Kiola Mahoni, a Woodside graduate, is one of three returning offensive linemen for the CSM football team this season. He’ll be joined by Malik Letatau and Anthony Ayllon.
Bret Pollack does not believe in prognosticating.
Pollack — College of San Mateo football’s head coach — is a man of action, not words. And entering into his sixth season at the helm with a 41-12 career record, his Bulldogs’ actions speak volumes. Even more so, CSM transferred 25 players to four-year schools from last season’s No. 2-ranked squad in the California Community College Athletic Association, with $1.7 million in scholarship money, according to Pollack.
With CSM’s season kicking off Saturday against College of the Siskiyous, Pollack said he plans to mix it up with player platoons to test his roster of 75 players, gauging in-game performance to inform his roster of starters going forward. And as Pollack explains, he doesn’t see freshmen and sophomores when he evaluates his team. He only sees football players.
“I’m sure those are interesting facts to some people; they’re not to me. I just go by how they play,” Pollack said. “I don’t classify them as returners or not. I don’t really break down the numbers and look at it that way. … It’s talent and how they play.”
Pollack will have plenty of decisions to make regarding his defensive front, which has seen an exodus of players since last season. The Bulldogs totaled 28 sacks as a team in 2013, but return just five and a half sacks.
But the foundation for success is in place. Last season, the Bulldogs surrendered the third fewest yards in the state, averaging 284.3 yard against per game. As a result, they gave up the fourth fewest points per game, averaging 17.9. With defensive lineman Pio Vatuvei transferring to Louisville, however — taking his team-best six and a half sacks with him — it will be a test to find a comparable replacement.
“The defense was very outstanding last year,” Pollack said. “Team speed, run to the football, play hard, play physical — that’s all we can ask.”
CSM runs a base 4-3 defense, and the Bulldogs enter Saturday’s opener in great shape in the back seven.
Mister Cotton is fully recovered from a torn ACL which cost him nearly his entire 2013 season. Cotton sustained the injury in Week 2, following a dynamic debut in a 41-27 opening-day win over Laney in which he totaled seven tackles and an interception.
After taking a redshirt for his lost season, Cotton returns as a freshman. He will be joined in the secondary by sophomore safety Taylor Mashack, who ranked second on the team with 5.2 tackles per game last season.
The linebacker unit will have to compensate for the loss of Jake Kearney — one of two Cal transfers along with defensive lineman Trevor Kelly — with Kearney’s departure something of a surprise, coming after his freshman season. CSM with rely on newcomer Malik Jackson to play the inside, with Randy Allen returning to the outside after missing most of the 2013 season with a knee injury.
“It’s a junior college program. There’s huge turnover every year,” Pollack said. “You’re losing one-third of your team, so new people step up. If the program is run correctly and kids are doing what they’re supposed to do, it should be sophomores playing and starting every year because you’re developing them.”
The name of the game in community college football is man-to-man defense and more man-to-man defense, according to Pollack. That translates to the offensive side of the ball as well. The good news for the Bulldogs in this respect is they have their best returning depth in their wide receiver corps, with four sophomore targets to fill out the spread option offense.
Wide receivers Kevin Kutchera and Raeshawn Lee are two of the most prolific skill-position returners on the team. The tandem combined for just shy of 700 receiving yards last year. Elias Vargas and slot receiver D.J. Peluso are also in the mix, with Peluso returning the most ground production on the team as he ran for 523 yards last season.
Gone is quarterback Casey Wichman, who retired from football to pursue a degree at San Jose State. His departure means the CSM quarterback competition is on. Entering into camp with four contenders, Pollack has narrowed it down to two for Saturday’s opener. Freshman Jeremy Cannon is tabbed as the starter with backup Justin Burgess set to take plenty of snaps as well.
Cannon is an intriguing comeback story. At 23, he is one of the oldest players on the Bulldogs’ roster. Cannon hasn’t played competitively since the 2009 senior season Northwest Cabarrus High School in Concord, North Carolina.
“Cannon is a good athlete,” Pollack said. “He’s older, he’s mature, he’s calm. (And) athletic — he can throw the ball. He’s done a really good job for us.”
Looking for a competitive program, Cannon said he was passed over by two other colleges. In his four-year absence from the game, he continued to inquire with schools across the nation.
“I always saw myself playing again, I just didn’t know when or where,” Cannon said. “My main focus was just to stick it out and keep playing and try to find schools to go to.”
When the Bulldogs responded to a scouting tape Cannon sent their way, he jumped at the chance. After an official visit to the campus in March, he quickly committed and relocated to the West Coast.
“I found it as a blessing because I’d been out for a while, and a couple other schools had denied me,” Cannon said. “So, I really just tried to come out here and give it my all for these guys because they are the ones that really believed in me and saw my competitive spirit.”
Due to a CCCAA realignment, CSM moves from the NorCal Conference to the new Bay 6 Conference. The composition of the Bay 6 is nearly identical to the old NorCal; the one difference is 2013 state champion Butte College moves to the new NorCal Conference. Moving from the NorCal to the Bay 6 are CSM, City College of San Francisco, Santa Rosa Junior College, DeAnza College and Foothill College. The new addition to the Bay 6 mix is Diablo Valley College.
Saturday’s opener against Siskiyous will mark the first time the teams have ever met in a season game.