The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
You can say a lot about the “on-paper” version of the 2013 College of San Mateo football team.
The new roster is stacked with talent — NCAA Division I talent, actually. As always, it’s a who’s who of the best Peninsula Athletic League players from recent years and it definitely has the potential to compete for a CCCAA state championship at season’s end.
But everything CSM has on paper, and everything its shown after 310 live scrimmage plays during training camp, all lead head coach Bret Pollack to the same answer of any question about his 2013 season.
“I don’t know,” he said. Over and over again.
That’s not to say Pollack doesn’t know what he has in his players. Of the 69 listed on the new roster, 41 are freshman (eight true first-year players and the rest from the highly successful grey shirt program) and 28 are sophomores. Of those players, Pollack can talk to you about their progression through the program and being that he coaches the offensive line on a daily basis, his knowledge there is more profound.
But perhaps this is the season Pollack, whose Bulldogs went 7-4 last season, is leaving the hype to those who follow the team. Let them speculate about where they will fall in the state’s toughest conference (the NorCal), or who is the frontrunner at a certain position race, or what major college recruiter is coming to ask about one of his players.
All that talk is reserved for another point and time. For now, with a Week 1 game against Laney College around the corner, the focus at CSM — not just Pollack’s — is simple.
“We’re going to play hard. We’re going to win the turnover margin. And we’re going to win the explosive-play margin,” Pollack said.
“Saturday (against Laney) is like Christmas. You’re getting a gift from uncle Joe. When you open it, it’s going to be socks or it’s going to be a flat screen T.V. We’ll find out. You can’t measure (a team’s success). I hear teams in their camps say, ‘Our offense is struggling, but our defense is lights out.’ Well, [of course], you’re playing each other. So, it’s so hard to tell. You just don’t know. You wait to see where you are when you go against someone else.”
Perhaps assessing the Bulldogs after this second “stage” of play (the first being training camp) is the more appropriate way, considering they’ll be actual football to base analysis on, rather than just names on a sheet of paper and less than a month of padded practices.
“I hate to talk about state championship and all this when we haven’t played a damn game,” Pollack said. “So I said, ‘Here’s the path. Here’s where we want to end up, but we have to take it step by step.’ So, this is where we want to end up, but this is where we are now.”
For now, we know of a couple of proven commodities. And if there is anywhere to start the CSM focus, it’s in the trenches, because this team is stacked.
The offensive line is anchored by University of Alabama-bound right tackle Dominick Jackson. He’ll be joined by Viliami Fukofuka and Kiola Mahoni to compose the core. Also figuring into the mix are two true freshman in Kiola Mahon (Woodside) and last season’s PAL Bay Lineman of the Year Benji Palu, who will play center. Aside from them, there are six others Pollack said could see considerable playing time.
“I’m happy with our depth,” Pollack said. “They’ve got a lot of experience. That part I’m happy with.There’s good depth. I’m looking forward to see them play.”
Said Pollack of Palu and Mahoni, “They’ve come in and done a good job. They’re both talented players. They should do good things.”
Then there is the defensive line that welcomes back former South City Warrior Rika Levi — a massive force in the interior. He’ll be joined by former Daily Journal Athlete of the Year Trevor Kelly, who joins the Bulldogs after a season at Sacramento State. That South San Francisco duo is strong and fierce.
Gone are last season’s two quarterbacks, so the majority of the conversation this off-season has revolved around the CSM signal caller. Former Menlo-Atherton starter Willy Fonua is the mix, along with Casey Wichman and Justin Burgess.
“All the quarterbacks are doing a great job of protecting the football,” Pollack said. “That’s my number one. They’re making smart decisions and not turning it over. That’s important. It’s close.”
The good news, despite the uncertainty at quarterback, is that CSM has plenty of weapons. George Naufahu (San Mateo), Michael Latu (San Mateo) and Durrell Crooks are a trio of running back providing the thunder and lighting for CSM. On the outside, Quincy Nelson is back and along with him Robert Johnson (Carlmont), Elias Vargas (Terra Nova), Keven Kutchera and Raeshawn Lee are names to look out for.
“I told them, we can’t have 18-play drives because somewhere along the line something is going to happen and it’s going to knock us off course,” Pollack said. “We can’t be that accurate and efficient all the time. And we need those chunk plays there.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs lost plenty, but return players like Sam Atoe and the Washington State committed Joseph Turner to lead the secondary.
Pollack also said a lot of the training camp focus was on special teams. Wes Nail and Scott Agee come in to take over the kicking duties for the Bulldogs.
But even with those names, the CSM staff is treading lightly when it comes to predictions, polls or standings. For now, until the NorCal Conference schedule begins, the focus will be the same.
“Play hard,” Pollack said. “I know you’re in shape. I know you know what to do. So now do you make the necessary mental choice to play hard or not. We have to play hard and there is no excuse for not playing hard.”