By Jen Cosgriff
Special to Palo Alto Online Sports
Coming off its best season in the NCAA Division III Northwest Conference, the Menlo College football team is hoping to build on that success when it opens the season Saturday at Occidental College.
"We learned how to communicate," Oaks' coach Fred Guidici said. "We went .500 in the league and we hope to take it to the next level. We learned how to win. We have a great core of returning players taking on a lead role this year."
He's not exaggerating. Junior safety Beau Bussani, senior defensive lineman Damien Girard and senior linebacker Shawn Winters were all named first team All-Northwest Conference last season. Bussani was named an NAIA Division II preseason All-American.
Sophomore defensive lineman Greig O'Connor, linebacker Devon Jonsson, and defensive back Derek Bosia, both juniors, were second team all-conference. Senior running backs Payton Bell and Andrew Stevens were honorable mention, along with quarterback Cruz Castillo and wide receiver Kenny Cavness, both sophomores.
All of them are returning in 2010 and Guidici is confident that the young players can get it done this year.
"We only have 12 seniors on the team this year, so there is a definite youth movement," Guidici said "The young guys have a lot of confidence, which is great."
There is a good reason for the young players to have this much confidence. In 2009, Bussani led the team with 71 tackles, three interceptions, and two blocked kicks. Winters let the Northwest Conference with 12.5 tackles and eight sacks. Castillo led in passing efficiency rating with 125.26, going 73-for-141 for 999 yards with nine touchdowns. Cavness led the team with 43 receptions, 601 receiving yards, and six touchdowns as a true freshman. Five of the top six tacklers are returning in 2010, including Bussani, Jonsson, Giarard, Winers, and junior cornerback Boo Molinary.
While these are the primary starters, the team is rounded out with other solid players. There are a lot of seniors who provide a solid backbone for the young team. Offensive linemen James Flores, Sean Fredin, Jarred Hettinger, Bryce Rocklage, and Davis Wright are leading the offense, along with running back Jaronimo Wright and tight end Kent Vilotti.
There are also a core group of juniors to strengthen the team. Defensive backs Derek Bosia, Nolon Doss, Chris Tosello, and Steven Lopes are the core of the defense. Wide receivers Dimitri Vigil, Sean Villareal, Erik Rasmussen, and running back Ernest Wesson are hoping to help lead the offense.
The juniors also help strengthen the offensive line, with Errol Tu'ufuli, Joe Perea, and Kamalu Kaina.
While Guidici knows that his team is strong defensively, he also knows that there are some young players looking to make an impact offensively.
Sophomore running backs Jeff Caldwell, Kainoa Keana'aina, and Kyle Campas, and wide receivers Chris Drake, Kenny Cavness, and Andrew Welch are looking to help increase the offensive production. During the 2009 season, Menlo averaged 13.9 points per game, while its opponents averaged 24.7. This is something that Guidici and the team hope to change in 2010.
Palo Alto's Brandon Boyd hopes to contribute as a freshman defensive back.
The Knights also will be dealing with another change. Menlo left the NCAA Northwest Conference to join the rest of the school's athletic programs at the NAIA Division II independent level.
"We definitely looked really good on defense last year," Guidici said. "We were ranked pretty high in Division III. Our whole athletic department switched over to NAIA Division II independent. We're hoping to carry that over."
Despite the new division and the young age of the team, both coaches and players are confident that the Menlo College football team will be competitive this year and that they'll be feeding off the success of last year.
MENLO COLLEGE SCHEDULE
Date Opponent Time
Saturday at Occidental, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 vs. Chapman, noon
Sept. 18 at Humboldt State, 6 p.m.
Sept. 25 at Southern Oregon, 1 p.m.
Oct. 2 vs. Whitworth, noon
Oct. 9 at Lewis & Clark, noon
Oct. 16 vs. Pacific Lutheran, noon
Oct. 23 at Willamette, 7 p.m.
Oct. 30 at Linfield, noon
Nov. 6 vs. Southern Oregon, noon
Nov. 13 vs. Pacific University, noon