Photo by Bill Sobalvarro
LANCASTER - It's certainly tough to replace a record-breaking quarterback, a 1,000-yard receiver and a couple of Division 1 players.
But Marauder football head coach Perry Jehlicka said that's the beauty of junior college football.
"There's goods and bads to all of that. You hate to lose those types of players, but you're happy that they're moving on and playing at the highest level and finishing school," Jehlicka said. "But there will always be a new batch of players coming in and making a name for themselves."
That's what Jehlicka hopes for in the 2017 season which opens on Saturday night at home against rival College of the Canyons at 6pm at Marauder Stadium.
The Veteran Coach
It seems like just yesterday that Jehlicka was hired, but 55 wins later he enters his 11th season at the helm for the Marauder football team, taking over for legendary coach Brent Carder in 2007.
"It certainly doesn't feel like 11 seasons. It's really not repetitive like, 'here we go again.' It's only repetitive of the aspects we take to get to this point," he said. "I love the aspect of doing this. I understand that each season you lose 50 percent of your team, but that's what keeps you on your toes. I like this year's team. They are very goal oriented and focused."
Three Phases of the Game
Recently the Marauders had an intrasquad scrimmage, followed by a home scrimmage against Bakersfield College and Jehlicka said he likes what he saw in both of those games.
"I'm excited about what I think we can do," Jehlicka said. "We spend a lot time of time working on all aspects of the game and that's going to be a huge part of winning the game on Saturday (against COC)."
The Lost Shepherd
Last season two-year starter Blake Shepherd put up video game type numbers and nearly rewrote the record book in AVC history. Shepherd finished his illustrious career with most passing yards in a game (490), completions in a game (30), single season passing yards (2,975), career touchdown passes (49) and career passing yards (5,651).
How do you replace a guy like that?
Well it certainly won't be easy, however, Jehlicka is happy with the batch of quarterbacks he has.
No starter has been named for Saturday, but Jehlicka was impressed with Florida-native Armani Edden as well as Michael McPeek. Both are battling for the starting position and Jehlicka said both could see significant action.
McPeek threw for 504 yards his senior season at Regis Jesuit in Colorado and helped lead that team to an 11-2 record and a No. 5 state ranking. Edden, considered a dual-threat quarterback, helped lead his team to the playoffs before being stopped by perennial power St. Thomas Aquinas. Josh Drucker could also see action for the Marauders.
Other Key Departures
Three of AVC's top players from 2016 also moved on to the next level. Receiver Donte Ross caught more than 1,000 yards last season and moved on to Kent State, while linebacker Anthony Beko plays for No. 19 ranked University of South Florida. Cole Starnes, who rushed for a team-high 617 yards, now plays for Lamar University in Texas.
"Over the years you lose guys like Eddie Ross, Hunter Sharp and Charles Johnson, but you gain a new bunch of talented players," Jehlicka said. "You don't know who is going to be the next Shepherd or Ross."
Filling the Void
As Jehlicka explained, it is yet to be seen who will replace those guys, but the Marauders could have a group of the best receivers in southern California and possibly the state.
Wayne caught 29 passes last season for 465 yards and was second on the team with six touchdown receptions. Verrett was right behind Wayne, finishing with 24 receptions for 310 yards and two scores.
"Overall we're going to have a better season than last year," Wayne said. "Our defense is so much better and we are so explosive on offense. I think we'll be in a better bowl game than last year. We just need to buy in to what our coaches are teaching us. I'm looking for a lot more this season. I'm so excited and just ready to see how everything goes."
Cahlil Canada also returns alongside Wayne and Verrett. Canada finished with seven receptions for 75 yards last season. Paris Jones has impressed coaches in practice and will be used much in the slot position. Nathaniel Myles, who played quarterback in high school and nearly passed for 1,000 yards, moves to receiver and is someone else Jehlicka is excited about. Jeremy Kennedy could see a lot of action as well.
At running back, incumbent Brandon Edwards will see the majority of the carries. Last season, playing behind Starnes and Tre Coleman, Edwards rushed for 66 yards and scored one touchdown.
D.J. Payne is a top newcomer for the Marauders that could see plenty of action. In Payne's senior year in high school, he rushed for 1,980 and scored 25 touchdowns at Boron High School, but that was in 2014 and Payne hasn't played since, however, Jehlicka is impressed with him as well.
"We have a nice stable of running backs," he said. "On Saturday we'll have three or four game ready."
New Look Defense
Many of the players touched on how the defense will be much more solid in 2017. Last season, the Marauders gave up an average of 355 yards per game and an average of 27 points per game.
Robert Robinson leads the defense this year. Robinson, who played defensive line last season and was also named Player of the Game for the Marauders in their victory over Victor Valley College in the High Desert Bowl, will play inside linebacker, something Robinson is thrilled about.
"Ever since the end of last season I've been so anxious to get started again," he said. "Our defense is looking good. It's looking a lot better than last year. I 've never played linebacker before so I'm excited to get a chance to play there. We have a good strong team Everybody knows what they're doing and I feel like we're going to have a good season."
A recent scrimmage against Bakersfield was a "good measuring stick" according to Jehlicka.
"I thought we did a lot of good things out there. It was good to get some of those goofy mistakes out of the way early," said Jehlicka of fumbling the opening snap of the game in the scrimmage. "Bakersfield is a very good team, but I thought we competed and got after it. Defensively we played very well. I thought our quarterbacks played solid and I was pleased with our route running. Everybody out there showed bright spots."
Last season Bakersfield finished with a 6-5 record and a 47-41 loss in the Western State Bowl to Long Beach City College.
"Fall is always my favorite time of the year," Jehlicka said.