Sydney, Australia, the Bulldogs are still weighing a decision between four contenders — with two others in the mix — for the starting quarterback nod in the California Community College Athletic Association opener Sept. 10.
“I think [Brown] has a good shot at competing for a job,” CSM head coach Larry Owens said. “It’s a good thing for Dru, a bad thing for us. He did a lot of great things for us. We miss him.”
The quarterback competition is the first major decision facing the Bulldogs under Owens in his second tenure as head coach. He previously ran the team for 19 years until 2008 then returned as an assistant coach in 2010. He took over for Bret Pollack, who after seven years at the helm returns to the title of offensive coordinator, the role he served even as head coach. Defensive coordinator Tim Tulluch also returns for his 20th season as an assistant coach.
“Bret is still running the offense, Tim is running the defense and I’m just trying to stay out of the way,” Owens said.
With Brown’s departure, last year’s backup Bobby Calmeyn has ramped up his efforts to serve as the cornerstone helmsman. The native of Arlington Heights, Illinois threw just five passes last year, completing three. He last served as a starting quarterback as a high school senior in 2013, passing for 2,215 yards for his hometown Saint Viator.
“Because of what Dru did [Calmeyn] didn’t play that much … but when Dru was making the decision of leaving, Bobby really stepped up.”
One week after Brown committed to Hawaii though, CSM got a stroke of good fortune with a kickback from the Division I ranks. With the Air Force Academy last season, Ryan Brand was in a similar situation as Calmeyn, seeing virtually no playing time. Now, the 5-8 transfer hailing from Novi, Michigan gives the Bulldogs a QB option similar to Brown — a rollout weapon who puts good zip on his throws to fit the mold of the option offense.
Also in the quarterback mix is John Keller, a freshman out of Miltipas — though he has been battling an injury throughout fall practices — Chris Zografos, a sophomore transfer from Foothill; Erik Ornduff, a freshman out of Live Oak; and Jerome Holloway, who could shift to a receiver position with the logjam of quarterbacks.
Brown’s departure put CSM’s 2015 transfer class at 19 players, including its entire defensive line of Ratu Mafileo (University of Oregon); Fou Polataivao (Montana State University); and Anthony Ameperosa (Texas A&M Commerce University).
The offensive line too will have to reinvent itself with four players transferring to four-year schools — Ryan Popolizio (Fresno State University); Jimmy Leatiota (Eastern Michigan University); Eduardo Balderas (Northwestern State University); and Jay Letatau (West Georgia University).
CSM has long relied on a grayshirt system to groom first-year players on the practice squad without having to burn a year of eligibility. This year, however, the grayshirt class is proving thin. The Bulldogs have only two linemen who grayshirted last year in the mix, but both have local ties — Api Mane (Menlo-Atherton) and Siaosi Mahoni (Woodside).
“We’re all really young — younger than we’ve been in the past,” Owens said. “But it’s going to be a good team.”
There are plenty of intriguing sophomores returning to skill positions though. Running backs Keenan Smith, Isaiah Williams and Joey Wood — who ranked second, third and fourth respectively among the team rushing leaders last year — all return to the backfield. And last year’s team rushing leader, slot receiver Ramiah Marshall, headlines the group of returners.
Marshall is not only a multi-role threat on offense, he is a special teams weapon as a kick and punt returner. As a freshman, the 5-5 speedster racked up 1,261 all-purpose yards, more than any other two Bulldogs combined. Marshall may not boast the prototypical football stature, but Owens said he is certainly a Division I prospect.
“To me, he’s a Division I player,” Owens said. “Any coach I’ve talked to, I tell them the kids makes plays.”