Spring practice is underway for a hungry Jaguar football team looking to bounce back after a disappointing end to last season.
After winning their first eight games last season, the Jags lost two of their last three, including a heartbreaking loss in the American Division Championship Bowl. They finished the season 9-2 and were Pacific Coast Athletic Conference Mountain Division co-champions.
One key factor in the Jags’ upcoming season will be the return of standout receiver Ryan Stokes.
Last season Stokes was leading the state with 126.5 yards per game and 11 touchdowns receptions before suffering a season-ending ACL tear in Week 6. He said this season’s returners have a chip on their shoulders after the bowl loss.
“We’re working hard,” he said. “I’m making sure everybody’s on top of their things. We’re going to get that number one spot. I don’t want to wear no ring ‘til it says number one.”
Stokes said he is still rehabbing his knee, but he is there to help new players. He said he plans on coming back stronger and is confident this year’s team can win a championship.
“For now, I’m here to help anyway I can,” he said. “We’re coming along. We’re going to be good, probably a little better than last year. We’ve got a lot of big, healthy guys, so we’re ready to go get that ring.”
Much of the success last season came from outstanding play by the sophomore-led defense and quarterbacks Joe Hudson and Michael Glass, PCAC Co-Offensive Players of the Year. Rebuilding the defense and finding the right quarterback will be essential to any hopes the Jags have this season.
Head Coach Ed Carberry said that replacing so much talent is difficult, but it comes with the territory when coaching in community college.
“Every year is rebuilding,” he said. “We’ve got to do a great job of coaching, and take the talent and put it in a position to be successful.”
He said replacing quarterbacks is especially difficult.
“It’s hard,” he said. “It’s all layered. They need to be thinking just like the coaches. When they see something, they need to immediately think what we’re thinking.”
Having an experienced offensive line return from last season, including Region V First Team All-State player Francisco Aguilar Jr., will help. Returning O-lineman Josh Partida said that experience is key.
“Last year was basically learning the playbook,” he said. “This year we know what we’re doing. This year we can be a little more advanced. That will be helpful.”
Partida said it will be up to returning players to lead a potent recruiting class.
“We try to guide them on the expectations,” he said. “Just because it’s pre-season doesn’t mean you can take days off. You have to work hard, just like during the season.”
Carberry credited the coaching staff for bringing in strong, new talent.
“They bring them here and let them see the facility and talk about all the things that are out there for them (including) all the academic support you could ever want, a facility to get better physically,” he said. “It’s a no brainer really. You would have to not want to succeed to not want to come here.”
Sophomore receiver Patrick Jean-Charles said that last year’s bowl game and seeing many of his teammates earn university scholarships fired up his drive for 2017.
“We played with them,” he said. “Now we’re going to see them play on TV and we know that we should be there. I think everyone’s goal is to be undefeated and leave with a scholarship. We’re coming for it this year.”