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Season Preview: Young Vaqueros are dreaming big

Season Preview: Young Vaqueros are dreaming big

Football in August: when the rosters are big and the dreams are bigger.

"We're really young and very competitive," said SBCC's Craig Moropoulos, who's starting his 11th year as head coach. "Things are going well and practices have been upbeat. We're young and we're making mistakes but we're getting better every day. The morale is good."

SBCC has 85 players out for the team and 60 are freshmen. The Vaqueros return 30 players from last year's 7-4 edition that earned a bowl berth for the second time in three years. The Vaqueros hosted Moorpark in the Beach Bowl and it was their first bowl game at La Playa Stadium in 33 years.

They started the 2016 campaign with a 5-1 record but battled the injury bug all season as their top two quarterbacks and top two running backs were sidelined. Tailback Perry Martin got off to a great start with 377 yards and seven TDs in the first three games, then suffered a season-ending injury. Quarterback Joshua Lindman was hurt in the fourth game at Compton and never returned to the field.

The Vaqueros set a school record by averaging 39.9 points last year (No. 8 in the State) but also gave up 30 points a game. Demetrius Vinson rushed for 188 yards and a school-record five touchdowns in a 47-18 rout of Desert in Week 5. Santa Barbara set eight team and individual records in 2016, including yards in a season (4,476), rushing yards (2,307), rushing TDs (33) and blocked kicks (10).

Thirty players return from that squad with seven starters. Five starters are back on offense – Vinson (557 yards, 6.9 avg., 7 TDs), running back Emmanuel Nwosu from Dos Pueblos High (665 yards, 7.1 avg., 6 TDs), receiver Jeremiah Wright, center Wyatt Gardner and tackle Aaron Jackobs. The defense has two returning starters in lineman Armando Meza-Casillas (6-1, 330), who switched from the offensive line, and defensive back Russell Enholm of Santa Barbara High.

"We were blessed last year with a lot of seasoned starters," noted Moropoulos. "When that happens, you're set up to be young the next year."

The Vaqueros are ranked 29th in the state preseason poll and they open the season on Saturday when No. 5 Ventura comes to La Playa Stadium for a 1 p.m. contest.

The Vaqueros are loaded at quarterback with six quality candidates who combined for 114 passing touchdowns in their senior seasons. Gerald Hickson will get the start in Saturday's opener vs. Ventura. He played three sports (football, basketball, baseball) at St. Francis High in New York and threw for 2,070 yards and 18 TDs last year. He's the No. 4 passer in New York state history with 7,598 yards.

Joshua Evans, the brother of former Vaquero star Jared Evans, was even better with 2,786 yards and 28 TDs as a senior at West Catholic High (Penn.) in 2015. There are two local QB candidates in Kellen Roberts of Dos Pueblos High and Jeremiah Nicholson of Santa Barbara. Roberts was the Channel League offensive MVP for the 9-3 Chargers, throwing for a school-record 3,193 yards and 27 TDs while completing 66 percent of his passes. Nicholson played several positions for the Dons last year and was a first-team All-Channel League choice at defensive back. The other players vying for time as signal-callers are 6-5 Bradley Kleven of Riverside (2,656 yards, 27 TDs for M.L. King High in Riverside) and Andrew Mintz of Westmont High in Campbell, CA near San Jose.

Moropoulos feels the Vaqueros could get great contributions from Hickson and wide receivers Julian Blain and Jeremiah Wright, along with linebacker Mason Hoose, who had 144 tackles (12.0 avg.) last year while leading Canisius High of Lakewood, N.Y. to a state title.

"We have some quality running backs and we're fairly deep in the offensive line," said Moropoulos. "I'm encouraged by how hard the O-line is working and their strong attitude.

"We're going to be really young on defense but our linebacker corps is fairly deep. There's a lot of competition going on right now."

The Vaqueros open the season on Saturday vs. Ventura They dropped a 47-40 shootout in last year's opener at Ventura. This will be the first time the teams have met at La Playa in seven years.

The other home games are Sept. 23 vs. Compton at 4 p.m.; Oct. 14 vs. county rival Hancock in the American Pacific League opener at 1 p.m.; Oct. 21 vs. Antelope Valley at 1 p.m. and Nov. 4 vs. L.A. Pierce at 1 p.m.

The Vaqueros have beaten Hancock four straight years. They outlasted the Bulldogs 43-40 last year in Santa Maria, one of eight times that SBCC scored 40 or more points in 2016.

"We want to compete for the conference championship, that's the No. 1 goal," said Moropoulos. "I like this group a lot, we're pretty fast and athletic. They're working hard, they're eager to learn and that's always positive."

All home games will be live-streamed and John Martony is celebrating his 30th year as the Voice of the Vaqueros. You can sign up to watch the home games here and all 10 regular-season games will be on local radio (KZSB 1290 AM) and around the world on the Internet at www.newspress.com.